Why use Moodle, when you can use something shiny?

A fellow Moodler (Laurie Korte) asked for some talking points to convince her district to use Moodle as its primary collaboration tool.

In my district (and around the web) I often get folks saying “We should use X instead of Moodle” (Ning, Blogger, Edmodo, Facebook, Quia, etc.) and my general feeling is that while there are lots of strengths to each of those tools, they lack the ability to be the one-stop shop.

With Moodle we get one web address and one login that gives students and teachers ALL of the tools that would require dozens of other systems. Is Moodle the best blog tool, the best forum tool, the best wiki tool, the best quiz tool, the best survey tool, the best social networking tool? No. But it is the only web app I have found that has all of these in one spot.

Why is having all these tools in one place so important and why is Moodle so good at meeting lots of need?

  • Prevents login/password overload. Every new site is another web address, username, and password that must be created, managed and remembered. If the school has to create and manage those accounts, it becomes a lot of work. If the teachers and students have to manage/create the accounts, then most won’t bother. Moodle is good at getting login info from other databases and at sending login info to other systems. We have Moodle, Google Docs, and Mahara all tied to a single sign on with Moodle. Soon we will have the Moodle logins tied to our Active Directory accounts. (Edmodo and Ning won’t allow that kind of account management)
  • Prevents fragmentation of progress. One teacher uses Ning because it is really slick for social networking, another uses Quia for online quizzes. Can they share their success with each other? Only by learning an entirely new system and interface. In Moodle if one teacher uses Forums and another uses Quizzes they can share their strategies (or even copy the activity between their courses) and add new tools to their teaching with less “activation energy”. There will always be a few cutting edge teachers who can pick up new tools and experiment from year to year, but you shouldn’t try to make those tools “district standards”. As a district you want one system that you can be assured will meet all your teachers needs so you can move everybody forward.
  • Lack of consistency for students/parents. With one site, kids learn how to interact online and build on those skills year to year. This means the tech is more transparent. If every class/year kids have to learn a new system, there is more time wasted. (Yes I admit that learning new tech can be a waste of time if you do too much of it and don’t use it enough.)
  • Easy for teachers to grow into it. Moodle can start as just a static webpage. This gets a lot of teachers on board (even ones who aren’t on the Web 2.0 bandwagon). Then after a year or two they can add a forum here, a wiki there. After awhile they have slowly integrate Web 2.0 into the classroom. Throw them into something like Ning and most teachers just won’t engage, because it is too much change.
  • Moodle is robust and expandable. Want to upload an Examview test bank? Want to allow 2 quiz attempts with a half hour delay? Want to monitor all student messages? Want to restrict a few students from messaging, but still allow them to take quizzes? Want to give one student the ability to moderate a forum? Want to give students an entire course to use for their project? No other tool I have found has so much power to customize. Also the plugin database full of 3rd party mods is awesome: I have added a nicer file upload system, a cool photo gallery, Google Apps integration, Turnitin.com integration, site-wide message reporting. All for free and easy to set up.
  • Moodle can be used for professional development. Set up an anti bullying course and have teachers go through it. Do Blood Borne Pathogen certification quickly and easily on Moodle. Create a staff discussion forum. No need to have a separate log in for teachers to work with students and teachers to work together.
  • Finally, Moodle can be customized to look very nice

So is Moodle right for your district/school? It may not be, but if you think about long term, system-wide growth and Moodle looks very attractive.

7 comments

  1. 0
    Frankie Kam says:

    Great post, Colin. For a moment I was expecting a review of some new, shiny, sexy, all singing-all-dancing new-fangled LMS alternative to Moodle. You caught me by surprise with an excellent review of Moodle’s strengths! Well, talking about shiny and dullness of Moodle, with some hacks here and there, we can polish up Moodle’s dull bits at the cost of breaking code during an upgrade to the next version of Moodle every 6 months. If the hacks are well maintained and recorded, then upgrades can be less painful. An example of shining-up Moodle is a new feature that I (and a few others) have introduced for the Online Users block and the Stamp Collection module. Both are but some examples on my blog. Hope you will drop by and contribute some ideas.

  2. 0

    Dont disagree that we need to prepare students for a range of systems in the same way that we teach students to appky knowledge to make decisions and show understanding in different situations. You can still do all yhat and have an effective vle and platform. When we run a course like scratch, students put there evidence ib a posterous blog but send the link to an assignment that can allows me to make a marking rubric. Ratger than go to youtube to see videos, students can search a moodle glossary for key help features for specific tasks. Moodle can co-exist along side these other personalised tools and i believe, make the use of the tools more effective. We to have mahara and are beginning to use this alongside moodle with the mahara assignment activity which allows students to submit their pages to moodle for marking and grades to be given back and outcones in their pages. Exciting and scary times!!!!

  3. 0

    @Phil I agree that Mahara is more of an open student-space while Moodle is more of a controlled teacher-space. We have used Mahara a bit and while I think the results have been good our middle and high school students still need a lot of direction to make their portfolios. Perhaps it is because we have trained students that school is a place to be drip fed info and not a place for personal expression.

    @gideon Your school has a nice Moodle site!

    @Chad Thanks :)

    @Joan Good point. However, even with the internet changing most people don’t use more than one system at a time. What I mean is that people choose one system and stick to it (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ for social networking and Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs or Ubuntu One for cloud storage). This can be a problem if a student has 7 teachers and they all do different things (and then 7 new teachers the next year who do different things). Having standard grading procedures, discipline rules, and online platforms helps focus kids on learning the content.

    I agree that learning adaptability and flexibility is a very important life skill. However, I know for sure that I want to have our kids learn how to write respectful and insightful comments online. I know that it takes a lot of practice for them to learn, and I know that most teachers do not have any web interaction in their class. By pushing a single system I believe I have a higher chance of getting teachers to add some sort of web interaction to their classes.

  4. 0
    Joan says:

    Why the need for a one-stop shop? Since Internet is changing bussines we should get used to a changing plattform. Our pupils are used to i.

  5. 0
    Phil Tubman says:

    Moodle is great but working in a university i am kinda bored with the uses most people make for moodle. i mean i love it, don’t get me wrong, but i’m SO much more excited by the prospect of Mahara. Moodle seems to be used mainly to drip feed content as the interactive elements are all controlled by the tutors, and rarely switched on :( I like the idea of students telling ME what they learned today with other external content they have gone off and found or thought about themselves by submitting pages to a mahara group. i can send them notes through group discussion forums. We all got excited about discussion forums in the day; mahara groups are like discussion forums PLUS!

  6. 0

    This is an ace post colin and one that needs to be read by all those seduced by the here today dull tomorrow shiny tools. As a school in its seventh year cof using moodle I could not go elsewhere. The one stop shop idea I use a lot and recently we have also been focusing on the pedagogy and the activities and tools we can use to raise students highe order thinking skills. Moodle is what you make of it but i love that it is not a techy/geeky/IT tool. I get so much satisfaction when cooleagues come to me with ideas and ask what moodke can do for them or how I can help transform their ideas.

    Look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

    Gideon (@gideonwilliams on twitter)

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