Comparisons and advocacy

Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform

 
Picture of Chris Kenniburg
Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developers

Hello All,

Over the course of 10 years we have built and refined an amazing K-12 Learning Platform that revolves around a few core open source projects.  These tools allow us to provide students and teachers with a very robust and engaging learning environment. 

With Moodle 3.3, Mahara, BigBlueButton, H5P, and SIS Gradebook integration we have a slam dunk for blended learning.  We made several significant enhancements to Moodle with our theme and enrollment plugin so that we could streamline getting from the homepage to learning in a system that must account for 5 year olds on up to 18 year olds!  

If you are in K-12 we would love to hear from you on ways you have used Moodle to enhance learning in your district.  Please share your tips and tricks.



 
Average of ratings: Useful (9)
moi!!! it is what is is...
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Documentation writersParticularly helpful Moodlers

HI Chris, I would suggest that you have gone an awful lot further down a path that I have been advocating for the last decade or so than anyone else I know has. I have come and looked at this post several times now, and thought "Wow!" 

I believe that this is a wonderful innovation that would benefit the entire world's school systems, if people were open to it. There is the rub, how did your school district decide to move in this direction? How did it come together? What forces were at play to create that initial impetus to get started? What sort of team was put together to make it all work? One person's vision or a group decision? These an an awful lot more questions are all important, so if you would spend a little time, perhaps you could share some thoughts on how to achieve this and be an "evangelical" in imaginative use of technologies at the same time. I for one would love to hear your story.    

 
Average of ratings: -
Picture of Chris Kenniburg
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developers

Colin,

Our Moodle story began when a group of about 5 teachers decided that Moodle was a better platform than Blackboard (Which the county provided for free to any teacher).  We setup Moodle and away we went.  

I work for Dearborn Public Schools.  We have about 20,000 students.  Unlike most district's(due to budgets) they hired someone to help build the servers, operate them, and build platforms for people to use.  That's my job.  The district gave us A LOT of freedom to try stuff.  Very progressive.  I have a "we can do that" attitude.  I love to learn new things.  We have the infrastructure with VMWare and other stuff that I am like a kid in the candy store when it comes to using open source stuff.  I was originally hired to help maintain websites for our schools.   I did everything from going out to classrooms to train teachers, district professional development, maintain servers, step sheets, etc.  I wanted to be part of the educational process and not just a techy.

My boss always says "You are either investing in yourself or investing in someone else".  

"See, I’ve always proposed that you are investing in something. You are investing your time, your energy, your efforts, your thoughts, your money and more. The question for me has always been are you investing in yourself or in someone else. Now to be clear, it is necessary to invest in others. There is no way that you can do everything your self. However, for really important things, I generally prefer to invest in us. I consider lesson delivery pretty important. So I invested in us. " Troy Patterson blog post


We try to think long term.  We like investing in skills and tools that we can control so that we can ensure long term use.  No matter what LMS you use, it generally takes at least 3 years to scratch below the surface and get to the deeper level thinking we all seek.  That only happens because teachers know you are not switching platforms when the contract expires and they invest in learning the tool.  Many of the innovative things we do in our district come from just trying it out or from suggestions or feedback from teachers.  There is no magical moment when we got started.  It wasn't like a light bulb went off and everyone was on-board.  It's been a slow and persistent effort.  It also helps when a district invests in the tool and does stuff like:

  • Integrate Moodle Gradebook with Student Info System so it saves teachers time in exporting grades for report cards.
  • Integrate the logins with the district accounts such as LDAP
  • Allow sharing across the platform with Quizzes and other assignments (we created a special role for this)
  • Make the site look good and get students from the homepage to learning as fast as possible.  We developed several themes along the way and are currently rocking Fordson and Easy Enrollment Plugin to make things super fast and easy on teachers.  

Probably our guiding principal would be:  Is this the right thing to do for students?  And if it is then make it a priority.

I don't think there is one person or one vision but we have a common goal to help students learn.  My current boss, Troy Patterson has a bunch of insight on what we are trying to accomplish and why.  He's probably best at articulating a mission and goals for long term teacher and student success.  Here are some links:

And new within the last couple of years we hired 2 tech coaches to provide classroom instruction and training for teachers.  They service 25+ schools and have a laser-like focus on improving student learning using technology.  If you read some of the links above you'd know how we feel about all these new tools popping up.  Kids spend more time learning each new tool than they do with the process of learning.  Here are some things from our tech coaches:

I would say in the last 5 years we've developed a pretty good team to make Moodle work for our district.  We have a strong mix of people who step above and beyond the scope of work to complement, support, and push forward with tools that help students.  There's our director who sets the charge and empowers us to do more.  There's a new programmer we hired and myself who bang on the code and servers.  And then the tech coaches are out spreading the news, teaching, and training.  The tech coaches also provide valuable feedback to the technical people and we make stuff they need for class instruction.

On top of Moodle we are heavily invested in Wordpress with over 1800 classroom websites created by teachers: https://iblog.dearbornschools.org/  and for students we use: https://studentsites.dearbornschools.org/.  Unlimited district-provided web authoring.   Everything from classroom to sports and clubs is housed on Wordpress.  We use many open source products.  Even our helpdesk ticketing is open source. 

When you stick with one tool things can begin to snowball.  You can build common skills, common tools, and move away from learning tools and get to the business of real learning.  We saw real value in the tools Moodle offered.  We are committed to making it better for our staff and students.  We also saw that Moodle wasn't tied to limited and often shrinking budgets.  We are investing in ourselves for the success of our staff and students when it comes to on online learning tool. 

Well, that was pretty long-winded but if you follow the links and see what we are doing I think you can see our principals and direction we want to take our district.  

Chris

 
Average of ratings: Useful (4)
moi!!! it is what is is...
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Documentation writersParticularly helpful Moodlers

I am absolutely gobsmacked here, a rare occurrence for me, believe me...smile 

This is the kind of thinking that is really progressive, it is risk taking and planning and mixing and matching and all sorts at the same time. It is not future proofing, but is future making. Can I come and work in the Dearborn School System, please? 

We have an age of risk aversion here, everything is tied up in "risk assessment" when a simple excursion from a school takes up about 9 pages of paperwork, several cross signatories and full medical disclosures and vehicle certifications and whatnot. It is killing us, but something like you have is so far away from the current culture here that it is not even a blip on our radar. 

Stick with it, and be a world beater. 

I hope you don't mind, but your video is going to be on display for a lot of people in the next few weeks. All I can do is raise the idea of what's possible, and you have shown us all what that can be. Thank you.  


 
Average of ratings: -
Picture of Chris Kenniburg
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developers

We try things all the time.  Some fail miserably.  Some are ahead of where our teachers are at.  Some things just aren't quite useful at the moment and take a back seat.  The goal in any of this is to learn.  Something might not work out for teachers today, but tomorrow it could.  

However, it is the constant experimentation that leads to innovation.  Success is learning from failure not risk assessment.  Schools need to practice what they preach and be willing to invest in learning and seeing what technology can do. 

I'll throw out our "pinterest" clone for our teachers as one such example of something incubating.  We built a pinterest clone using Wordpress and a plugin.  http://pinit.dearbornschools.org/  It's neat.  It's kinda cool.  But it's only used by a few teachers. 

This isn't about rolling out a new tool and making every teacher use it.  This is about learning.  This is exploring new things.  Sometimes it's just to see what we can do because I need to stay sharp and try new things. Who knows.  We might get more teachers using it if we promote it more but for now we are looking for how it might work in a classroom if at all. You don't know unless you try.  And while it may not work out for teachers we might find a use for students.  It may not even work out as trying to re-create pinterest.  We just might need this functionality for an entirely different purpose in the future.

Exploring and experimenting is what gives us the background knowledge to make great things further down the road.  


 
Average of ratings: -
Picture of Mihir J
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
 

Excellent Chris!!

Though most of us are using those but definitely not to the extent you have shown in the video.

Truly awesome!!


Thanks again!

Mihir

 
Average of ratings: -
Picture of Chris Kenniburg
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developers

Just this past week we also built something that we have tinkered with on and off since 2013.  We took Wordpress and setup Pressbooks plugin for eBook Authoring.  We integrate it with Moodle using the Wordpress LTI provider plugin so that once it is added to a course the students click and can become authors for the Pressbook/Wordpress site.    

We now see a push for open textbooks, resources, etc.  This integration will give us the ability to create and distribute ePubs, PDF, and interactive web materials for students.  So our tinkering back in 2013 now seems like we might see some usage.  

So in addition to what was shown in the video we now have an OER authoring solution that is fully integrated with LTI access to Moodle.  I'll be posting a video soon and a write-up on that real soon.  


 
Average of ratings: Useful (1)
Picture of Chris Kenniburg
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developers

Here is our first attempt at creating an OER tool that is fully integrated with Moodle via LTI.  Now that more people are talking about consuming and producing OER content this has sparked some interest on our part to revisit some things we've tried in the past. We used the Pressbooks plugin and Wordpress LTI plugin to allow users to go from Moodle to wordpress and create a book.  Wordpress/Pressbooks allows all kinds of useful tools including H5P integration so that the books can be rich and engaging.  Unfortunately H5P doesn't translate well to epub and pdf but they are working on solutions at Pressbooks (or at least it looks like it is on the roadmap).  

Here is a video of what we created last week:

Wordpress with the Wordpress LTI plugin + Pressbooks  to connect to Moodle. 

 
Average of ratings: Useful (2)
Picture of Dave Sherwin
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful Moodlers

There is excellent work going on at Dearborn - plus I have already been sharing your video about the tech tools as we are discussing using API for exporting scores into our LMS along with portfolios for both staff and students. The video was perfect timing.

When watching the second video, a quick shot got my attention at 3:39 when you were demonstrating Add an Activity or Resource. It is a subtle change, so I was wondering how you arranged your Activities into two separate groups LEARNING TOOLS and ACTIVITIES? 

Some of the Top (activities) Tools are located at the bottom of the list instead of the top four. Just would like to make those activities more visible to the teachers to encourage the use of lesson and workshop activities.

Again thanks for all that you have contributed...


 
Average of ratings: -
Picture of Chris Kenniburg
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developers

That is a new feature of the Fordson theme.  Off github someone had forked Fordson and I saw they had made this change. I brought it into the theme and now we can customize the Activity/Resource window.  

You can totally arrange how you want the activities to appear and even hide some from regular users but allow site admins and managers to see everything. 

See my administration screenshot to understand how I made the Activity Resource window look like your screenshot. 

Whatever is in the comma-separated list will be placed in the Top Tools area.  You can put any activity or resource there by using the proper name for the activity.  We focus on Assignment, Quizzes, Lessons, and Workshop.  I'm also thinking I might need to add Glossary, H5P, and possibly database for us.  I just don't want the top items to get crowded.  I might add H5P as that is one heck of a plugin!


 
Average of ratings: Useful (3)
Picture of Dave Sherwin
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful Moodlers

Perfect timing - just in the process of getting ready to update production - so loaded the newest fordson theme in QA and with your instructions separated the Add an activity or resource. I agree you do not want the top to get overcrowded.

It would be nice to have the flexibly to add a couple of other categories like:

COMMUNICATION TOOLS
  • BigBlueButtonBN
  • Chat
  • Forums
COLLABORATION TOOLS

Sort of based from that old Moodle explained with Legos

 

However most of those tools could fit in a couple of categories instead of a single one.

Another plus is that, we have had to wait until this update to get back to using H5P - so lots to look forward to for the rest of the school year.

Thanks again...

 
Average of ratings: Useful (1)
Picture of Chris Kenniburg
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developers

Dave,

Really nice stuff you've done with your Moodle site.  You've taken html code and buttons to a new level.  I was poking around on your site and it looks like you got some amazing stuff going on.  

I love how you used the Fordson theme's custom images for courses.  The images you used are exactly what I was thinking when implementing this.  Certain courses might use a certain color or tint such as red = science, green= math, orange = language arts, etc.  The images can be used to visually group types of courses.  You use some custom made images that are really nice on the professional learning pages.

The start of the "teacher marketplace" is also very interesting.  A repository for common modules and activities.  All great stuff.

You've done one heck of a job!  I didn't want to post a link to your site, but if you are so inclined please do so.  Visually as well as content you have a great site and is an inspiration for what can be done with Moodle for K-12.

-Chris

 
Average of ratings: -
Picture of Dave Sherwin
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful Moodlers

Thanks for the comment approve. We were hoping that the alert-colors with bootstrap would help users to distinguish which content standards they were viewing. Plus the buttons were added to make navigation a little more obvious. 

Bismarck Public School District has been using Moodle Learnbps a little longer than 9 years. We started by using Moodle to support our Professional Learning Communities (PLC) working on the prioritization and deconstruction of subject content standards. This is what's nice about Moodle is that the LMS is flexible and scalable to evolve into the current digital workspaces BPS-Standards for providing a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn. These Subject Standards workspaces consist of Book Module and Global Glossaries, which auto-link the standards info through out the site. Plus Moodle integrates with our Student Information System, so when parents have a clearer picture of what a standard score represents.

We started with only a couple of teachers using Moodle with their students and currently have 77 visible courses being used by over 1500 student daily. This is about 25% of our secondary students grades 6-12. So we are making progress and slowly growing from year to year. Our next hope is that with the development of the Learnbps MarketPlace we can get that next large group of teachers (the early adaptors) to start using Moodle by providing a "one-stop shop" hub where they can add activities and resources to their sharing cart to easily add to their own courses.


 
Average of ratings: Useful (1)
Head
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developersTesters

This is awesome Chris!

 
Average of ratings: -
Picture of S. kavita
Re: Top Tech Tools to Build a Learning Platform
Particularly helpful MoodlersTesters

Hi Chris,

This is simply Wow.. Awesome work. Thanks a ton for sharing it.

 
Average of ratings: -