VLE / LMS


I had been contemplating creating a 10-page manual for those interested in getting started with Moodle, but I shoved that idea down the idea shredder as soon as I came across this resource:

Moodle

Moodle E-Learning Course Development is a 256-page tome on getting the best out of Moodle for successful learning. So, what has this got to do with shoving my intended plan down the idea shredder?

Well, because you’re about to get an added 63 pages for free. A free preview of the above mentioned book has been made available at no cost and covers a whole lot more than my intended mini-manual (where can I hang my head in shame?).

You can download the sample e-book here (It’s a PDF download and you’re going to need Adobe’s Acrobat Reader to open this file).

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Moodle I gotta admit, ripping off a line from PB & J Otter’s “Noodle Dance” and altering it slightly for my blog title is pretty lame, but it’s a catchy tune and and I just can’t seem to get it out of my head. This even after hardly watching it with my son anymore. Whoops!…I mean…eh… my son hardly watching it anymore.

Anyway, I digress. It’s Teacher’s Day here in Singapore and I thought I’d better deliver what I’d promised you on 23 August; yes, about that free LMS thingy, called Moodle

Moodle is the world’s most popular open-source pedagogical course management system that allows for anyone to download and create their own online learning communities. As an educator, this gives you the opportunity to have full control over your lesson materials that you want to share, quizzes or surveys you want to conduct, online discussions and chats you might want to hold, review assignments and tracking your students’ progress. This is an extension of your classroom onto the World Wide Web with a wider range of possibilities at your disposal.

You can choose to conduct a self-paced course or, conduct a live instruction –  the choice is up to you. Either way, you are now part of an emerging culture called, “contextual collaboration.”

Alright, I sense a little skepticism emanating from you. You’re probably asking why you would  need a LMS when you have been doing so well without one. You’re right. You probably don’t need a LMS. You can retire from your teaching career without even having to look at one. But as with any kind of technology, it’s there to give you possibilities. Possibilities you never had before. Possibilities to improve your students’ grades because of an extended form of interaction – and more.

Jason Cole, author of ‘Using Moodle’, a how-to guide for teachers says this:

Imagine moving most of your content delivery to an online environment and saving your course time for discussion, questions, and problem solving. Many instructors have found they can save time and increase student learning by allowing students to engage the material outside of class. This allows them to use face-to-face time for troubleshooting. Online discussions give many students the opportunity to express themselves in ways they couldn’t in a regular class. Many students are reluctant to speak in class because of shyness, uncertainty, or language issues. The ability to take their time to compose questions and answers in an online discussion is a boon to many students, and instructors report much higher participation levels online than in class.

There are a number of other reasons to think about using a CMS in your courses:

Student demand.

Students are becoming more technically savvy, and they want to get many of their course materials off the Web. Once online, they can access the latest information at any time and can make as many copies of the materials as they need. Having grown up with instant messaging and other Internet communication tools, online communication is second nature to many students.

Student schedules

With rising tuitions, many students are working more hours to make ends meet while they are in school. About half of all students now work at least 20 hours a week to meet school expenses. With a CMS, they can communicate with you or their peers whenever their schedules permit. They can also take quizzes or read course material during their lunch break. Working students need flexible access to your course, and a CMS is a powerful way to give them what they need.

Better courses

If used well, CMSs can make your classes more effective and efficient. By moving some parts of your course online, you can more effectively take advantage of scheduled face-to-face time to engage students’ questions and ideas. For example, if you move your content delivery from an in-class lecture to an online document, you can then use lecture time to ask students about what they didn’t understand. If you also use an online forum, you can bring the best ideas and questions from the forum into your classroom.”

Source: Jason Cole (2005). “Chapter 1: Introduction”. In Using Moodle, pp. 3-4. O’Reilly Media.

And how does Moodle compare to a commercial LMS, such as the infamous Blackboard? To me personally, there is no comparison. One is free and open-source, while the other burns a huge hole in your pocket, or handbag –  wherever it is you stash your money. But Jason Cole has a better answer to that:

 Moodle is the only open source system currently available that can compete with the big boys’ features. In fact, the educators in the developer community have given Moodle some features that the commercial vendors haven’t even thought of. That’s the advantage of an educator- driven, open source system versus a marketing-driven, for-profit system.”

Source: Jason Cole (2005). “Chapter 1: Introduction”. In Using Moodle, pp. 6. O’Reilly Media.

Thomas N. Robb also provides a good rundown of what he thinks of Moodle.

Now that you have a better idea of what Moodle is, you might want to get your hands dirty with it. If you’re already an experienced Moodle user, then I would love for you to share your thoughts and experiences about using it, so that we may all benefit from your experience.

If you’re keen on trying out Moodle but have no idea as to how to get around to using it, head on over to Moodle’s Documentation page and read its guide. Moodle has a huge fanbase as well, so this means you can approach any one of these fanatics by visiting the forum and getting the help you need. There is always someone on the forum who can give you the answers you want. It’s really a wonderful community of Moodle users looking to get the best out of this powerful CMS.

You may also be interested to know that besides Moodle, there are a couple of other open-source Learning Management Systems that are available for use. It’s always good to have options. So here they are:

A final point to note, is about Blackboard’s patent and its impact on open-source LMS. As it stands right now, no light has been shed on it. And because I’m not a lawyer, I’m unable to give you any kind of legal advice.

But I can tell you that Moodle users are still using Moodle to run their courses. People are still downloading and implementing Moodle. Nothing really has changed. Check in with the Moodle forum to clear your doubts. And always read the documentations and license agreements before downloading Moodle, or any kind of software. I am keeping abreast with this issue and I will keep you posted on the latest as it happens.

Happy Moodling.

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Distance Education 

At least I think so. We’re living in a technology-rich world. A world where borders are being torn down, especially where communication is concerned.

From the good old days where messengers were sent out on sometimes treacherous journeys to deliver messages from one town to another or one village to another, to the invention of the telephone and now the internet, communication technology has made possible what Alexander Graham Bell had only dreamt about; a future with no borders (there are those who believe that a borderless world is only an illusion; but there are two sides to every coin, isn’t there?).

And that’s why the term “distance education” or “distance learning” which is used as a catch-all phrase to mean online education; seems to send out the wrong message.

Digital technology has brought the world closer together. Thomas L. Friedman claims it has made the world flat. And this applies to education as well. The Internet has brought education into our bedrooms, or where ever it is you surf the Internet and extinguished all apprehension about physical localities. In fact today, you find “distance education” students who are living just across the actual school but prefer asynchronous communication to being physically present. Distance, is no longer a point of contention.

Fortunately, terms like “web-based learning”, “e-learning” and “online education” are being bandied around more often and more commonly than “distance learning”. A sign that end-users understand that these terms are not substitutable and do possess significant differences. eLearn magazine published an article that did a fine job of shedding some light on these definitions. I caught myself nodding in agreement with almost everything I read there.

As an educational professional, you might find my somewhat childish gripe almost trivial. And rightly so. For what is of greater importance, is that you know web-based education works. You know that web-based education is not a replacement for education in schools. In certain cases it is, i.e., courses for adults who are constrained by time. But in most cases, it is there to enrich learning activities in schools. An extension to aid in the learning process for your students.

And something that relates very significantly to web-based education is what you may already know as a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or Learning Management System (LMS). Other similar terms being used are Course Management System (CMS), Managed Learning Environment (MLE) and Learning Platform (LP). Whatever you want to call it, its job function is the same. To facilitate education via computer-mediated communication. You may already be using such a system in your school.

One of the biggest providers in VLEs or LMSs is Blackboard, a US-based online learning provider.

Singapore Polytechnic and Nanyang Technological University are amongst the few educational institutions in Singapore using Blackboard. NTU even offers Blackboard-related courses for educators.

You may also be interested to know that Blackboard had recently been granted a patent for the Learning Management System. And this patent is already applicable in Singapore. This means that any e-learning programme being implemented has to take into account Blackboard’s patent to avoid any kind of infringement. To prove a point, Blackboard sued Canadian company Desire2Learn, a major competitor, on the very day it was awarded its patent.

Just thought you might find it interesting that education, a booming multi-billion dollar global business is not absolved from sparring in the courtrooms. Maybe, the very fact that education is a booming multi-billion dollar global business is evoking the litigious side of capitalistic companies and individuals.

Quite obviously, this patent has caused something of an uproar within the e-learning community. We’ll have to wait and see how much of an impact this patent has on e-learning but quite honestly, I don’t see this patent doing a lot of damage. Because every time something like this happens, someone else pops up with another brilliant innovation to supplant the previous one, or becomes a major competitor.

Fortunately though, e-learning is not dependent on VLEs or LMSs for its continued growth and success. Moreover, you have enough e-learning tools at your disposal to engage your students with and keep them enthralled. I will talk about one such tool in my next post.

It’s a LMS that allows anyone to use it, implement and benefit from. I’m sure you’ll find it extremely useful, if not, you’ll be quietly appreciative of the fact that you can use it anytime you find the need for it. Best of all, it’s free. You may already know which tool I’m talking about. If not, watch out for my post.

It’s not just educational institutions that gets to enjoy all the privileges.

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