10 Oct

One-day of Moodling

Last week, the 10th New Zealand MoodleMoot took place at NorthTec in Whangarei. After a night of torrential rain, the community day, the one that I attended on 5 October 2016, brought bright sunshine and warm temperatures. That was a good start to the day. After a short walk and sinking one of my shoes almost ankle-deep into mud on the way to NorthTec, we found the venue, the Interactive Learning Centre, but nobody was there.

Everything was very quiet, not what I had expected from a conference that was to start in about 30 minutes. Fortunately, we did meet a few other conference attendees. An attendee from NorthTec showed us the way to the registration desk, which was half-way across campus in another building. That’s where all the pre-moot activity was. Lots of smiling faces, and Moodlers I hadn’t seen in a while. I must admit that my last MoodleMoot had been a few years ago. It was nice to be back in the fold and catch up with a number of people throughout the day.

Once everyone was settled in the lecture theater, the short presentations could start. Stuart Mealor, the co-organizer from HRDNZ, was the MC and did a wonderful job introducing every single speaker with a personal note.

I liked that we had a single stream. That made the decision very easy, which presentations to attend, and allowed everyone to talk about them during the breaks knowing that we had all been listening to the same.

Moodle in New Zealand and other places

What follows are some insights from the presenters on the day. If you want to see what others had to say, check out Twitter #mootnzx.

Chris Gaul from NMIT talked about online exams using Moodle and what NMIT has learned by trial and error. While the exams worked really well on laptop and desktop computers, students working on iPads had quite a lot of problems as pages froze. In future, they would need to do more testing on mobile especially when they want to allow students to use their own devices for the exams. The exams take place on Moodle, but students still sit them in a room at NMIT and are supervised.

Tip from Tabitha Roder: Don’t have all exam questions on one page as the page will time out at some point. Break the questions up over multiple pages.

Scott Huntley from Pukunui Technology over in Australia, a Canadian working for an Australian company with a Kiwi name, shared his love for all things Pi, Raspberry Pi. He brought along a bag full of different Pis and shared, which ones can run Moodle well, and which ones were an experiment. It was incredible to see the $5 computer, the Pi Zero. Did you know that it was shipped on the cover of a magazine in the UK? Talk about disposable technology. Granted, Moodle only ran very slowly on it, but if you take a Pi 3, it’ll be a pretty decent experience.

Justin Hunt, the maker of PoodLL, talked about his journey as independent developer of Moodle plugins. While Justin is most well-known for PoodLL, the way to do audio and video recordings in Moodle, he’s actually developed over 40 plugins and maintains a good bunch of them. It was interesting to learn that Japan is still far behind in eLearning in his opinion and that it’s mostly foreign teachers who are enthusiastic about it. Justin predicts though that Japan will take off at some point and when it does, it’ll be doing great innovative things and in a well-designed way as so many other things are done in Japan. Watch out for the Japanese eLearning wave.

Pete Jones from New Zealand Language Centres (NZLC) talked about the transformative effect that Moodle had on delivering a better experience for all his clients, not just the students learning languages, but also centre instructors and administrative staff. NZLC took its placement test online. In doing so, staff reviewed the then existing test and its deficiencies and improved it to work better for students and also to yield better results for placing students into the appropriate groups.

By going online, NZLC examined a number of processes closely and took the plunge to change them. For example, students now fill in the registration form online preventing admins to decipher bad handwriting. Lecturers can more quickly grade the placement test and are not as rushed when it comes to giving the students their results. They also start classes on Tuesday morning rather than Monday afternoon after the Monday morning placement test giving students the opportunity to get to know each other a bit more before classes start. By taking the placement test online, students now sit comfortably in front of a computer screen rather than on tables of 4 to 5 people getting into each other’s way with the papers.

Yvonne Hamilton from EIT discussed how EIT uses groups in Moodle for teaching. Instead of selecting a group or grouping for each activity in Moodle, they figured out that sections can be set to be visible for certain groups and that those permissions propagated through to all activities within that section. Now they create all the sections, place the activities for each group in to their respective section and then set the group permissions. That is much less work than doing that on an activity level. EIT also uses the One Topic format to reduce the number of tabs and scrolling that students and instructors have to do.

Chad Outten from My Learning Space in Australia talked about gamification in Moodle and its benefits. There are a few aspects of games that we humans like: flow, resilience, progression, motivation, goals, rules, choices, feedback, status, access, power, and rewards. He did mention that gamification improves engagement and motivation, but there are not clear indications for better learning. More research is still needed. Chad likes a few plugins that can be used to bring more gamification into Moodle, amongst them Level up and Stash. I think Stash could be used for individual activities that then cumulate in a course badge.

Tip from Tabitha: Use Stash in group activities where individual members’ actions contribute to the group stash and everyone needs to contribute before certain other activities are unlocked so as to engage all group members.

Barbara Stokes from EIT presented a moving example of how she came to love teaching again by transforming it and taking it online with Moodle allowing her to increase student engagement and make her teaching and the learning for students more interesting. For example, she uses the Q&A forum to encourage students to post their answers without seeing other students’ answers already. It is also a good place to give students feedback on their answers.

Yong Liu from Unitec had everyone sitting on their seat’s edge during his fast-paced presentation on the ingredients for a good Moodle course. Moodle is not a repository for files, but should be used with its interactive capabilities in order for learners to be active. Take a look at his slides to see for yourself.

Paul Devine from NMIT talked about making Moodle beautiful. He didn’t regard something as “beautiful” in the typical sense of “pretty”. He said that “‘beautiful’ is less what it looks like but more how it makes you feel.” Paul showed results from research that showed how better design increases engagement and emotional attachment. Sometimes already very subtle changes can bring forward a better design that is more pleasing to the eye. NMIT experimented with colors and icons and differentiating individual sections of courses more easily to guide the learner through a course.

In order not to make the course to impersonal, they also have sections of “tutor notes” where a picture of the tutor and a speech bubble are displayed so that the tutor can provide more information, rephrase it or ask reflective questions. This makes the course more human than if there were only the activities.

Other speakers included Wendy Macaskill from the National Library’s Services to Schools who creates courses in Moodle for a variety of adult learners in the role of library support at schools. In these courses, group activities as well as learning journals play a big role. Hazel Owen from Ethos Consultancy talked about assessments in Moodle and the possibilities that are available there, and George Horwath and Dani Mao from Otago Polytechnic presented their way of using Moodle with international students. Martin Dougiamas from Moodle sent a video message as he couldn’t be at the Moot in person.

If there were an award for most-referenced presentations during the moot, it would go to Pablo Guerrero from WIRIS. His graphs and maths impressed everyone although New Zealand did not always get the best results.

And what about ePortfolios?

What would a MoodleMoot be without some love from its friends? 😉 I would say that Mahara falls into that category because both go very well together. However, since this was not a Mahara Hui (Note: The next national one in NZ is going to be held in Auckland from 5 to 7 April 2017; more information soon on the hui website), I could not just talk about Mahara. I started talking about portfolios in more general terms and then illustrated the integration that is possible using Mahara.

Preparing for this presentation it was great to see how tightly Mahara and Moodle work together and that ePortfolios can really complement an LMS allowing learners to take control of their own learning and keeping the learning evidence they wish to keep independent of what they need for a particular course at this time in their learning journey.

The majority of the presentations on the community day could only be a maximum of 15 minutes long and that included questions and discussion. So I thought the best approach would be a pecha kucha with 20 slides and 20 seconds for each slide (I removed the timer now that the presentation is over to make it easier to move from one slide to the next). I do actually like pecha kucha quite a bit as I need to be very disciplined in what I can say as time is limited. It does require more preparation to get the timing right, and as I’ve seen in a pecha kucha earlier in the year, I do need to watch my speed and leave time for breathing.

Unfortunately, not all was smooth sailing.

I knew that Slides would support remote presentations, meaning that I could present from my computer and show the presentation on the big screen even though I could not connect my computer to the projector itself. Everything went without a hitch during the preparation and testing in the room, but when I was about half-way through the presentation, I realized that the slides on the big screen were advancing slower than on my screen. I hadn’t noticed before because I had my back to the projector and didn’t check each slide as I thought I saw the correct slides on my computer screen and don’t like it when presenters talk to the screen rather than the audience.

Trying to speak and problem-solve is tricky, but I could get the projector to show the correct slides again and advanced them manually as I knew what I was saying and how much time I needed for each slide.

I did record the presentation afterwards again as I could not use the recording from the day.

In this session I learned that I would need more preparation time in the room with timed presentations. I’ve given a number of remote presentations with the live view of Slides before that didn’t have a problem at all. I just hadn’t done remote presentations with my computer being on a different network than the presenter computer. This will need some more testing.

I think, my next few presentations will not be timed ones though so that I don’t have to fret immediately about running into technical problems, but can be a bit more relaxed.

25 May

Open Badges in Mahara: The quick way

Open Badges are all the rave at this year’s iMoot because Moodle allows you to earn badges. This functionality is new in Moodle 2.5 that was just released last week.

Mahara will be a displayer of badges once others than Mozilla can also be badges backpacks. We hope that this code will be released soon so we can implement it into the next release.

For the time being however, there is a quick and dirty hack to show off your badges in Mahara by using an iFrame. Here’s what you have to do.

  1. Ask your site administrator to add “backpack.openbadges.org/share” to the list of allowed iFrames. This can be done from Mahara 1.6 on. If you are on Mahara 1.5, your site administrator needs to delve into the code to add the URL.
  2. Go to your Mozilla Backpack and create a collection for the badges that you would like to display.
  3. Make this collection public.
  4. Copy the URL of your public collection and create an iFrame code around it. An easy tool is the Online iFrame generator. Just paste your URL in there, choose the settings you’d like to have, and off you go. I chose scrolling and a width and height of 800px.
  5. Copy the resulting iFrame code.
    Mine looked like this:

    <iframe src=”http://backpack.openbadges.org/share/cb5f7bf2cfcfbf0bfcb7470f2798bb67/” style=”border:0px #FFFFFF none;” name=”myiFrame” scrolling=”yes” frameborder=”1″ marginheight=”0px” marginwidth=”0px” height=”800px” width=”800px”></iframe>

    You can use this iFrame code and just replace the URL which is displayed in bold.

  6. Create a page in your Mahara portfolio and set the layout to 1 column only.
  7. Either use the “Text box / note” block or the “External content” block to embed your iFrame. I am going to use the “External content” block because it’s easier. 🙂
  8. Paste your iFrame code into the block, give it a heading and you are done.
  9. Save the block. Your badges now appear in your page.

For an example, check out my iMoot badges page.

12 May

MMMup – Brainstorming plugin improvements

The Moodle-Mahara Meetup in Adelaide on 8 May 2013 was the perfect setting to talk with users of Mahara and Moodle about a plugin that is frequently used by those that have both platforms. Though we have the Mahara community forums, getting the opportunity to chat with users face-to-face is fantastic because everything is done in real time.

Back in 2012 Catalyst was asked to provide specifications for expanding the Mahara assignment submission plugin to account for the deprecation of MNet by Moodle sometime in the future and to allow for keeping submitted portfolios for accountability in case a student challenged a grade. All other functionality was supposed to stay. Since then a number of functionalities have changed in Moodle and Mahara. Thus hearing what users would like to see today is important for keeping the plugin relevant.

Altogether there were 18 users of Moodle and Mahara in my workshop on the Mahara assignment submission plugin. These came primarily from the tertiary education sector from Australia and New Zealand. But we also had a participant from Fiji and one from the secondary school level. Interestingly, only two of these 18 have used the plugin in question before. However, this did not pose a difficulty because then they were not limited by the current functionality, but could think very freely about what they would like to see in the plugin.

I split the large group into three smaller ones and allowed them time to talk to each other about what they would like to see and discuss their ideas in their groups after having had a quick introduction round. This part of the workshop was important to me so we had a basis for our discussions. We all didn’t know each other besides sometimes having engaged in the online forums. That’s why the introductions were the opportunity for us to put context around where we were coming from.

All three groups had lively discussions and came up with numerous ideas for the future Mahara assignment submission plugin. During the final big group discussion, every group put forward their top ideas which we captured on the whiteboard:

  • Group submissions of assignments as is now possible in the Moodle assignment. This would be ideal with the setting up of Moodle groups / groupings automatically in Mahara.
  • Display Moodle assignments in Mahara as well as the results.
  • Submit an entire collection and not just individual pages.
  • Have the choice to lock a page when it is being submitted; allow for re-submitting of Mahara pages / collections. I.e. allow for more formative and not only summative assessment. Submitting a Mahara page / collection could mean just to submit for the teacher to give feedback, but that doesn’t mean the page would need to be locked.
  • Keep a snapshot for accountability like with other assignments that need to be archived. Potentially have options of what to keep.
  • Allow for versioning of pages / collections in Mahara.
  • Submit a page / collection to Moodle directly from within Mahara so students don’t have to go to the assignment in Moodle first, but can click a button in Mahara.

We also had a few ideas that were not directly related to the assignment submission plugin:

  • Have chat functionality in Mahara. This is already a wishlist item on Launchpad.
  • Trigger for giving feedback.
  • Have more options where Moodle content ends up in Mahara when it is being exported.

Now we’ll just need the funding to implement changes and new features. 🙂 Mahara is an open source project and while everyone can take its source code and run with it, there are costs involved for developing the software further be it by institutions themselves or through providing funding to have Mahara developers perform the task.

If you have further ideas or want to expand on some of the ones listed above, please join the discussion.

12 May

MMMup – Design workshop

Last week was summer in Adelaide and the perfect setting for the first Moodle-Mahara Meetup. Organizers Allison Miller, Carole McCulloch and Box Hill Institute did a fantastic job pulling everything together and hosting a wonderful day showcasing the LMS Moodle and the ePortfolio system Mahara.

Being a member of the core Mahara development team, I love hearing and seeing how people use the software and what they create with it. In this case, the integration with Moodle, a LMS that we also work with at Catalyst IT, played a big part because both systems complement each other nicely.

Thanks to Allison’s reshuffling of my workshop session, I could participate in Shane Nuessler‘s Moodle-Mahara design workshop. Shane explains his workshop very well in his blog post. I liked that it was a true workshop and not a pretend one as we see so often at conferences. Something is labeled a workshop, but essentially it is a long presentation or a series of presentations. Shane had us work in groups and brainstorm ideas in a fast pace.

We only presented our final ideas for the Moodle-Mahara integration and then had a blind voting on it by closing our eyes while Shane counted votes. That was the only point in the workshop when only Shane was talking and otherwise it was quiet. For the rest of the time the room was buzzing with activity and discussions.

Jotting down our answers to his questions on sticky notes that we then put on the windows or walls, I wished we had had time to spend on the sticky notes that weren’t just our ideas as well to see if there were any other commonalities between our distinct groups. As we only had 45 minutes and needed every minute of it for our group work, there was only time to talk about the improvements that we would like to make to the integration. I can imagine a similar workshop with more time on our hands where we share more during the design process to identify common themes that could then be worked on.

An alternative to the voting for an entire team in the end would be to vote for the best three ideas no matter in which team they originated.

Following are a few ideas from the workshop that stuck with me in particular. As I see a lot of wishes for Mahara in our bug and wishlist tracker, some are more familiar to me than others. Here are some that should be added:

  • Tagging assessment tasks with key outcomes as per the curriculum (Moodle and / or Mahara depending on where the assessment takes place).
  • Submit assessments as a group in Mahara. More on this in my next post.
  • Have (feedback) notifications on your mobile device.
  • Help buttons should have clear information on what is going to happen next.

One group also said to start with Mahara and not Moodle and make Mahara the main platform because that is where the artifacts will live longer and because it’s the space where students have the control over their content.

We could have found many more ideas than we had put on the sticky notes, but having to limit ourselves to our top 3 really brought out the essence and the most important ones to go from.

In my next post I’ll summarize my brainstorming session for the Mahara assignment submission plugin.

17 Nov

E-portfolios and tech angels

Summer is in full swing – outside of Wellington.

After a very sunny day in Nelson which I spent giving two Mahara / MyPortfolio Taster Sessions for teachers of Nelson schools at Waimea College, I flew to Auckland for the Digital Technologies Symposium for secondary school teachers. I had another very sunny and very warm day. It also looks like it’s going to be really nice tomorrow.

Today I presented on the topic “E-portfolios: Just for students?” Approximately 30 teachers attended the session. Throughout the day I was then approached by teachers who had either been to the presentation or who had heard about Mahara / MyPortfolio before. It was good that I wore my CatalystMaharaMoodle –  T-shirt thus being easily recognizable. 😉 They either wanted to know more about Mahara or had already thought about implementing it in their schools and wanted to know how to best go about it.

After tonight’s dinner at which Stuart Middleton from MIT (not the one in the USA, but the home-grown one from NZ) gave a great keynote that was filled with anecdotes from his childhood and a number of jokes (he also managed to bring in the engagement of Prince William to Catherine Middleton that had just been announced), I had a chat with Justin Scott from Otago Girls’ High School. They have already looked into Mahara and had run a trial as well. The girls liked the software because it was easy to handle (which is always nice to hear).

During our chat I learned how they support teachers and students in the adaption of technology. It is done through “Tech Angels”. These are girls who help teachers when they have a tech issue to solve. But they also help their peers. “Tech Angels” is a great metaphor for the work they do. The girls are very proud of their work, especially about the badge they get to put on their uniform. It is a great way for them to learn something new and help others understand it (learning by teaching). Teachers also realize that they do not necessarily know everything there is to know. This is a fundamental shift that is not always easy to cope with when teachers have always been the ones who were in control. Suddenly, they have to relinquish part of their power and have students help them.

A number of metaphors have been introduced to talk about the shifting role of a teacher. Ones that I encountered are for example “from sage on the stage to guide on the side”, curator, facilitator, gardener. Sui Fai John Mak put together a long list of roles that teachers can take. That also shown nicely how different these roles and their implied meaning can be. There is no “one size fits all”.