Comparisons and advocacy

Is moodle right for us?

 
Picture of Karl Randau
Is moodle right for us?
 

I'm working for a European funded project developing a MOOC (>1000 users) on the area of sustainability and holistic experiential learning. We don't have any admin capacity as soon as the course is launched. Therefore we need basically everything to automatic, without the interference of a teacher. Since it seems like our course is pretty different from other courses, my first question is if Moodle even is the way to go for us? If so, how to go?

Thanks a lot,

Kalle




 
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Picture of Visvanath Ratnaweera
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Particularly helpful Moodlers
If your course is different from other courses, I would say, No. Existing courses have shaped Moodle.
 
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Picture of Marcus Green
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Core developersParticularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developersTesters

You have not given enough information to give a usful answers. The term MOOC is not well defined, but I will assume it means a large number of users and a small to zero number of teachers.  More than 1000 users covers vast numbers of Moodle sites. What is more important is the upper bounds of expected users and what those users will be doing. For example a New Zealand Moodle partner has installed a site in Saudi Arabia that is designed to serve up to 3 million users. However things will probably not go well should they be so foolish as to get 1 million of those users to take a quiz at the same time.

You say that you dont have any admin capacity as soon as the course is launched but I am not sure what you mean by admin capacity, do you mean teachers to track and administer the learning or the more traditional meaning of to keep the system up secure and working. When you say you don't have the admin capacity do you mean you don't have the money for it, if so then I'm not sure that attempting a Massive Open Online Course is practical.

You say you want everying to to be automatic, without the interferance of a teacher. Moodle is very good at automatically delivering learning material but not having a teacher will massively impact the learning experience and will requure a huge amount of design and testing to ensure students understand what is intended. Unfortunatly many people use VLE's as a simple way of delivering content such as text and multimedia to students and this is not a good learning model. It was possible to do that as soon as CD/DVD's were affordable. VLE technology becomes far more interesting where the students can interact with each other and tutors and that is not suitable to your proposed model.

I don't know what you mean by saying our course is pretty different from other courses, in what way?, . As for your last question, there are many products with a similar feature set to Moodle (though none remotely as good overall), so I don't know what you are asking.

 
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Picture of Karl Randau
Re: Is moodle right for us?
 

Hi and thanks for your replies.

Maybe you're right that our course is not different from other courses, that was just my impression from testing Moodle for a while now.

Ok, I try to explain the course in more detail. We want the course to resemble a computer game RPG with many possible challenges to choose from which gives different rewards, and opens up new possibilities. The challenges are all using experiential learning meaning that the student has to go out in real life to perform the challenges, document the results (photo, video, text) and report it into the system. Then other students will be able to review the results and grade them. All this seems pretty straight forward in the workshop activity except that it appears that a teacher needs to go in and manually change the phase of the workshop. I've got the recommendation to use the Dataform plugin instead but so far hasn't tested it. 

So, we don't have capacity for a teacher, that's what I mean. We still will have some capacity for an administrator to just make sure that the course functions technically. Since we don't have teacher capacity we want to optimise the possibilities of using peer-to-peer interaction and learning between students. The dream would even be that the students themselves can set up new challenges and activities for each other. So, we want the course to be interactive, creative, computer game-like and without teacher. All these qualities seems possible in Moodle but I'm not knowledgable enough to know to what extent. 

We do understand that the course will require a lot of testing and we do have set aside time for that in our project plan. 

I hope that is giving a better understanding on what we're trying to achieve. 

Thanks for your help,

Kalle



 
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Mary Cooch
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Documentation writersMoodle Course Creator Certificate holdersMoodle HQParticularly helpful MoodlersTestersTranslators

So not even any moderators? "Other students will be able to view the results and grade them" (quote)  So what happens if the grading is disputed, or just plain wrong? With the workshop activity, teachers have the option to edit any grades they think aren't acceptable. I don't know about dataform. But if you don't have any teachers, how will you handle this?

 
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Picture of Karl Randau
Re: Is moodle right for us?
 
I do know the problem of course, but we don't have much choice. I imagine that with using simple peer-to-peer technology the results can still be good. Like Wikipedia rely on the users and doesn't have moderators (or maybe they do, but not much) by for example requiring grading of feedback from several students on each piece the risk that the grade is wrong diminishes. Even better would be if other students could disqualify or modify someone else's grade. But don't know if that is possible. 


I haven't looked into the dataform activity yet but it has been recommended to me since there is lot's of flexibility in that module. I will have a look now. 

 
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Picture of Marcus Green
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Core developersParticularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developersTesters

I admire you ambition but what you want is not trivial and will take a significant amount of time and money

"Like Wikipedia rely on the users and doesn't have moderators (or maybe they do, but not much) "

You should probably be trialing the human aspects of your concepts for this. Wikipedia is run by a vast army of people giving their free time and they effectively act as moderators. It is probably a clue as to the complexity of this that there are few sites with this model that are as successful as Wikipedia.

The original philosophy behind Moodle was about Constructivism

(https://docs.moodle.org/29/en/Philosophy) and Moodle should fit well with what you are trying to do. However the key to success in software is to do one achievable thing at a time.

So pilot with activities based on core code then explore the possibilities of additional plugins and further development of those plugins. For example this

https://moodle.org/plugins/view.php?plugin=mod_qcreate

Might be modified to more closely match your requirements

 
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moi!!! it is what is is...
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Documentation writersParticularly helpful Moodlers

Hi Karl, what you are trying to do sounds pretty much like turning over the learning to the learners. Essentially this could become an exercise in massive frustration, for everyone, irrespective of what tools you use. It will be so easy to get monstered by a project like this, so be careful. 

What I am thinking is that you may want to look seriously at your learning outcomes and tailor each learning activity to a definite point on the way to that outcome. Underpinning all of this, I would think, would have to be a set of conditional activities, like in a video game. You must successfully get past this point to get to the next block of workshops, say.

As Marcus suggests, this is going to be a seriously complex operation, which mean a lot of trialing. It also means a carefully targeted set of learning goals to either a particular group or cohort of learners, each with a particular set of learning activities to suit those learners. You don't want to set your learners up with materials that mean they will never be able to accomplish the goals. Nor do you want to make the assessment processes too lax that there is little or no academic rigor in your course. 

Marcus is right when he says "...the key to success in software is to do one achievable thing at a time." The biggest weakness in all this is that computers have only a limited range of learning adaptability, they can't discriminate unless it is programmed in. This implies you are going to have to find a tool, and Moodle is a good place to start, then build your system one bit at a time. I would think that you are going to have to keep plain text versions of everything you do and repositories of images and videos and everything else so that if a better tool comes along, you can rapidly adapt your materials to that tool. Forward planning if you like, or perhaps a smidgen of future proofing. This is going to be the best documented Moodle ever, I think, it is going to have to be, otherwise it will monster you. Been there, done that and still getting over it!


 
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Picture of Marcus Green
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Core developersParticularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developersTesters

Good advice  from Colin. Karl, my comments are not meant to be negative or to discourage you from the project, but I'd prefer it if you were successful. One of my hobbies is studying the history of software development and the rate of failure is quite shocking. I once wasted 6 months on an overly ambitious project and learned a great deal from it. 

What you are looking at is a software development project even if you never write a line of code or commission a line of code to be written.

Keep asking questions here and keep us informed of your progress.


 
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Picture of Karl Randau
Re: Is moodle right for us?
 

Thanks Colin and Marcus for your comments and advice, it's very valuable have the viewpoint from people with experience in developing these kind of projects before and that knows all the pit falls and challenges. 

Yes, the idea is to develop the core functionality first and later add extra plugins that would enhance the learning experience. And the core functionality as I see it is to create one activity that is purely based on peer-to-peer reviewing. From your comments I get a bit mixed messages. If many Moodle courses are MOOCs, then how are they solving this? Are they using only quiz-time activities? Because otherwise our ambition is different from other courses, since we want to use peer-to-peer reviewing and also that the activities are very open and encourage creativity. It's true that we're giving away learning to the learners, that's the point. Of course I see challenges with this approach and it entails a lot of uncertainty, therefore it would be great to hear from a project that has used a similar approach. I also agree with you that the trialing is essential. BUt, as soon as we have tested one activity successfully we can replicate that with all (or most) our other activities, since they all follow the same logic. 

I would like to inquire more about your concerns that we easily could be monstered by this project. It is of course vital for us to be conscious about these risks. You say that Moodle is a good place to start, meaning that it could be that we move over to other tools if necessary? Personally I would rather make sure that our core ideas are manageable within Moodle and then stick to Moodle. We don't have time to change platform later in the project. Or do you have something else in mind when you talk about tools? 

And about documentation, of course we have all our learning material documented outside Moodle. 

And about designing the tasks for the learners with the right level of difficulty, our challenges are designed to suit students with different levels of knowledge. Since the challenges are open, experiential and creative, the students will naturally find their level. Of course this approach as it's challenges, but right now it seems feasible to me and that any problems will reveal themselves in the testing phase. 




 
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moi!!! it is what is is...
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Documentation writersParticularly helpful Moodlers

Hi Karl, sorry, not been paying attention over the last few days.... 

"...your concerns that we easily could be monstered by this project."  What you are trying to do is very leading edge, and seems like it could be mired in bureaucracy easily. People do not really like cutting edge, they prefer someone else take the risks and they can swamp such projects with layers of bureaucratic meddling. Another part of it can be that you, your team of developers, get so enarmoured of what they are doing they forget that they are on a journey that has to encourage others to follow. Things can become big, adding this functionality to enhance that ability which resulted from this idea, which grew out of that need. 

After all that, this functionality can do great things, but is so esoteric that comparatively few, if any, users actually use that functionality, mainly because they really don't need it. I suspect that Microsoft Office is pretty much like that, so much is included in the core package that it takes up so much HD space that it is little more than bloatware. Great functionality, but who actually uses it? Would it not be better as addins, or plugins? Been there, done that and the project was cut because it wasn't producing anything useful. An e-commerce project in Oz did this so badly that it nearly broke the company that was doing it. 

The last part of this is that wanting to get such a package right becomes such a priority that it gets so big, that people spend so much time on things like bug fixes and optimizing that they don't do any development work. Usually what happens is someone else develops a similar tool that is better, smaller, faster and more effective. Not been involved in such an outcome, but I have heard of them. 

Right now, Moodle is the best tool of its type, a Learning Management System. More than a few years ago, it was Blackboard, and before that something else, like WebCT. Moodle is, right now, the trailblazer, on the leading edge of development and implementation. I suspect that projects like yours, mat take Moodle into different directions which may mean Moodle remains on the leading edge, or may threaten Moodle by pulling its core in so many different directions that it too loses its way. Who knows? As well, who knows what developments may occur? 

Hardware changes, which influences software changes, which influences hardware and so on, an eternal cycle. Who knew what HTML5 could do when first touted? Who knows what it may achieve? What will replace that? PHP is somewhat limited, so may be replaced by something  very different, and if Moodle doesn't make the change, how long will it survive? 

In short, we don't have crystal balls to gaze into, tea leaves just don't cut it, and economic forecasts are just as flawed, perhaps even more so. We don't know what will happen so just better to be prepared to meet any eventuality, I suggest. Keep the project as flexible as you can to change to meet different criteria. As to how you can do that, sorry, no idea!... But.. Good Luck!!! 

 
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Picture of Karl Randau
Re: Is moodle right for us?
 

Thanks Colin for your somewhat esoteric reply smile

Another part of it can be that you, your team of developers, get so enarmoured of what they are doing they forget that they are on a journey that has to encourage others to follow.

Why do we need others to follow? First, I want to point out that we're not in the capacity of developing functionality technically. We merely have the capacity to apply already existing functionality. 

After all that, this functionality can do great things, but is so esoteric that comparatively few, if any, users actually use that functionality

To me the core functionality that we're after is relatively straight forward. Sure that the conceptual ideas might be cutting edge but the technical application of the ideas shouldn't be too complicated as far as I can see. We want students to be able to rate each others works, without teacher intervention, that's it. 

Moodle is, right now, the trailblazer, on the leading edge of development and implementation

It's important to for us to know this, to be ensured that we're working with the most advanced platform to date. 



 
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moi!!! it is what is is...
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Documentation writersParticularly helpful Moodlers

Yeah, I love the sound of my own voice sometimes, or I got too much to say, or both...mmmm ..cool 

Do not let anything I say put you off doing anything, but I did mean your users, your teachers, your course creators, and most importantly, did I mention your users. These kinds of things are no longer just top down driven projects, you have to respond to their needs and wants, your users, did I mention them? 

While you say now that  "... want students to be able to rate each others works, without teacher intervention, that's it." Yes, this week, next week it might be a different ending to the story- who knows? That is the point isn't it? You can use Moodle in almost any way you like. You can develop a whole new tool, based on Moodle. You can even onsell it if you want, under some conditions, which do not, I understand, involve paying Moodle a fee, unless you choose to donate. So others can follow you, if you want them to. 

Whatever you do, leave a door for you to back out of if it goes completely wrong. Leave enough room to improve things if it can be improved. Make sure you have guidelines that everyone is familiar with, then expect it to not work as you want. That is the sort of thing I mean. This gives the flexibility to do almost anything and keep your Moodle on the leading edge, irrespective of what happens with Moodle itself.    

 
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Picture of Karl Randau
Re: Is moodle right for us?
 

Hi Colin,

again, thanks for sharing your views!

We now have a project meeting just coming up and I'll bring you concerns there. It's possible that I try to consult you again after the meeting.


So long,

Kalle

 
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Just wondering . . .
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Particularly helpful Moodlers

Colin, you say: "Moodle is, right now, the trailblazer, on the leading edge of development and implementation."

Interesting.

What do you base this comment on Colin?   I read this blog post recently: http://mfeldstein.com/why-moodle-matters/  Phil Hill's opinion is that Moodle is at an 'inflection' point.

-Derek

 
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moi!!! it is what is is...
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Documentation writersParticularly helpful Moodlers

Sorry Derek, been tied up on exams... OK, simple perceptions. The graph showing comparisons between products is quite misleading, simply because all products are showing growth, albeit slowed in the last few years. (More due to the fallout from the GFC than anything else I suspect.) The real world doesn't work like that, even in an expanding market. Phil also mentions that BB includes its entire product range, which will distort its market position on any graph, and Moodle gets its data from registered users, so if a site is not registered, then who knows how many actual users there are. But that is not what I am basing my perceptions on. 

While I am not a rabid, full on, OCD fact checker, I do try to keep something of an eye on other products, where I can. It does not seem, superficially at least, that any of the products mentioned are opening themselves up to strong development of third party tools as Moodle does. Sure, their blurbs all say the standard things, but without being able to really look into their products it is difficult to precisely assess their current state of development, the directions they seem to want to be going in. What's more, the marketing hype surrounding those products is very slick, but is not followed up with anything substantial.    

When I suggest Moodle is cutting edge, that appellation could really be given to any of those products, and most other products as well. Realistically, no-one knows where the front line is anymore, it changes so rapidly. I do suggest though that Moodle presents so many plugins that can provide most users with all the tools and adaptability they will need, at a pace and standard that other products cannot seem to match. There are lots of other reasons, but this is just my perception, that's all.   

 

 
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Just wondering . . .
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Particularly helpful Moodlers

smile

Fascinating, Colin.  So you say "When I suggest Moodle is cutting edge, that appellation could really be given to any of those products, and most other products as well"  This reminds me of the quote from some old musical "When everyone is somebody . . ."
http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/86143-when-everyone-is-somebody-then-no-one-s-anybody

Check out this post: http://mfeldstein.com/instructure-is-truly-anamalous/

This is at least one anomaly.  I hope you don't think this is OCD fact checking.  But it is an important data point.

-Derek



 
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Picture of Marcus Green
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Core developersParticularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developersTesters

Can anyone point me to data on 3rd party plugin/extension development for a product comparable to Moodle?

 
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moi!!! it is what is is...
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Documentation writersParticularly helpful Moodlers

HA! I am a sloppy proof reader, because I am not OCD enough to be real picky about what I am reading. That is why my sentences can run on, why the comma rules everything, why fact checking is so boring, because I am just not OCD enough to make it really work for me, besides, I was brought up in an environment where fact usage and checking was quite optional at times. Ahhh the joys of growing up in a strongly Marxist/Capitalist household!!!!  cool Anyway, this is getting way way off topic.... not that it bothers me any, but it might others tongueout

 
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Just wondering . . .
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Particularly helpful Moodlers

karl, a perceptive post.

You say: "If many Moodle courses are MOOCs, then how are they solving this? "

MOOCs using Moodle as the platform

Most of the MOOC sites that use Moodle do have some heavy customisations.  eg see this: https://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=225087https://www.open2study.com/ is based on Moodle.

I've been in two MOOCs > 1000 participants using Moodle and on the topic of Moodle.  (Nellie's second one and Mary's first one)  There are inherent problems in managing a MOOC class with core Moodle if you want certain specific outcomes and you don't have a lot of staff time.  Both Mary and Nellie [and co] had to work very hard in the facilitating role.  

We can expand on this if you like.  But the key issues are around things like 

  • signups/enrolments
  • group management (no self signup groups)
  • file sharing (no tagging for instance, no easy way to track items in a forum)
  • peer work tools.  
  • Support for self directed learning, meetups, workspaces.
  • media management

etc.  These may be OK and smaller hurdles for small classes, or managed by technical help for a teacher, but in a MOOC setting, they are complex and time consuming.

It doesn't mean you can't use Moodle.  But it will require some special learning design expertise.  Just as a matter of interest, have you considered a partnership with any of the big MOOC players?

Your core need

The core need you mention is Peer review.  

See this site that links to two OS options.  http://flexiblelearning.auckland.ac.nz/learning_technologies_online/7/1/html/course_files/4_3.html

  • CPR is 'general'.  
  • WebPA is for group work.

My comment: You could just chuck your content and interaction up in a Moodle site, and plan your assessment somewhere else totally.

Content deployment

So if you set up Moodle (or something) with the content, activities and interaction and had the Assessment in a specific tool, then you may avoid having to write the tool for Moodle.  But you still need the content there.  This has at least two issues: navigation and appearance

You will need to decide what your standards are for presentation of the material.  Many people have talked about trying to make Moodle less 'Blocky'.  eg https://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=210946

This site shows what Moodle can do with some hacking: https://learn.unitedforwildlife.org/ (referenced here: https://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=315761#p1265576  (Maybe you could put your stuff on their site?)

Attractiveness of themes.  Check out some of the themes in the plugins.  But in fact the mention of monstering has partly to do with changing, the march of the versions, and this area is in quite a lot of flux at the moment.

Responsiveness

Whatever you do should be responsive.  I'm interested in the approach these guys at Kineo are doing with the Adapt development tool, which is open source:

The project is a little slower than I was led to believe in the release of the full environment.  B ut it is worth watching.

End of time to post, I could make this a little tidier and sharper, but time is up.

Good luck.

-Derek


 
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Picture of Karl Randau
Re: Is moodle right for us?
 

Thanks Derek, 

your post really opens up new questions and possibilities. 


The resources that we have available in our project is first of all time for developing the project,  but not staff once the course is launched. Also the people with time are generally lacking real technical capabilities. We do have some financial resources to outsource the setting up of the server etc, but not enough to do any programming etc. 

You're mentioning the key issues, and yes they are all relevant to our project, even though I haven't though about all you mentioned. So:

  • signups/enrolments: We found the auto enrolment plugin but haven't used it yet. Would that do?
  • group management: Yes this is an issue and therefore we thought of skipping the group elements. But if there are ways to have the students form their own groups we would go for that.
  • file sharing: haven't thought about this, but yes it could pose a problem with too many users.
  • peer work tools: thanks for your suggestions on outside moodle alternatives for peer assessment. I will look into this. The other option I have is to design one with the Dataform plugin, but if that appears to complicated or doesn't do what I want, we need to look for alternatives.
  • Support for self directed learning, meetups, workspaces: Haven't thought about this, could you explain a bit what you mean?
  • media management: What are the problems here if using standard moodle?

Then there are the issues of aesthetics and responsiveness. I think we can create something relatively pretty with using already existing plugins and own image design. But we haven't explored responsiveness, but I agree that it's very important. How does standard moodle work on smaller devices? And how much technical work would it imply to use something like the Adapt development tool?


Thanks again, very grateful for your help,

Kalle


 
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Picture of Thomas zinsavage
Re: Is moodle right for us?
 

It all comes down to your goals and preference really.

 
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Picture of Howard Miller
Re: Is moodle right for us?
Core developersDocumentation writersParticularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developers

You had me at "European funded project". Sounds like the typical level of planning and organisation wink

Give us some clues and we'll try to help!!

 
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