As the role of technology in schools becomes ubiquitous, many educators are searching for ways to use it to their advantage, whether it’s assisting their teaching methods or improving the ways students engage with their learning.
However, cutting through the clutter to find a device or program that is equally efficient for both can be a challenge, and as a result, various technology providers have risen to the occasion to offer a range of different solutions.
One Perth-based open-source learning platform – Moodle – has been helping schools streamline and expand their teaching and learning opportunities by integrating everything needed for a course into a single platform.
Fifteen years on from its release, Moodle holds the largest market-share of any LMS in the world, being used in leading education institutions.
Some of these include Open University UK, Monash and Columbia, as well as major organisations such as the United Nations, UK Government and US Armed Forces, but also include many K-12 schools.
Moodle founder and CEO, Dr Martin Dougiamas, told The Educator about some of the new and innovative projects that this tech gem has on the horizon.
“One of the priorities for the next version of Moodle is the integration with Google Apps and Office 365,” he said.
“This means schools will have the benefit of working with documents collaboratively in those environments, but also having them within the LMS in a way where all of the permissions are synchronised and part of activities.”
For example, if a teacher wants to share a private spreadsheet with their class, they can simply post it into their Moodle course and the entire class will immediately have access to it.
Dougiamas pointed out that currently, teachers need to add students’ permissions individually.
“Group handling is really rough and there’s no synchronisation with other tools,” he said.
Moodle is also working with other edtech companies such as Seqta on an integration project. Seqta largely focuses on student information and pastoral care, areas that Dougiamas said would complement Moodle’s existing features.
“Another feature we’re working on is an analytics project – called Project Inspire. This is focused around computer-aided teaching and will analyse various aspects of a given course, providing teachers with feedback and suggestions about how to improve in certain areas,” Dougiamas said.
‘Giving students a different kind of voice’
Dougiamas said one of the benefits of having an online component as opposed to a face-to-face course is that it gives students a different kind of voice.
“Students can sometimes be more confident typing their opinions,” he said.
“Online courses also allow schools to reduce paperwork and the general management of assessments. This way, you just have some PDFs which you can grade online.”
Dougiamas said online courses integrate the broader Internet into the classroom more efficiently.
“There’s no reason why a teacher can’t invite a subject expert from anywhere in the world to participate in a video conference or forum discussion. I find those opportunities really cool, because it increases flexibility and connections for everybody,” he said.
‘Better implementation of technology needed’
For all of the positive changes that Moodle offers schools, Dougiamas said it was important that principals mandate a thorough and purposeful implementation of Moodle, as well as other technologies, “from the top”.
“I think it’s important that principals direct that kind of activity to make it a mandate from the top, saying ‘as a school, we’ve chosen these technologies, and as part of that, there needs to be appropriate levels of PD around it,” he said.
“The biggest problem we have is that Moodle isn’t being implemented well. I’ve seen way too many schools where Moodle gets dumped in with little support to ensure it’s rolled out correctly.”
Dougiamas added that the failure to have the right ICT infrastructure in place before implementing new technology is a broad issue that applies to many schools.
“There are obvious exceptions, but that is the general case and it informs the kind of things we’re currently working on, such as usability improvements. It’s about making the existing features we have easier to use,” he said.
“A new K-12 project we are starting in 2017 involves hiring a former public school teacher to work closely with a couple of Australian schools to implement Moodle properly as a case study of best practice.”
‘Times change…but we don’t’
The rapid pace that technologies are entering schools can sometimes give the impression that our fundamental ways of learning are changing, Dougiamas said, adding that this was not the case.
“People are still people. Our brains are not changing, because learning is still happening the same ways. Teachers and mentors still have to be there to organise things to inspire students,” he said.
“If you leave students on YouTube, for example, to their own devices, they’ll be carried away down rabbit holes. They’ll learn a lot about Minecraft, Nike shoes or a particular singer, and very little about things that they may not think they're interested in.”
Dougiamas pointed out that society demands citizens “with a broad knowledge and a basic level of education in a variety of areas” that are linked.
“We need citizens with a broad knowledge and a basic level of education in a variety of areas that are linked. That’s the job of our teachers in our school system – to produce informed citizens for society. I don’t see that changing.”
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