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Tuesday, June 03, 2008
  Oh, use your Moodle!
Geoff (at Theologians Without Borders) has been asking to hear about creativity in theological education, in an off blog email "conversation" he has asked about how we use our use of the Moodle CMS in Carey's distance program. I also agreed to do some guest posts with the theme "What if..." dreaming of things that could be done to enrich distance teaching of theology. Here's what I am thinking as a "What if..." post about Moodle. Please tell me what I've missed, or missed explaining - before I send it in to Geoff!

What if... we really used Moodle to the full

Some years ago at Carey we began to "move our distance teaching to the next level". Part of the plan was to install, and make good use of, an open source (means free) online "Course Management System" called Moodle.

Moodle allows:
  • a central store of documentation for a course, which can be updated as soon as something changes
  • students to be reminded of assignments that are due soon and other important dates
  • one central place to email a whole class
  • a place to store and deliver marked assignments
  • a place to provide course related material like pictures, videos, links, PDF files of readings that did not get into the course anthology...
  • teachers to set simple "quizzes" (with questions in various formats like multiple choice, short answer etc.) that can either count towards the course marks or simply provide feedback to students or check that they have done required reading
Moodle is:
  • cheap - no software costs, and even a professionally hosted option is not expensive
  • easy - it takes very little time and instruction for even our less techie colleagues to work the basics, and usually not too long for someone to show you how achieve the less obvious goals
  • scalable - anything from one course with one teacher to the whole British Open University (which with over 150,000 students is a but bigger than the average theological seminary ;-)
  • fairly easy to manage, and there are plenty of people around with experience who can help.
In short Moodle is great, and even better value, and it will allow a Seminary to really support Internet connected distance students, and through discussion forums and emails integrate them into a "class".

Some courses at Carey really quickly began to make real use of the system. Brian Smith (our retired principal who had not used a computer before retirement) clocked up the most student contributions to a discussion simply by asking really thought -provoking leading questions. I used the tests to reward students with up to 10% simply by doing the "required reading" and as a result turned what I think before was 80% of the class in real life do about 20% of the reading, to 80% of the class do at least 80% of the reading.

But there are gaps. Some teachers hardly use Moodle - though not difficult it is one more thing to learn in a life that is too busy. Few of us actually get organised to post pictures and links relevant to our courses... So, implementation and take up of the possibilities are a bit hit and miss...

What if...
  1. We had a "Moodle consultant" (alias a technically minded senior student) who could spend an hour or two each week helping us to use Moodle more or better - guess how much more most teachers would achieve!
  2. We had a policy that all teachers and students in every class promised to take a serious look at the discussion forums for that class at least twice each week (maybe one or two hours of work to timetable in each week, but think of the greater communication with distance students and how much more time effective than individual emails replying one-on-one to questions)
  3. One of the Moodle consultant's jobs was to check what pictures and other resources we used in teaching the class onsite, and helped us make them available to distance students.
  4. A scattering of our courses set as an assignment to present readings online and then interact with other students presentations - I have seen such an assignment put a student in South-East Asia in contact with one in the South Island of NZ and "watched" the experience open the student's eyes to a wider world producing real formative change.

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