May 10, 2006

Moodle or blogs?

I've been using Moodle as a support site for my various classes since the beginning of April. For various reasons, I haven't been able to make this obligatory, so not all students have signed up. In addition, I'm not in a computer room for most of these classes, and cannot request at least one session in a computer lab for all of them either. I'm hoping that the students that can and do access their class's Moodle will be interested and enthused enough to persuade others of their classmates to do likewise.

Here're some reflections on using Moodle and blogs that occur to me now:
1) students have unexpected difficulties signing up for Moodle - they mis-type their email address when signing up, then complain to me that they haven't received the confirmation email. As long as enough information about them for me to identify them is in the Moodle system, I can manually register them.

2) Most students use their real names when registering, tho many of them use a nickname for their username. I hadn't realized that this would be something I should tell them about, until today when I got a message from Moodle saying someone who tried to sign up left an email address that was either wrong or somehow blocks messages from Moodle. It looks like a cell-phone address. That figures. 90% of Japanese students live by their cell-phones. If it's not accessible by cell-phone, it's suspect, it means "work" and they may never get around to it... This person used a pseudonym to sign up with, and I can't guess their real identity from the pseudonym. What should I do? One option is to tell all my classes that "someone using the pseudonym of xxxx tried to register at the class Moodle but failed, and I can't help unless I know who it is. If it's you, please contact me after class."
Another is to delete that participant, and tell everyone in class the same message, but insisting they all use their real names and NOT a cell-phone email address when registering.

3) Another potential problem is that students use the same username and password to register for the Moodle as for their university login. Many I suspect don't realize that the two are completely unrelated and they not only don't HAVE to use the same, but they SHOULD NOT use the same logins.

4) A further unanticipated difficulty has been the language issue. Many students quickly realize they can set their own language preferences in Moodle, and many do, setting it to their own language. This means that when I log in in English, I see goggledygook where their names and profiles should be.
To avoid this, I've decided to make the Moodle an English-only environment.

5) A more advanced "problem" or question I'm facing now, is whether or not to use blogs and / or an email list as a further adjunct to the course. My reasoning is this: I want students to reflect on their learning, but because they are EFL learners and most of them have a very low level of English, I want them to at least start reflecting in their native language. They can't do this on the Moodle, for the above reason, so the alternative is an email list. The advantage of an email list over Moodle is that students can, if they want, choose to be anonymous or at least to hide their identities from their fellow classmates and reveal themselves as and when they choose. They can also write in their native language or English, whichever they prefer.

They could also do the same on a blog, and a blog is cooler, and of greater potential benefit to them. Many (most?) of them seem to be equally ignorant of blogs and mailing list/discussion boards, so using either one would have educational benefits for them. Which to use? A discussion board (e.g. Yahoo! Groups) would be easier to explain and less problematic; their own blog would be more difficult, especially with those classes where I'm not in a computer lab and can't use one, but potentially more beneficial in the long run, I feel.

6) To get them into the habit of reflecting on their learning experience, I made them write their comments and a record of what they did each class and send it to me by email, at least until they got accustomed to either Moodle or blogging. I thought it would be easy to track them all using gmail labels. What I hadn't anticipated is that some of them would use different email addresses from which to send in their homework each time!

Here's a typical pattern: first email from the university system; 2nd email from their home computer (and using Mum's or Dad's email software and ID) because they suddenly realize the deadline is like, in 3 minutes and they're at home; 3rd email from their cell-phone, as it's too much hassle to go to the uni computer centre, or ask Mum or Dad (again) to borrow the computer, and how do you login again? 4th email from their own private email address (e.g. hotmail or Yahoo) as they now realize that if they use Mum or Dad's email address, their email gets mixed up with Mum's or Dad's and that's yucky....

I've been creating filters in Gmail, but by the 4th new email address I'm, howjasay, losing enthusiasm. It's time for them to get on an email list and manage this stuff themselves.

I'll need to do a little orientation on the benefits of not only WRITING their own commments but also READING the comments of OTHERS. This will be necessary to urge them NOT to use their cell-phones for posting comments. (Posting is ok from a cell-phone, but I can't imagine them READING 25+ comments on Yahoo via their cell-phone on a regular basis).

The bright side is I guess they're becoming more ICT literate...

3 comments:

EFL Geek said...

Marco, I'll address your points in the same order you posted them.

1) students have unexpected difficulties signing up for Moodle

My students have problems as well signing up. However I now anticipate this and leave 15 minutes at the end of the next two classes so students can come to my office and use my computer to rectify problems. Usually this involves me manually activating their account since they fail to check their spam box.

Most students use their real names when registering

You know that you can limit which types of addresses are allowed to register on moodle. Alternatively you can block certain domains. This option is in your admin section - I paid money to have this code added to moodle. Basically I didn't want students registering with hanmail.net addresses for a number of reasons.

3) Another potential problem is that students use the same username and password to register for the Moodle as for their university login.

no comment - doesn't happen to me

4) A further unanticipated difficulty has been the language issue.

I have my moodle defaulted to Korean UTF-8 and have no problems reading Korean names when I login in English. I prefer to have the site interface in Korean so that weaker students don't get bogged down with navigation problems and instead can focus on my activities. I suggest you see about changing your english language pack to one with utf-8 support. Also this will probably be a non-issue once 1.6 is finally released with better utf-8 support.

5) A more advanced "problem" or question I'm facing now, is whether or not to use blogs and / or an email list

Moodle can accomplish this if you get your language encoding problems straitened away. I like to set some reflective activities to be public via forums and others private via assignments. Mailing list - well you can send out news items but I don't believe students can reply in the typical mailing list method.

6) What I hadn't anticipated is that some of them would use different email addresses from which to send in their homework each time!
requiring moodle would solve that problem. If all students have easy access to computers at home or school this shouldn't be a problem. you could also make some video tutorials for the students to watch if they are getting confused - I use camtasia for that.

THere are some definite differences between Korea and Japan such as the use of cell-phones for email. Even so I think alot of what I wrote can help you. If you want more specific help send me an email - there's an email form on my blog.

David (TEFL Smiler) said...

I had some similar problems when I got my groups in Seoul to start group blogs using Blogger. I got round it the easy way: I got one or two students in each group to take control. They set up and designed the blogs, and sent out the invitations. Some of the students then complained that they hadn't received the invitations (as they hadn't checked their junk boxes, basically), and I merely re-directed them to the student(s) in charge of the blog admin. Within a few weeks everyone had access.

In other words: pass on as much of the responsibility to your students. With a blog, it's easy to let them take control. (You can also make sure you get sent administrator privileges, if needs be.) I have no idea about Moodle, though.

teacher dude said...

I set up class blogs this year and to tell you the truth they weren't particularly successful as most students couldn't be bothered to put stuff on them.

It was a success with private students however, as I could monitor their progress more carefully.