In her book Learner-Centred Teaching , Maryellen Weimer discusses five key changes to teacher practice that can lead to improved outcomes for learners. We consider each of these in turn and their possible relationship to the implementation of an LMS such as Moodle or indeed a number of related tools, such as Google Apps.
The Balance of Power
Teacher-centred classrooms are power-based classrooms. This conflicts with the notion of empowering the students, giving then some autonomy, as a means of motivation.
Providing resources on Moodle and then requiring students to take the responsibility of studying, commenting, re-working and discussing them with peers will help shift the power base. Of course, these activities can be carried out in the classroom in the presence of the teacher – as is often pointed out – but this kind of activity has a very different flavour when done autonomously under student control.
A specific example might be using a Glossary. In a teacher-centred classroom we might see the teacher give out a list of terms or words for students to study. Another way to handle this is to have the students find definitions for the terms and create their own glossary entries. These can be commented on by other students and the teacher. Careful intervention and facilitation by the teacher will achieve the original objective but the students will feel more “ownership” of the result.
As with many activities this not does absolutely need to be carried out online – it could be done with paper and pencil. However, the ubiquity of web access means that students are free to take a look at a time convenient to them. The on-demand vs the broadcast tv model at work.
The Function of Content
This is problematic because, in schools, the content to be covered is generally out of our control. It is set by external bodies such as examination boards and national curricula. In today’s narrow view typically this is also controlled by national and international standardized assessments.
The need to cover content and to recall it under examination conditions can work directly against the development of creativity and higher order thinking.
Importantly, in his book Teaching for Tomorrow , Ted McCain describes methods for delivering content together with problem-solving skills, improved engagement and active learning strategies. All aimed at giving students “real-world” skills.
Adapting this process from an active classroom to a Moodle course is a real challenge – especially if Moodle is used merely as a content repository and later chapters will discuss some strategies that can be used.
One simple example of McCain’s method might make use of a Moodle forum. The teacher takes on the role of an international consultant and sets up a scenario in which the students pose as members of a globally-distributed problem-solving team. Using the forum they discuss strategies for dealing with pollution in a lake, say. Such an activity would ideally require students to research the background issues (using the required curriculum content) as they work together to solve the given problem.
The Role of the Teacher
As well as maintaining the power balance, the teacher also makes many other decisions in the classroom to the point where most students may well accept that the teacher knows everything that the student needs to know (to pass an examination for example) and the learning process is one of simple transmission.
Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown  write that the education system “has been built on the assumption that teaching is necessary for learning” and they argue that an “environmental view” is need rather than a mechanistic one.
In this view, our Course Management System is a garden where learning is nurtured rather than a factory where learners are processed or battery reared.
Students tend not to question the strategies that a teacher may use, even when the teacher’s style doesn’t correspond well to their own preferred learning style.
A course management system can provide for different resource types (readings, videos, interactive games) and different activities (group-based, individual, self-paced, guided), so that the students have more ways of accessing and working with the content.
Students who have never been given this freedom may well find the change difficult to grasp even threatening or unnerving and teachers need to be prepared for this.
As an example, merely adding a resource such as a forum to a course will not, of itself, produce peer interaction between students. Once again active teacher intervention will be required. The questions set up by the teacher in the forum are vital – particularly at the start – they must be easily accessible to students, not set initially at a high cognitive level for example. Once students enter and contribute, the teacher’s role is to thread and connect the ideas as they develop – where errors of fact or grammatical errors do occur, these will quite likely be corrected by other contributors avoiding having the teacher take on that traditional role but allowing them to support those who take care to be correct.
The Responsibility for Learning
The responsibility for learning has traditionally been that of the teacher – indeed teachers are often harshly criticised by parents, politicians and news media as being “bad teachers” – one rarely hears of the student’s responsibility to learn.
The use of Moodle to provide resources and activities that may be carried out independently of the teacher can shift the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student. For teachers, a very important, but perhaps often overlooked, point is that the teachers do indeed retain important responsibilities and providing motivation and engagement is high among them.
A course in which there is reading after reading, a couple of images, a YouTube video and then a quiz is not very exciting either online or in the classroom.
A quick Poll (or Moodle Choice) can be used, not only to gauge retention of “facts” taught in the classroom but also as a tool to promote reflection, perhaps by asking questions to which there is no single correct response. Having asked a question such as:
Which is the most effective way to secure a house?
- Locking the door
- Closing all the windows
- Leaving a pair of boots on the doorstep
- Emptying the post box every day
When a new topic is introduced will give students time to think through concepts and ideas associated with a subject before any content is presented.
This also encourages students to make active contributions to an online course and begin to get them involved. In other words it provides the opportunity to develop a “community of practice” where students begin to take ownership through individual and collective contributions.
The Purpose and Processes of Evaluation
Weimer mentions three assumptions that are commonly made about grades: They “measure learning precisely”, “objectively” and they “promote learning”.
In the current system, grades are generally awarded by the teachers of a course, there is little in the way of peer assessment or self-assessment – at least in terms of grades that “count”. That is, grades which get students into tertiary education or meaningful employment.
Peer and self-assessment promote learning and higher order thinking skills. Focus on grades which come from external assessment leads to a focus on content, recall of facts, recall of procedures, rote memorization of solutions to problems and other low-order activities. These types of knowledge tend not to be retained long after the examination.
Weimer is far from the only observer to have noted the disparity between the organisation of many schools and the requirements of education for the Information Age. Writing about the “creative workforce”, Erica McWilliam  characterises schools as “a top-down hierarchy of command and control” where teachers work as “content authorities” and “students may well be living in a parallel universe”.
One of the dangers pointed out by McWilliam is that the dominant commercial learning management systems (Blackboard and Web CT at that time) were being “repurposed for old ‘transmission’ teaching”.
Moodle can be misused in the same way and one of the central ideas of this post is that it should not be.
Moodle supplies tools such as the workshop, rubrics, marking schemes which allow for more complex and more meaningful means of evaluation and assessment and which promote the higher order thinking skills that our students will need to succeed in a rapidly changing world.
1: Learner-Centred Teaching, Maryellen Weimer, Jossey-Bass, 2002. ISBN 0-7879-5646-5.
2: Teaching for Tomorrow, Ted McCain, Corwin press, 2005. ISBN 978-1412913843
3: A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, 2011, Self-published, ISBN: 976-1456458881
4: Erica McWilliam, The Creative Workforce, UNSW Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1921410222
Some thoughts as presented at the Sydney Schools Moodle Moot.
These are based on the course that Nina Pollock and I designed in one day at the New Zealand Moodle Moot. The course itself is viewable at Free Moodle (an excellent site) http://www.freemoodle.org/course/view.php?id=543.
We chose the topic of City Vegetable gardens as that seemed to be something we could get information on and complete in a few hours.
Nina developed a nice, clean graphical interface with plenty of whitespace and added the simple but effective graphics. We used the forum, quiz, page, book and glossary modules.
We included hidden elements such as a small achievement badge and cyber eggs – each one is designed to be harder to find than the previous ones.
The achievement “badge” – we didn’t have time to design a nice graphic – only appears when a couple of things are accessed and both 1 post and 2 replies have been made in the forum. This was a “Thanks for being an active member of our community” button.
One of the eggs was hidden conditionally until one particular resource was accessed and another was in the glossary so would only appear when one of the random glossary entries was shown.
Due to shortage of time we linked these cyber eggs to existing material in the Book module. With more time we would probably use pop-up “rewards” – links to other garden examples.
The forum was seeded with a number of topics to encourage audience participation.
The glossary and garden examples book are deliberately orphaned to reduce clutter.
The quiz was used a checklist for participants to determine their readiness. With more time, the feedback responses to “wrong” or “not ready” responses would have included a link to the relevant resource or resources. The “false” response to question 1 shows an example – the more information link throws up an existing resource in a pop-up. The pop-up method was chosen as it would allow participants to continue the quiz after closing it.
The quiz has no penalties, multiple tries, a fixed question order and immediate feedback.
A copy of the presentation is attached although the discussion generated in Sydney was much richer than this might suggest.Moodle Course Design
A keynote at the Sydney 2013 Moodle Schools Moot hosted by Pukunui.
Thought I might share this with a wider audience. It might be a bit self-indulgent in parts but I think it gives some perspective for those new to the eLearning world.
In the keynote I try to show why it is that the time for technology to finally change the nature of education has arrived. For me, this is a journey that started in 1990, for others (notably Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow – ACOT) it started as far back as 1985.
We have come a long way slowly but now things will change fast.
At a recent conference I was intrigued by the title of a Panel Discussion which purported to discuss BYOD and its ramifications for schools.
Imagine my disappointment to find a Microsoft representative there and two heads of schools who were running 1 to 1 device programs.
This was described as BYOD – with designated device. The idea being the the school designates the device and students have to go out and by it.
The Microsoft representative predictably used his stock phrase BYOD = Bring Your Own Disaster. Well Microsoft should know about disaster judging by the reception of Windows 8 and associated tablets. I can only say that at The Southport School BYOD has been an unqualified success.
BYOT is probably then a better term if BYOD is going to be routinely hijacked by vendors and schools running 1 to 1 device programs. These programs may well move schools along the path towards the use of technology to change the pedagogy in the classroom. However, only when we lose the focus on a technology or piece of software will we finally direct our attention fully to the processes taking place in the classroom rather than the technology in use there.
In the meantime, as we watch the online web-based tools for creating content get better and better it is only a matter of time before evryone is simply asked to Bring A Browser of their own choice.
End of rant.
This is the second edition of the book by Silvina P. Hillar and published by Packt (http://www.packtpub.com).
The book surveys a wide range of techniques for using images, audio and video in Moodle courses. It also covers the use of cloud storage and cloud apps like Dropbox, Box.net, Google Drive and Apps, YouTube and Office 365 among others.
I was impressed by the huge range of mainly free tools and websites that were not only covered in the book but also put to good use in Moodle courses. You won’t be short of ideas for the classroom after dipping into this collection.
The target audience would seem to be mainly Middle and High School, judging from the examples but many could be adapted for both younger and older students.
There is an excellent account of file types (eg vectors and bitmaps) and optimising images for web presentation which will be very useful to those who only have a limited understanding of these issues. It is good to see open source software such as Gimp and Inkscape getting mentions if not, given the size and range of the book, thorough coverage. There is certainly enough to get those unfamiliar with these packages started.
Finally the book is, if not exactly rounded out, concluded with a brief account of enabling the most commonly encountered repositories so that files can be accessed in Moodle directly from the file picker.
All in all this is as the title says a recipe book with many useful hints, tips and suggestions for teachers to work with, apply and extend.
Teachers who intend to use the book should be familiar with navigation and basic course editing techniques in a Moodle installation.
A new book, published by Smashwords covering scoping, installing and setting up Moodle 2.5. The book gives the pedagogical underpinning (the why to Moodle) rather than being narrowly focussed on How to Moodle with endless dialog boxes.
Some strategies for professional development are included as is a Moodle Style Guide.
Managing the essentials of courses: completion status, course reports, gradebooks and user management are also covered.
Please see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/315073.
This article encapsulated out philosophy at The Southport School very nicely:
How does it relate to corporate training, if at all?
1. EVERY SCHOOL NEEDS A VISION.
Yes, every organisation needs a vision and what was said about schools here, strong leadership, give room to try and fail and empowering learners in the workforce should apply within a corporate environment also. However, it seems to me that in many organisations this vision may be token at best. Even those with a relatively flat structure do seem to see top-down instruction as the way forward. That is leadership, but not the only kind there is. Something to ponder.
2. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL.
With a wide variety of job functions and a wide variety of learning styles this is also true – however there is more to this than technology and software choices. It is vital to find out what the learning goals are for the task at hand. Isn’t this a bit obvious? Yes it is, but is it always done? There’s a lot of dump and pump out there.
3. DON’T LET SOFTWARE DICTATE LEARNING GOALS.
We buy an LMS and put it to work. We have standard Office Tools and adapt them to disparate needs. Of course, it does make more sense to try to figure out what the goals are and then locate the appropriate technology – but there is a strong dependence on what we already have, inevitably. So do we end up making training that’s easy to do?
4. SUPPORT TEACHERS AND INCLUDE THEM IN DECISION-MAKING PROCESS.
The situation in an organisation is a little different but still the education/training Team do need to have influence as they are the experts in this area. It makes sense to give your education team a strong say in the strategic vision for training within the company.
This is a competitive advantage.