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Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media

 
 
Picture of Paolo Oprandi
Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

In a recent blog post I argued that Moodle should look to follow the market leaders of social media in order to draw inspiration for future developments. This got a lot of comment and some disagreement. Here I explain my point in more detail.

It is a truism to say that in order to obtain a deep understanding of something (or to be truly knowledgeable about it) we need to engage in the subject material.

We also know that students often do not truly engage with their studies. Even the students that do well often have only done enough to pass assessments. In such cases their knowledge is usually transient and useful only for the purpose of passing the assessment.

Many of us in education feel this is a wasted opportunity and are trying to get students to engage at a deeper level with their studies.

So how do we do this?

Usually it involves breaking the educational mould which many of our successful students have grown comfortable with. We need to step outside the traditional models of teaching and assessment. It helps if we conceptualize teaching as a process of guidance, and assessment as a process we do in order to guide our students better. It helps if we bypass theories of learning which articulate it as a process of "acquiring knowledge” and follow theories of learning which articulate it as a practice of doing.

I have seen inspiring teaching and assessment methods being deployed at my institution: tutors who are changing the educational rules, making space for social interaction and rewarding students for engaging in activities which require criticality, personality and resourcefulness. I am happy to talk to you about it some time.

However, of importance to my argument here - education is not the only cultural field that are trying to get people to engage. Social media companies attempt to get its users to engage too. And they are very successful at it.

When I walk around the computer labs at my university I am more likely to see the students having a Facebook page open than our learning system. Why? Because they find it engaging and they want to interact with it.

It is worth noting, and I am sure you will agree, that learning is not confined to educational settings. We are always learning. We learn from whatever we engage with - whether play-fighting with our siblings, building electric cars or having a football match.

We are also learning when we are engaging with social media; learning about current affairs, personal hobbies, and what our friends, and the wider world, find funny and interesting.

"So what?", you may ask, "We aren't interested if our students learning this stuff - we want them to learn the course curriculum".

No, but we can draw insights from it - "if only we could marry the two”.

In the same blog post I argued that in blended learning scenarios a Moodle course is like a bespoke textbook for the curricula being taught. And we all know that education at times struggles to get students to engage with their curricula learning, particularly engagement with content buried in textbooks and online resources.

Let me explain, I find the bespoke textbook a helpful metaphor when conceptualising the creation of a course/site, but it isn't as helpful metaphor when thinking about the students' experience of interacting with the learning environment.

Think of Facebook. From the user's point of view they are updating their profile, but from their friends' point of view they are adding to the stream in their list of News items.

Similarly from a course creators' point to view they adding resources and activities to their bespoke textbook, but consider this: what if from their students' point of view the content or activity being added was to a stream of curricula-related updates. Would this stream be more effective in drawing our students into the course sites (bespoke textbooks) and engaging further? Evidence drawn from social media would predict so.

According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: "Every new product that wants to build engagement bases its design on feeds”. I argue then our learning systems could benefit from being based on feeds too. A feed-based learning system could be a dynamic and an addictive interface which keeps students coming back and engaging in curricula-based content.

Steven Levy in Wired magazine (Jun '14) says, "Ever since Twitter and Facebook debuted in 2006, the model of continually streaming updates has come to define how we consume information”.

Consume information? Is that like learning? I don't know, but my point is that when designing the Moodle software we should look to social media to find patterns which can encourage our students to interact and engage with curricula learning and increase  its vibrancy and relevance.

Comments welcome.

 
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Picture of dawn alderson
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

Hi Paolo, as per-interesting post.  Not attempted to answer your questions...but have included some comments-hope this is OK.


Sounds like a PLE described in your post.   See: http://anitacrawley.net/Articles/DabbaughPLE.pdfALTHOUGH NOT RESEARCH AS WE KNOW IT HERE IN THE UK-TIS US genre. But framework appears interesting.   Presents A frame-work for using social media to support Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) in Personal Learning Environments (PLEs)

A levelled approach.....but goes beyond a bespoke text-book.....and I think...Moodle has a number of these features already (among others-talking about level 2 of the framework) that can, combined, be a platform akin to SM features-NO?

Here is a snippet about the framework - from the research paper:


'At level 2, social interaction and collaboration, instructors

should encourage students to use social media to engage in basic

sharing and collaborative activities. For example students can

enable the blog's comment feature allowing instructor and peer

feedback or create a collaborative workspace using a wiki. At this

level of the framework, students are using social media to foster

informal learning communities surrounding the course topics

thereby extending the PLE from a personal learning space to a

social learning space. These social and collaborative activities

engage students in the self-regulation processes of self-monitoring

and help seeking prompting students to identify strategies needed

to perform more formal learning tasks. This level of social media

use in a PLE aligns with the performance phase of Zimmerman's

model (Kitsantas & Dabbagh, 2010)' (page 4-section 4).Tis worth looking at page 5 table 1 too.


My question....what exactly does social media offer that Moodle cannot?Surely, there are, as I suggest here, features and functionality in moodle- across the resources and activities that can be combined for a PLE environment....am just not convinced that because students hook up with FB/Twitter etc regularly- that they will engage more with formal learning facilitated by such modes for engagement. Would it not be the case that the informal mode would need to take precedence...if so, how would you teach statistical analysis at Masters level- informally over Twitter, for example? If there is an answer to this, then I am totally convinced about the whole social media hype. But, if the argument that SM only suits certain subjects and certain levels across educational institutions- as a mode for informal and formal learning-this provides a huge problem for continuity and progression in traditional educational settings. Transition-work, heavily needed...on top of everything else...like the basics, such as note taking! Confused.com!

D

 

 
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Picture of Paolo Oprandi
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

@Dawn - hi.

Moodle is an institutional tool to support traditional teaching and assessment structures. This is not a revolutionary piece of software - hence its success so far. What I envisage are tweaks to the system following cues from leaders in other related industries. Moodle still supports educational models where the curriculum is determined by the institution and its tutors. I am not talking about an e-portfolio or PLE as I understand them.

So for clarification - we keep the course site. The bespoke textbook exists and can be accessed in its entirety: read like an online textbook; tasks and activities completed like those in an online textbook. That still exists. But we have a layer on top of that. A home page probably. A page which provides dynamic hooks into the courses. Hooks with curricula-related social interaction and relevant, timely content - contributed by tutors and peers.

Secondly, many will argue that social media models are not relevant to higher level learning in highly academic subjects. I disagree.

We can make curricula content interesting and relevant to our students. It almost certainly felt both interesting and relevant to them when they chose to study it. This is primarily the role of the teachers and their teaching and assessment practices. But it can also be aided by the design of our online learning systems. We can support the development of knowledge in our students through using interface patterns which promote engagement and interaction. 

If we can make Moodle an addictive, sticky interface - full of curricula content and activities - we are increasing the students' engagement with the curricula and the relevance.

 
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C'est moi :-)
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
Group Documentation writersGroup Particularly helpful MoodlersGroup TestersGroup Translators

Hi,

As far as i understand what you mean (english isn't my primary language), we could think at an alternative "My Moodle" page, showing things not ordered by courses (and course categories) but mainly by timeline.

It could perhaps be an interesting thing (option) to test, to see if there is an adoption for that, and if users/students are more involved this way.

Séverin

 
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Picture of Paolo Oprandi
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

@Séverin- we may share a vision smile

 
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Picture of dawn alderson
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

Hi Paolo,

Always open to challenge and change-if I get the reasoning behind stuff.Here, I hear what you are saying. A number of things then-if I may smile

1. I would really appreciate your help in order to understand the following:

What exactly can social media offer that Moodle cannot?

2. When you say: 'Moodle is an institutional tool to support traditional teaching and assessment structures. This is not a revolutionary piece of software'

Have you used other software? You know-the more generic types?And, in terms of that thinking-we might agree on the word revolutionary in relation to the lack of constraints offered by Moodle compared with other kit out there. Of course, we may not agree....still. But I do think Moodle offers a lot of flexibility, in the least, by comparison.

3. When you say: 'So for clarification - we keep the course site. The bespoke textbook exists and can be accessed in its entirety: read like an online textbook; tasks and activities completed like those in an online textbook. That still exists. But we have a layer on top of that. A home page probably. A page which provides dynamic hooks into the courses. Hooks with curricula-related social interaction and relevant, timely content - contributed by tutors and peers.' DO YOU HAVE A MOCK-UP OF THIS- THAT CAN BE SEEN ONLINE? SOUNDS FASCINATING AND INNOVATIVE.

4. And...ditto with regard to this:'We can support the development of knowledge in our students through using interface patterns which promote engagement and interaction'....A MOCK-UP...TEST/DUMMY-SITE...?

If the answer is no for 3&4....then why not pilot these fruitful ideas?

Finally, is the crux of your argument that you wish for Moodle HQ to listen to this and act in some way in order to inform development in core? If so...what is it exactly that you are proposing....???? Is it a focus on the bespoke textbook....sorry-am a little lost with the focus part now, we have moved around a bit eh smile  How about a funnelled-down version of your key points here...would be helpful for the likes of me (sorry!). 

Ta

 

 
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Picture of Richard Oelmann
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
Group Particularly helpful MoodlersGroup Testers

Would this stream be more effective in drawing our students into the course sites (bespoke textbooks) and engaging further? Evidence drawn from social media would predict so.

Not evidence based and not disagreeing with your premise Paolo, just noting personal experience:

A module I have recently been doing on a Masters course on creating a digital learning environment made use of a learning environment that is aimed specifically at this kind of social media stream to present learning materials (Edmodo). After a few weeks, our use of that system disappeared almost completely, reverting back to the more standard VLE in use at that institution - at the request of us students.

My take on it - some courses benefit from a 'social media stream' approach, some from a more formally structured approach. Tutors should be able to select which one best fits their course/materials. This sounds like a course format option to me (Social? - possibly with a better looking forum interface!) rather than a complete retarget of the whole environment, or am I misunderstanding your suggestions?

I've also been trying out ELGG as an option to provide similar social tools within a course structure (using LTI). It can provide 'Facebook' style walls, microblogging, forums, friend groups etc.

 
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Picture of Richard Oelmann
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
Group Particularly helpful MoodlersGroup Testers

Just to clarify - that first phrase of mine should point out that MY views as stated are not evidence based, just reflections of a personal experience, not commenting on what anyone else has posted! smile

 
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Picture of Paolo Oprandi
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

@Richard, it doesn't surprise me that your course had problems.

Everyone likes familiar interfaces, no-one more so than students being introduced a host of new and difficult concepts in their studies. No-one likes change, least of all stressed students.

The benefits of the new system need to be high and, as a tutor, you need real conviction. Even then you will meet resistance from students.

We need to get the interface right and we need to get it right once. Just as we need to get our teaching and assessment right once before students buy into easier models which allow them to get credits at the expense of deeper learning.

 
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Picture of Richard Oelmann
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
Group Particularly helpful MoodlersGroup Testers

It wasn't my course Paolo - 'A module I have recently been doing' -> I was one of the students ;)

And the particular course was looking into the design of learning environments, hence the reason we were asked to look at this one as an alternative, then we were asked which we preferred. Many of my fellow students were not particularly familiar with either the core learning environment or the more social one, although many are Facebook users, yet the vast majority opted to return to the core learning environment for our academic work when given the option of discussions and activities and so forth running on a more socially oriented site.

As I said - this is not an evidence based conclusion, but an observation - a report of my own real world experience as a student on a course where I would have expected the students to be open to changes such as you suggest as it is in the direct area of study.

 
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Picture of dawn alderson
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

indeedeedodo, Richard. Tis a very different way of experiencing L&T when in the shoes of the learner, within traditional ed.

Paolo...in addition it might be worth gauging student voice about your ideas too...although I think what you offer there sounds appealing for HE learners...their input could also enrich developments.

cheers,

Dawn   

 
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Picture of Jez H
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

Have you seen this:

https://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=257998

It discusses a new "Social" course format for Moodle, I believe they have started work on that, looks very interesting.

The benefit of doing that in Moodle is you could easily switch between that and another format.

It even opens up the possibility of split (A/B) testing between different groups of students (to a point).

 
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Picture of Jez H
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers
"what if from their students' point of view the content or activity being added was to a stream of curricula-related updates. Would this stream be more effective in drawing our students into the course sites"

I believe so. Below is a link to a screen shot of an "Activity Feed" block I was playing. It is being developed by Amanda Doughty at City University London and is in part based on the work you did at Sussex:

MyMoodle With Feed Block

Amanda put that code on GitHub.

However one thing social does very badly is showing you what is important or useful. For example your recent tweet on "Where is my Feedback" (very interesting) was some way below a photo of a coffee cup posted by Julian Ridden (he has better ones smile ). That carries across to Activity Feeds in Moodle, for example a busy forum will suppress notifications of  new resources being added.

The block Amanda is working on uses Moodles notification system so users can control what kind of updates appear in the feed. I think that kind of thing is important to think about. Below is a screen shot of how this works in Moodles notification settings:

Notification Settings Screen Shot

There is another LMS which has Twitter in the list of notification types, so you could see "Popup", "Email", "Activity Feed", "Twitter" and receive notifications that way too.

Whilst there are things that can be learned from Social platforms I think more relevant lessons can be learned from other educational systems.

I recently tried out Khan Academy with my six year old and despite having a very short attention span she really took to it. In that system you see a dashboard which shows you what you need to work on. It is simple. It focuses users attention on what they need to be doing. It shows you what you have achieved. It provides incentives (gamification) and rewards certain behavior (regular use, interaction). It gives teachers an overview of this activity and attempts to highlight problems.

I think a great thing for Moodle would be a dashboard (MyMoodle) that:

  • Showed you an Activity Stream
  • Told you what is important
  • Told you what you should consider working on now / next
  • Showed you Your progress
  • Perhaps showed your level of activity (engagement) in relation to your peers
  • Helped you Prioritise your work
  • Helped you Manage your time

and through all of these things (and more) engaged / encouraged you to use the resources available to you.

I think the feature you developed which showed "number of updates" in the header navigation is a good way to drive users back to their "dashboard", the down side is it could be a distraction if it takes users away from what they should be doing.

The problem with doing some of this is there is no way in Moodle to identify what is important. Some kind of weighting would be worth thinking about. For example weight assignment updates above forum posts, perhaps allow staff to weight resources they added somehow, but then getting consistency between staff would be difficult.

 
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Matt Bury
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

Hi Paolo,

Thanks for starting this discussion. There's a lot of discussions about how to make Moodle more "social" and there seems to be a lot of demand for Facebook-like features. I like the way your framing it and hope it'll be productive.

My take on the "making it more attractive to learners" is this:

Advertising, PR, Marketing, and to a great extent are entertainment and, more often than not, fit the mantra, "Don't make me think!" Education, on the other hand, wants its participants to think critically (i.e. "deeper learning"). Typically, critical thinking is unpopular because it...

  • requires and great deal of time and effort,
  • causes discomfort and unhappiness,
  • generates conflict and tension,
  • poses risks to relationships,
  • is relatively easy to avoid,
  • and is strikingly rare in everyday life

(Adapted from Tom Angelo, Seven Layers for Higher and Deeper Learning, 27th Annual Teaching & Learning Innovation Conference, Guelph, Canada, 2014).

Another way to put it is, "Some people can't tell the difference between critical thinkers and haters."

I posit that if you filled up a learner's Facebook "friends" list with critical thinkers; always questioning assumptions, asking for well-reasoned, evidence supported arguments, reflecting critically on every incident; and blocked their real "friends", they'd more than likely not return to Facebook in between study/work quite so often.

That said, I think it does help enormously for learners and teaching and support staff to build their social presence* and for their chosen platform (i.e. Moodle) to support this as well as possible. Learners need to know what's recent, what's coming next, where their "stuff" is, and when and where to find their classmates, teachers, and support staff. Perhaps a productive approach would be to look at what strategies and curriculum designs help to establish, cultivate, and encourage social presence, see what can already be done in Moodle to this end, and where it needs improvement, rather than copying what Facebook does to entertain its users and sell stuff.

*See: Rourke, L., Anderson, T. Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing social presence in asynchronous, text-based computer conferencing. Journal of Distance Education, 14(3), 51-70.

Here's a list, in no particular order of papers and articles on social presence in online learning environments:

I hope this helps!

 
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Picture of Jez H
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

My take on the "making it more attractive to learners" are things like this:

  1. Fewer clicks
  2. Show people things without them having to go off hunting for them
  3. Make it clear what they need to do
  4. Make important things stand out on the page

For me activity feeds really help with point 2, the current situation as I see it goes something like this?

Q: How do I know whether a new resource has been posted in one of my many courses?

A: Go to MyMoodle

Q: Where is MyMoodle?

A: MyMoodle is one of a Myriad of links on the page, you just try the breadcrumb link (if its used in your theme), or maybe drill down into your settings block, oh and make sure its not collapsed or docked or you wont see it.

Q: Great, but how do I know if MyMoodle has anything new to show me?

A: I recommend you click it once every 30 minutes

It's a bad process.
This is a much better process:

Q: How do I know whether a new resource has been posted in one of my many courses?
A: Just look at the "Updates" notification in the nav bar

 
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Picture of Dale Davies
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

Just been reading through this whole thread and thought I'd share some of my developments from our VLE here at The City of Liverpool College. Specifically reworking the My Courses page to show timely updates and alerts to students, and introducing a "Social Stream" area into each course page.

In addition from student feedback one of the main issues I was asked to address was the need to separate out course pages into sections to make vital content and functions easier to navigate.

The new tabbed course format contains the following sections...

  • Course Information - standard Moodle topics layout
  • Social Stream - custom learning community & social media integration
  • Course Files - central files area
  • Reading List - integrated with Heritage library system
  • Assignments - custom assignments list and grade book


I have a demo of the social stream on You Tube if you want to see how it works...


Feedback from staff and students is very positive about the change, but I wouldn't say this alone helped us to improve student engagement. We spent a lot of time with teachers helping them to better integrate learning technologies into their curriculum.

 
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Picture of dawn alderson
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

Brilliant Dale! Absolutely brilliant. I can see the L&T oppts in this.

Congrats.

Dawn

 
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Picture of Jez H
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

That course format looks really nice, as does the twitter integration, but there are a couple of things that would bother me about twitter:

  1. Privacy
  2. 140 Character Limit

I am well aware of the benefits of using twitter for some things but an not entirely sold on the idea. I read this recently which suggested "email is as good as dead amongst students":

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/social-media/10864320/Email-is-dead-for-todays-students-who-prefer-Twitter-universities-say.html

I wonder if the author of that article bothered to look at what potential employers required?

This kind of relates to Matts comments above:

"Advertising, PR, Marketing, and to a great extent are entertainment and, more often than not, fit the mantra, "Don't make me think!" Education, on the other hand, wants its participants to think..."

I am not suggesting email makes you think and Twitter does not, but Twitter certainly limits what you can say / express.

What is clear is social media designed platforms which as Matt said "dont make me think", because even the worlds greatest non thinkers can be monetised. In fact an audience of non thinkers can almost certainly be monetised more effectively online than an audience of critical thinkers.

A few years back we we forced Moodle accounts to use to use their University email address as notifications sent to third party addresses sometimes ended up in spam folders. At that time someone told me "(degree) students cannot manage more than one email address".

My response to that was "then they are unemployable" because an employer would not let them conduct "business" under the alias of misspiggy1234@yahoo.com.

The same is true for Twitter and for that reason amongst others you have to find a balance between convenience / engagement and teaching students to use the basic tools they will need in life.

I am not suggesting you have that balance wrong and I really like what you have done, these are just wider thoughts I had on the subject that seemed to fit under your original post smile

 
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Picture of Dale Davies
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

Yes there are obvious safeguarding issues around the use of social media in education, we encourage the use of twitter hashtags in this context for aggregation of content.  So the teacher can say to a group "tonight.s homework is to research X on the web and tweet your findings using the class hashtag".

What we didn't want was to lock the students into being forced to use social media (there may be legitimate reasons they have opted out like bullying), so we decided that the course social stream should work out of the box without any Twitter integration so students can post/share anything they like via the VLE.  If the teacher decides to use Twitter then they can link in a hashtag and anything posted to twitter with the hashtag will show up on the course social stream mixed in with everything else.

We also provide digital literacy sessions for students to teach things like proper research on the web, staying safe online, managing their digital footprint etc. 

 
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Picture of Dale Davies
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

In addition - actually I believe things like twitter are just tools, the teacher should always start off by looking at what they want to achieve and choosing the appropriate tool for the job while planning their curriculum, class sessions and assessments.  Be it Twitter, blogging, email, flipped learning or just plain filling out reems of paper.

 
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Picture of dawn alderson
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

my how the wind doth change! I am taken by the whole thing Dale. And my reasons follow:

1. I assumed it was a course twitter feed, really nice idea...condensed communication is not a bad idea if it supports FtF and/or other online activity/engagement about the topic in hand. It is good practice to afford students opportunities to summarise their thinking.

2. It does seem to me that this condensed form of application/or perhaps better to say concise...is a great way to get the students to lead...hand over the process of learning to the students, indeed it seems Twitter in this context is a great provocation for students to steer the direction of what they wish to explore about a topic. I once heard of a teacher who used such a stream in her practice to gauge interaction globally with partner universities...the link was available to first year students in the States for example-providing a rich platfom for students to share ideas about the same topic they were studying at the time (succinctly).

3. I also like the functionality in what you have done Dale...the to-ing and frowing between moodle and Twitter....that connection....cross-posting topic related stuff in real-time, is a great idea too.

Dawn   

 
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Picture of Bill Steele
Re: Why I argued Moodle development should follow the market leaders of social media
 

Dale

Would you be able to provide sufficient details to allow others to replicate your addition of Twitter into their modules?

Thanks

Bill

 
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