Assembling the heterogeneous elements for digital learning

Trip report – Moodlemoot'AU 2010

The following is a report of my attendance at Moodlemoot’AU 2010 during the first half of this week. The aim is to engage in a touch of reflection, outline tasks to do, and inform colleagues back at CQUniversity about the conference.

My contribution

I was mainly responsible for two presentations at the conference. THe following presentation links include a range of resources, including slides. However, the planned audio/video wasn’t generated. The two talks were:

  1. A short show and tell of the idea for adding and harnessing curriculum mapping and alignment within Moodle.
    The 3 minute limit on this presentation was interesting, but was kept to (sort of). Some interest expressed by folk and a couple of links to follow up.
  2. A presentation showing off BIM and talking very briefly about limitations in developing innovative pedagogy.
    I decided to focus mostly on showing off BIM and how it worked. That was, I think, a good move. Though as it turns out a bit more though on the limitations side might have gone down well. Some good feedback on this presentation via twitter, more on that below.

I was also somewhat associated with two presentations from the Indicators project. Almost all the work for these presentations was done by Colin Beer and Ken Clark, and a great job they did. Seems there is growing interest in the indicators project, the next year or so looks like being very interesting.


For me personally, the conference was – for a variety or reasons – perhaps the most valuable I’ve been to in recent times. Most of the reasons had nothing to do with the actual presentations. There were some interesting presentations, however, it was the connections made and the possibility of future work (in a range of sense) that made it incredibly worthwhile.

This is especially important given that it wass obvious that adoption of Moodle is rapidly expanding with UNE, LaTrobe and Monash announcing moves to Moodle in the months leading up to the conference. Each of these institutions had groups of staff at the conference. In addition, a number of non-Moodle universities also had representatives at the conference. Checking out the competition was the reason given, though I do suspect there are likely to be a few more Australian universities adopting Moodle in the coming years.

This suggests that the institutions that get into Moodle early and effectively have the opportunity to make useful contributions. It also suggests the potential for a critical mass of institutions sharing and collaborating around Moodle and its use for learning, teaching and beyond.

The Gold Rush

The other side to this is the observation that to some extent, there was a feel of a “Moodle” (gold) rush about the conference. Perhaps the settling of the wild west is a better metaphor. Lots of excitement from new settlers exploring a new land, trying to establish how it all works and plan what the future might bring. There were also a few old hands there to help and occasionally shake their head at the new arrivals. There was certainly a sense of excitement amongst the new settlers about the possibilities. I have to admit, that at times and at least for my somewhat cynical tastes, this fervour went a bit too far and on occasion started to take on the air of a gathering of evangelical Christians.

At the same time there was also a sense of there not being any collective history. Without a connection to the land, the settlers were making some fundamental mistakes, implementing practices that don’t make sense in the new land. Reporting and discussing these mistakes at the Moot is a step toward developing a collective history, however, it was somewhat disappointing that some of the insights developed around e-learning, educational technology, distance education and many other “groupings” from past literature weren’t widely known about.

Even more scary is the observation that at times, this lack of awareness, wasn’t limited to individuals new to a field. It was also evident in some of the large scale, “strategic” organisational projects implementing Moodle.

Presentation feedback and twitter

In the past I’ve belonged to academic units where it was compulsory to product a “trip report” on return to the host institution. An almost obligatory or compulsory part of these trip reports was the

My session was received positively by those there.

statement. Given this was a case of self-reporting by the person who gave the presentation, it always felt a bit self-serving. Not to mention that the use of “self-reporting” had to bring into question the validity of the statement.

Of course, I was as guilty as anyone else of using this comment, and in the context of my presentations at this conference,

My sessions was received positively by those there.

However, we’re much more modern now, we have Twitter a tool that’s increasingly being used at conferences to make explicit what was generally implicit. At this conference there was a healthy twitter stream and due to that stream, I have some hard evidence of good comments. See the following image, click it to make it bigger.

Twitter feedback on Moodlemoot'AU BIM presentation

Of course, most of the folk shown in that image are people who follow me on twitter. So, the validity of such comments might remain questionable.

Use of innovations by other institutions

One of the nicer aspects of moving to Moodle (from an institution specific system) has been the adoption of the tools I’ve developed (e.g. BIM) by other people at other institutions. Alan Arnold used BIM as an example in his presentation with James Strong about how University of Canberra worked with Netspot to maintain the balance between “staying vanilla” and innovation with UC’s Moodle.

Though I wasn’t too sure about the naming scheme Alan adopted – “CQU BIM”. According to the re-branding, it probably should’ve been (at the least) “CQUni BIM”.

The lack of TPACK

At least for me, there seemed to be a fairly visible division between the teaching academics, the teaching support folk and the information technology folk. There didn’t seem to be a lot of really strong cross-fertilization between the different groups. And that’s before we start talking about management.

The TPACK folk argue that it’s the effective combination of the knowledge that each of these groups hold that is needed to make really innovative and high quality use of IT for learning and teaching. And at least for me, the moot experience bears this out. Most of the really interesting presentations were those that drew on effective combinations of the various different types of knowledge. An example is given below of Michael de Raadt’s presentation.

Marnie Hughes-Warrington

The conference was opened by the Monash PVC for Learning and Teaching – Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington – who linked Monash’s plans for Moodle and their broader VLE. The comment that stuck with me, probably because it mirrors my own thoughts was

learning with technology is about the connections and relationships

In describing some of the directions they are taking she mentioned that one of the first steps was listening to teaching academic staff and actually fixing the problems they’ve been reporting for the last five years.

There are lessons here for other institutions. At least currently, it appears that Monash are going to be amongst the most interesting to watch of all the institutional adoptions of Moodle. It shall be interesting to learn more about their migration to Moodle, the strategies and thinking underpinning that migration, and the resulting outcomes. In particular, would be interesting to hear from a collection of Monash teaching staff to see how/if their perspective differs from those driving the migration.

Peer review, progress bar, distributive “leadership” and behaviour change

Michael de Raadt – an information technology academic from USQ – gave a presentation on two plugins he’s developed for Moodle: a peer review assignment type and a progress bar block. As an IT academic with an interest in educational research, Michael had first hand experience of a teaching and learning problem, insights into educational solutions, and the technical ability to implement those solutions within Moodle. Both of Michael’s Moodle plugins could be useful for CQU staff and students.

I found the progress bar block particularly interesting. Michael described how students could become almost compulsive about ensuring that the bar was “all green”. The on-going presence of “red” in the bar was visible every time they used Moodle and acted as an encouragement to complete all the tasks, to be more active.

It is this sort of modifications to the Moodle and broader learning and teaching environments within universities that I am most interested in. The progress block appears to be particular effective examples of a “nudge theory” approach to improving learning and teaching.

To some extent, this type of approach is related to a presentation from some folk at ANU titled “Translating Learning Outcomes in Moodle” designed to aid teaching staff make the connection between constructive alignment and the activities available in Moodle. The approach described in this presentation offers some interesting ideas about how the Moodle environment can be extended to improve the capacity of staff to design more aligned activities. In particular, the approach has some potential to compliment the ideas behind the alignment project.

Bridging the gap between Moodle, institutional practice and academic requirements

A number of the presentations at the conference were examining the question of how to automate and/or ease the workload associated with creating Moodle course sites or integrate it with other related organisational processes (e.g. linking it with course outlines/profiles). Though none really seem to have moved beyond fairly limited “administrative automation”. The ANU outcomes approach in the last section looked at this task from another perspective.

No-one seems to be yet moving beyond these fairly limited forms of course site creation. To improving the level of abstraction.

Online assignment submission and management

Perhaps the most obvious collection of presentations at the conference were associated with various questions/issues around online assessment. For example:

  • de Raadt’s presentation that discussed his peer review assignment type;
    Essentially a Moodle assignment type that provides a higher level of abstraction to help with managing student peer marking of assignments with a reasonable level of staff oversight.
  • a presentation on the Lightwork tool for managing/marking online assignments;
    I didn’t attend this presentation, but Lightwork is a project that’s been going for a while now.
  • a presentation around a fair bit, including a Word template/document approach to marking.
    I didn’t go to this either, but know of some folk who did.

The supporting page for the last presentation does make the point that assignment marking and management remains a difficult, time consuming and expensive consideration within universities. Not something that is always done well. A practice within which there is significant capacity for innovation and improvement.

Tasks to do

Throughout a conference there are generally long lists of interesting stuff to follow up upon. After some less than perfect recollection and some reflection, the following is the list of important tasks I need to follow through upon:

  • Follow up with Michael de Raadt around getting more insight into how to make BIM “more moodle like”.
  • Prepare a video version of the BIM presentation that can be uploaded for folk to view.
    Done: video is available here
  • Give more thought to when/how I’ll start moving BIM to Moodle 2.0.
  • Talk with Col, Ken and Damien about how and when we continue the development of the Indicators project’s Moodle block.
  • Turn the idea behind the BIM presentation into a conference paper and subsequently a journal paper critiquing conceptions and attempts to implemented blended learning.

Whether or not I work on the following list of tasks depends more on the outcome of imminent job applications and interviews (not to mention work on the thesis):

  • Follow up with the ANU crew about how and what we might do in partnership around alignment.
  • Follow up with Jonathan Moore from Remote-Learner about connections between the alignment project and the work they are doing around K-12 standards in Moodle.
  • Try and figure out how the alignment project can be progressed beyond a thought experiment into something concrete.
  • Think about how the increasing number of Australian universities adopting Moodle can most appropriately harness this new community and the open source nature of Moodle.
  • Think how the insights from OASIS can be combined with other work around online assignment submission and management to develop innovations and improvements, especially given issues at my current institution.
  • See how and if both the alignment and indicators projects can be turned into successful cross-institutional projects and also successful ALTC grant applications.
  • Would love to see how different Australian universities might review each others Moodle migrations in an attempt to make reporting on these projects more independent and hopefully useful for future action.

There is much, much more to think about and do arising from presentations and conversations at Moodlemoot. I’ve only captured a small sample.

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