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    I love you, but you’re still boring

    April 23rd, 2012

    I have been thinking for a long time about the Moodle issue that is the “scroll of death”. I wrote my first piece on this after the Ireland and UK Moodlemoot 2012.

    Quite a few people have provided me with a variety of solutions that means learners do not have to contend with the “scroll of death”. However what these solutions do not solve, is the fundamental problem, which is…

    If you use Moodle “out of the box” and create a course; so you add a link to a page, a link to a file, a link to a forum, a link to a quiz and the odd lable or two, the end result will be the “scroll of death” and a long list of links… rather than an engaging and interactive learning experience. The learners will have a more difficult and challenging experience when using Moodle. As a result you will have disengaged learners and the complaint that Moodle is “boring”.

    I also know that some of the training at my college in using Moodle has exacerbated these issues. We show people different features of Moodle and of course they then want to add them to their courses. What we don’t do (very well) is get them to think about the whole of their course and not only about how it looks, but also about how the learner experiences and interacts with the course.

    Yes of course you can apply solutions, after the result, however why is it that the “out of the box” vanilla experience isn’t right in the first place?

    It would be nice if the initial approach to using Moodle got the user thinking not about adding links, but about whole course design.

    The problem with this is that most educators I talk to rarely think about whole course design, and are more concerned about planning what they are going to do tomorrow or next week rather than thinking about the course as a whole.

    The more I think about it the more I think that this is the real problem and that Moodle is only a symptom of that issue of the lack of whole course planning by some educators. It’s not as though they don’t plan, I am sure they produce schemes of work and have a fair idea of what they are going to do over the course. However what will be missing will be the detail and the “big picture”.

    So the question I am asking now, is Moodle the answer to this problem?

    In my last blog posting on this, I wrote:

    We might need to take a step back and work out what we actually want Moodle to do and start again.

    Could we in fact get Moodle to be part of the solution rather than than the face of the problem?

    In a future posting I am going to discuss the issues of Moodle UI and Moodle UX and look at some of the points that came out of this discussion on the Moodle Forums that was point out to me by Stuart Lamour, who you may recall got me thinking about all of this at Moodlemoot in the first place.

    What are your thoughts?


    I love you, but you’re boring

    April 4th, 2012

    Probably the session that has made the biggest impact on me here at Moodlemoot 2012 was Stuart Lamour’s presentation from Sussex University on Fine-Tuning the Moodle Experience.

    What the presentation was actually about was how awful the user interface and user experience is in a standard Moodle installation.

    It made me realise that for too long, Moodle development has had a technical focus and has forgotten how important the user experience is.

    Can we really be surprised by this, as over the three days here at Moodlemoot we have heard speaker after speaker, delegate after delegate talk about the “scroll of death” and that teachers and learners call Moodle “boring”.

    As most people who use Moodle know, the “scroll of death” is a feature of Moodle that arises when you actually use Moodle for anything more than showing people how to use Moodle. If you create a Moodle course with real students, then it slowly fills up with links and resources to the point where if the learner is to get anywhere on the course they have to scroll, scroll and scroll again. Yes there are “solutions”, use the Book module, pages, collapsable topics for example, however I think these “solutions” miss the point which is the problem is that there is a fundamental design flaw in Moodle in how information is presented to the end user. The reason that learners and staff call Moodle “boring” is partly the look, but again it’s linked to that design flaw, presenting the user with links to content.

    The problem with “solutions” and these are well known, is that they don’t really solve the problem. We might need to take a step back and work out what we actually want Moodle to do and start again.

    I had hoped that Moodle 2 was going to be a revolution in course delivery, the reality was that from the front end perspective, it was merely an evolution of 1.9. There may have been a revolution in the back end of the system, but from the user perspective there was no real revolution.

    Is it time we start thinking, not about Moodle 2.3 or 2.4 but start thinking about what Moodle 3.0 will be like? Do we need to start getting some heavyweight designers and importantly UI and UX experts into redesigning Moodle? What do you think?


    It’s conditional…

    April 4th, 2012

    I am both scared and excited by the new conditional activities in Moodle 2. Though we have upgraded to Moodle 2, we haven’t yet turned on conditional activities. In the main we wanted to ensure the stability of our upgraded system and needed to focus support on those staff having problems with core issues such as file uploading and the very different navigation.

    Simply put, conditional activities allow you to “stop” learners doing activity B until they have completed activity A. For example get 80% in a quiz before they get the next assignment. Another example, open the resource before they can do the quiz. It’s a very powerful tool and provides a lot more flexibility to teachers on how learners interact with their Moodle courses.

    It is my plan to “turn on” conditional activities at the end of June and follow it up with training in July prior to the start of the new year in September.

    At the Ireland and UK Moodlemoot 2012, Becky Barrington from South Devon College gave a presentation on how it all works and how staff at her college are using this function.

    Becky presenting #mootieuk12

    What was clear from the presentation was that you can’t just go in and “play” with conditional activities, you need to stop and think about it, you need to plan how the whole thing will work.

    Becky did recommend that you focus on using conditional activities selectively for activities over using them for a whole course.

    My training will now focus very much on planning over the technical aspects of conditional activities. This demonstrates the real value of an event such as Moodlemoot in making you think and changing what you are going to do based on the real experiences of others.


    Making the move to Moodle

    April 3rd, 2012

    There are a few presentations here at Moodlemoot about moving to Moodle, either from “nothing” or an alternative VLE. Listening as one does at a conference I was struck by how similar the issues that these institutions and organisations faced. They were also then same issues that other places have had moving to Moodle over the years.

    The question I have, is how many did some research and found out what others did, or did they ignore the lessons of the past and rediscovered those issues for themselves. There is some value in that or is there?

    Ask yourself, when you moved to Moodle did you ask others how they did it? Ask yourself did you find out the problems faced by others?

    If you are in the process of upgrading to Moodle 2 have you done something similar? Do you know about the issues that others have had upgrading to Moodle 2?

    If you moved sometime ago, or upgraded recentlyu, have you shared the problems and issues you faced?

    If there is a to be a true Moodle community, then we need to share our problems and solutions as well as our successes.


    Plugging into Moodle

    April 3rd, 2012

    So where is Moodle going, listening to Martin Dougiamas at the Ireland and UK Moodlemoot, we see how he (and Moodle HQ) want to take Moodle over the next few years.

    Virtual Keynote #mootieuk12

    Martin was pretty honest about how the use of plugins in Moodle are not as user-friendly or simple as it should be. I have always thought that Moodle needs to come with core modules and blocks as it does now, however administrators have the option to add blocks and modules via a web browser rather than installing files on to the server. If Moodle plugins were more akin to how WordPress (as in WordPress.org not the .com service) it would make it much easier to work with plugins.

    On WordPress you search for plugins from a plugins repository, and then install the files. Once installed, you can then “activate” the plugin and it will then work across your WordPress blog. Such plugins allow you to add media players in your blog, make it easier to add third party services into blog entries, also how users can interact with your blog.

    I think it would make as huge improvement to how many people view Moodle if the plugin process worked like WordPress. You as an administrator could choose which plugins would work across a whole site, it would make it much easier to add third party services. For example rather than using the Slideshare embed code, think how much easier it would be if all a user needed to do was paste in the Slideshare URL and Moodle took care of embedding the presentation. Moodle 2 does this already with YouTube videos, so it’s not “impossible”.

    I also think it would be nice if plugins could be installed, not just globally, but could be installed and then made available to courses on a course by course basis. Add this plugin if you want it, otherwise leave it well alone. Would it be beyond current thinking to allow course creators to install plugins?

    At the moment adding plugins to Moodle is not a simple task and can cause issues, especially if an older plugin is installed on a newer Moodle installation (and vice versa). I do hope that one day we can see a simple web based plugin installation with flexible permissions.

    Is this possible?