May 15, 2006

Blogs or Moodle? (2)

A while back I posted about problems or issues I was having introducing my students to blogging and to Moodle. EFL Geek and others kindly posted some comments which were pretty helpful. (I like the idea of making tutorial videos, indeed it's been on my ToDo list, but haven't got around to learning Camtasia; I downloaded the trial version, tho. I also changed my language policy - I'd "forced" English as the language on my class Moodles - and made the language Japanese - UTF8.)

Today I came across EFL Geek's posting, and was surprised at my own post title - Blogs or Moodle?

Because I don't see them as alternatives. They do different things. The Moodle is more of a controlled environment, which I felt I wanted. If I'm going to set asignments which involve visiting the Moodle, I want to be able to track who's been doing what there (and who hasn't). However, I find Moodle rather limiting. Frankly, it cramps my personal style, but it may be good for some (many?) students and obviously I'm not going to stop using it just because I find it inconvenient.

1) I've got several different classes in several different schools. I installed Moodle in different folders on my website, so each school's students just see their schools courses. Fine. But I have resources that are common to all courses and all schools (Moodle folders). But there doesn't seem to be a way to upload files/resources to ONE place and have them available to courses and/or schools that I designate. So I've been uploading the same damn file to 3 or 4 different Moodle folders, which means I need to sign in and out of each one separately. Drag.

For instance, I have 4 classes at one university. Three are using the same textbook. So I created just two courses, one for each textbook. However, altho the students are different ages (the 3-class lot are sophomores, the other class are freshmen) and are using different textbooks, they have very similar difficulties with writing English. I thought it might be useful for all FOUR classes to read samples of each others' writing perhaps with my comments or corrections. Now, with Moodle set up as it is, how could I do that? I thought a blog might be a better place to put that kind of stuff, because a blog doesn't know who's coming to visit it, and can't shut certain people out (at least, it CAN, I know, but not the kind of blogs I want to use)>

2) I also created a quiz on Moodle which I wanted to use for all my schools, but couldn't find a way to save or copy a quiz across different folders or schools, so I had to abandon that.

3) Moodle makes a distinction between a "course" and a "group". I thought, aha! If, instead of separating my students into classes (courses), each with separate logins, etc., and if I just made ONE course and divided the different classes I have into groups within that one class, then the resource files for that class/course would be available to all the students.
Well, yes, but then I discovered disadvantages to that idea: even classes with the same course title or "level" progress at different speeds, and the internal dynamics of each class are different: the students pull out different things from me; we talk about different things. So, yes, dammit, I DO need separate courses. But then there's those common resource files...

4) A blog or blogs wouldn't necessarily solve this problem. In fact, I have a similar dilemma with blogs. Because I want to introduce students to blogging, which I consider much more free-form than a Moodle, and which is not like assignments but more collaborative, and completely public, I created a blog for each class. Then I lost my way. I realized that I had several purposes for a "class blog". Perhaps it was better to create two blogs for each class? I want a blog for class-related information, like a bulletin-board, and announcements and stuff I don't necessarily want each student to comment on. I also want to use the blog for, well, blogging (as well as announcements) and encouraging students to commment, to find similar items that interest them and they found on the Internet (e.g. on other blogs, or on Flickr), and to write about these either in comments or on their own blogs.

To stick to the example of the 4-class group at one university, I don't teach them in a computer lab, and I haven't found a way to get time with all of them in a computer lab, and I don't have my own office on that campus where they could come and get help with registering or signing up for accounts. Without the time in a computer lab, I've decided it would be foolish and waste of time and effort to ask them to create their own blogs for this course.

But I'm still trying to figure out in my own mind whether I need a separate blog for each class or not. I initially created separate blogs, but am now thinking that's going to create similar problems to the one I have with Moodle: I'll need to post the same damn things to 4 different blogs, altho blogs have this advantage over Moodle: I could just make one post and then make a link in the other blogs pointing to that one.

Then I felt that a blog for blogging has a different feel from a blog for class announcements and other "business" (e.g. examples of student's problems with English writing). A "business" or "teaching/announcements" blog doesn't invite collaboration (or rather it's harder to make it do so). Jamie Hall's posting on the THREE blogs he created for ONE class helped me develop my ideas on this topic. So now maybe I want two kinds of blogs...

The next issue will be to negotiate for a few 48-hour days so I can fit all this work in! TEFL Smiler reminded me of the joys (and vital importance if you're not to burn out) of delegating work and responsibility to students.

Some students are pretty tech-savvy, and could certainly help each other out, if the only knew that others want and need their expert help. At my full-time school, where I have my students in a computer lab once a week), I found one student who already knows about RSS, another who figured out how to make Bloglines appear in Japanese, and yet another who figured out a way to use a photo taken on his cell-phone as an icon on his Moodle profile (he emailed the photo to his university email address where he also has some server space and saved the photo there; then selected it in the "edit profile" section of Moodle). I could create a forum, for instance, where students could post tech-questions and answers.

Now I just need to decide, do I create that forum on Moodle, or on a blog?!?

1 comment:

EFL Geek said...

However, I find Moodle rather limiting.

I think most people would say the opposite due to the large number of features and flexibility moodle offers. I still, after 3 years of using it, find it overwhelming and know that I am under utilizing moodle. You state that I'm not going to stop using it just because I find it inconvenient. If this is true, I wouldn't use it. Moodle will continue to be something that is inconvenient to you and cramps your style. To me what you are saying is the same as saying I don't like this coursebook, but I'll use it anyway because someone else told me it was good.

But there doesn't seem to be a way to upload files/resources to ONE place and have them available to courses and/or schools that I designate. So I've been uploading the same damn file to 3 or 4 different Moodle folders, which means I need to sign in and out of each one separately.

There is no way around this because you are using multiple installs of moodle rather than one single install with multiple courses. With multiple courses you could then allow students to be guests in other courses.

2) I also created a quiz on Moodle which I wanted to use for all my schools, but couldn't find a way to save or copy a quiz across different folders or schools, so I had to abandon that.

back up the course with this quiz and then restore the quiz to other courses (using the add to course data feature) - haven't tried this, but it should work.

So, yes, dammit, I DO need separate courses. But then there's those common resource files...

using only one install instead of different courses you can put all of your files in the front page course - the disadvantage here is that you will have to know the address of the files rather than using the moodle interface to link to files. I'm pretty sure that I saw on the moodle forums that 1.6 will have a sharing resources/files feature built in.

It seems to me that your course blogs are something that could be easily accomplished using "news" in moodle.

Some students are pretty tech-savvy, and could certainly help each other out, if the only knew that others want and need their expert help

Another big moodle user I know in Korea does the same thing - the assistants get extra credit for the work and are responsible for helping students understand the interface and act as a go-between.

I could create a forum, for instance, where students could post tech-questions and answers.

I have that, but once I know that a problem is common or likely to come up again I create a resource with screen shots explaining how to resolve it - or I use camtasia - (I know you said you still need to learn it).