NERCOMP Moodle Interest Group

Warning: This is a lengthy post as it contains the notes I was keeping over the course of today.

I am down in Southbridge, MA, a 3-hour drive from the mountains of NH, for a NERCOMP event which is bringing together current and hopeful Moodle users from the northeast region of the U.S. Today’s event is hosting five sessions:

  • Moodle: Introduction & Highlights
  • Faculty Perspectives on Using Moodle
  • Student Response to Moodle
  • From One CMS to Another in a Summer: Blackboard Basic to Moodle
  • Customizing Moodle

The weather made me a bit late so the first session, Moodle Intro & Highlights was already underway by the time I got here. The speaker was Ellen Murphy, Director of Technology Integration for The Sage Colleges. She used her own Moodle site as part of the demo which in essence was a fly-by of the typical features of Moodle. Unfortunately her talk was interrupted by technical issues and as a result the flow of the discussion was not as smooth as I think she might have liked. She emphasized taking advantage of the Moodle.org site for development and support.

Sidebar: It was interesting to hear the 60 or participants echoing their frustrations with Blackboard. I ran into my CIO down here who was facilitating a NERCOMP Project Management seminar in the same building. Turns out he was using our local efforts to examine our LMS strategy as the basis for the projects that his seminar participants were focusing on. The reactions to Blackboard in his room were almost as polarized!

The second session, Faculty Perspectives on Using Moodle was for me an invaluable insight into what is important to faculty when it comes to the adoption of Moodle as the LMS platform in higher ed. Joanne CannonCarlson, Assistant Director of Educational Technology Services at Smith College was accompanied by three of her faculty members. From the English department, Jefferson Hunter. Representing the Languages, Judith Keyler-Mayer and from the Psychology department, Beth Powell.

  • When working with faculty – do so one on one
  • IT folks don’t always make the best teachers – different areas of understanding and expertise makes for translation errors! Workshops don’t always take into account the wide range of skills being brought to the table. Often workshops cater to an assumed skill level which may not reflect the actual skills of the attendees.
  • The glossary feature, when moderated or edited by the professor, helped to correct errors in classroom notations and improve student learning and retention.
  • As a professor, gave up nothing moving from Blackboard to Moodle, but gained a better user interface.

Session three, Student Response to Moodle, was a presentation by Paul Chapin, Academic Technology Specialist from Amherst College, on student usage of the former Blackboard solution and their perceptions of Moodle. The beginning of the presentation was an overview of current studies and surveys. He cited the following data sources (I’ve linked to the ones I could find):

The most used aspects of the LMS itemized below in order of highest to lowest usage (which I think he pulled from another recent study I will try to find and cite):

  • Course content
  • Announcements
  • Discussions
  • Grades
  • E-mail
  • Drop Box
  • Group Functions

At Amherst, they tested Moodle with just a few pilot courses. No formal training in favor of just in time support. This went largely unused as their faculty weren’t interested in trying anything new. They also surveyed their students about their usage of Blackboard, their usage of Moodle and which they preferred (Moodle won by a large margin but few responses fell into the Highly Agree column. Students just wanted a decision to be made and did not want more than one environment to work in. They also mentioned that the value of either LMS was dependent solely upon the faculty member’s effective use of the technologies to further class objectives.

Session four, From One CMS to Another in a Summer: Blackboard Basic to Moodle was presented by Joanne CannonCarlson of Smith College. Their move to Moodle resulted from an inability to upgrade their system due to lack of financial support from their administration. College would pay for basic Bb license only, but faculty wanted the feature set in the Enterprise license. Deciding factor was the reality that there were now tools available that could do at least as much as their Bb product and in many areas could provide even more functionality at a potentially lower cost. The conversion process was not without pain – porting courses from Bb to Moodle involved a significant effort on the part of her staff of three student workers who did the work to port more than 200 courses over the summer. The worst part, Joanne noted, was the porting of quizzes as these all had to be manually recreated.

TCO focused on three areas: 1) Licensing fee (Bb Basic – $12k annually based on campus size and feature set), 2) Hardware and infrastructure requirements and 3) Support cost. Their experience was that supporting Moodle takes approximately 10% of her time compared to the 50% that Bb had required. Their first semester of use showed an increase in the total number of active courses taught, from 300 under Bb to 400 with Moodle. Moodle is also being used by departments and campus organizations for communication and management.

Most important lessons learned: only two faculty complaints about the new system and throughout summer they would port course and send out an invite to that faculty member which individualized the approach to retraining. The training focused just on those tools that they had already been using through Blackboard.

Smith factoid: 100 hours of training yielded 400+ courses in Moodle
this past fall. 2 complaints – 0.5% of total faculty population

Smith Documentation – some really high end items here, including Flash-based tutorials

Session five, Customizing Moodle, presented by Damon Blanchette of Smith College touched on hacking Moodle. Touted the resources already available through Moodle.org in the form of modules and plug-ins. He mentioned that Smith had incorporated Quickmail to facilitate communication. In my own state of New Hampshire, the Portfolio block is also a popular add-on. Gradebook+ from Humboldt State is another add-on they are using.

As Smith is a Banner school, they are looking to integrate their SIS with their LMS. This is something that bears watching for us as we are a Banner shop as well. Smith is using Moodle 1.7 which has a number of improvements, one of which is the institution of new roles in the environment which can specify with granularity what each role is capable of doing.

[tags] nercomp, moodle, lms, cms, course, management, system, learning [/tags]

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