Reflections on hosting MoodleMoot 2015

A recent EDUCUASE Report by Brown, Dahomey and Millichap (2015) estimates that almost 99% of higher education institutions support a Learning Management System (LMS); that is, a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for those living in the UK/Ireland/Europe. The same report claims that according to the first ECAR survey of faculty and IT in the United States, 85% of faculty use a LMS, with 56% using it on a daily basis.

What is clear is that the LMS/VLE has become an established feature of the digital architecture of today’s modern university and institute of technology. Although the LMS/VLE has many critics, and was recently described by Phil Hill as the “minivan of education” due to lack of style, poor fuel economy, uncomfortable seating, and because people are embarrassed to have one up their driveway, it remains an important platform for advancing and implementing a modern digital teaching and learning agenda.

In his critique of the above analogy, Stephen Downs prefers to think of the LMS/VLE as more like a ‘bus’ that we value as a core component of our public transportation system. While it may lack a bit of style and not everyone likes taking the bus, it generally runs on time, you know where it is going, what to expect, and very few people would advocate for its removal from an integrated transportation system, especially given the level of disruption that occurs when there is a major strike. In this respect the LMS/VLE is a tool that has an important role in the basic provision of  digital learning throughout the higher education sector.

IMG_7130Therefore, last week the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) was delighted to host 328 delegates from 26 different countries at the annual UK/Ireland MoodleMoot at Dublin City University (DCU). The event took place over four days and offered a lively mix of presentations, workshops, Pecha Kucha, posters, and physical and virtual discussions. Notably, approximately 2500 tweets were shared over the period of the event using the hashtag #mootieuk15.

After DCU’s President, Professor Brian McGrath, opened the conference, Dr Bart Rienties, a Reader in the area of Learning Analytics at the Institute of Educational Technology at the UK Open University, gave the opening keynote address. Bart’s keynote set the tone for the remainder of the Moot where pedagogical discussions rather than technical matters were very much the major focus of discussions. A video of Dr Rienties’ presentation will be available in the next week or so but in the meantime you may wish to view this recording from a previous visit to DCU in 2014.

Moodle HQ was well represented at the event and Martin Dougiama and Dr. Michael de Raadt did not disappoint in helping to keep a strong pedaogogical focus with their respective presentations on the importance of feedback and personalised learning. Throughout the event it was apparent that the decision by an institution or organisation to use Moodle needs to be understood as a strategic investment in supporting an open pedagogical and technological culture. In this respect, by analogy, in joining the Moodle community people and institutions have an opportunity to not only influence future decisions about the replacement of the current ‘bus fleet’ but also how to redesign the transport system to better meet our changing needs. That said, in his closing address, Professor Mark Brown challenged delegates to be more creative in their thinking about the LMS/VLE and to develop new metaphors for the future of teaching and learning through new digital technologies.

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Finally, we would like to thank everyone involved in helping to make last week’s MoodleMoot so successful, especially Gavin Henrick and Dr. Mark Glynn. The following reflections from a number of NIDL staff who participated in the event provide further personal insights into some of the highlights of this year’s MoodleMoot.

Dr Eamon Costello wrote…

The theme of feedback which was central to Martin Dougiamas’s talk was a common thread that could be detected in most if not all of the UK & Ireland 2015 Moodle Conference presentations. Examples were presented of educational practices that utilised both new and longstanding tools from Moodle’s assessment toolset such as discussion post rating via scales, anonymous and double marked assignments, digital badges, student dashboards etc.

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Indeed the Student Dashboard was the subject of one of the workshops on day one of the conference. The Moodle Moot was bookended by workshops/working groups. The day n-1 working groups acted as a form of user focus group for feature specification. A developer Hackfest was held on day n+1 at which code was written to implement ideas that had arisen from the workshop and the conference.

This year, as the Moodle Moot renewed its continuing association with Dublin City University, the decision was taken to take attendees out of the comfort (zone) of a hotel conference venue and plant them instead in the heart of the DCU campus itself – including eating lunch in the student canteen. Moving between buildings on the campus, to accommodate the large crowd for the keynotes, provided peripatetic moments to stretch the legs as well as the minds and put delegates into the physical student spaces. The link between the physical and digital learning spaces was made explicit by DCU President Professor Brian McGrath in his Welcome address where he outlined the University’s ambitious Digital Campus initiative.

An interesting backdrop was that conference took place within the context of a resurgent debate on the role of the VLE/LMS in the educational technology research community including an important recent Educause report. In his keynote Michael de Raadt Director of Research at Moodle HQ outlined his vision of how the VLE can enhance learning by outlining a view of personalised learning that foregrounds student diversity.

Technology is a strong focus of Moodle Moots and the pace of the development of the underlying technical infrastructures, platforms, programming languages, frameworks and development methodologies can be dizzying. Ultimately this all happens in the service of making Moodle more secure, robust, reliable and responsive, particularly regarding the diversity of UX designs in modern Moodle deployments including for mobile, MOOC and so on. The message of the Conference overall was a simple one: the call to continued enhancement of the learner experience. This mission is powered by a vibrant community comprised of specialists from intersecting fields and all anchored around a cornerstone of openness.

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IMG_7170Dr Pip Ferguson wrote…

This was my first MoodleMoot and I was a little apprehensive about it possibly being dominated by ‘techies’ to an intimidating extent. I’m pleased to relate that this was not the case. There were lots of exemplars, case studies and stimulating conversations around the importance of pedagogy in the use of Moodle. I really liked the multicultural nature of the attendees and had great conversations with people from Denmark, the Netherlands, Egypt, the United States, England, and of course Australia and New Zealand. I found the conference inviting and friendly. The conference dinner was delicious and an opportunity to get to know other attendees in more depth. I also enjoyed conversations with some of the sponsors, whose products are designed to enhance the Moodle experience, even if DCU is not currently a user of some of these. I always try to engage with sponsors at conferences, recognising their generosity in supporting the event. The only minor criticism I’d have was the difficulty in moving from one stream to the other, given the fixed seating in lecture theatres. So I stayed in the education stream. I hope to pick up some items from the technical stream subsequently, and am chasing up the twitter feed for further ideas.

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Noeleen O’Keeffe wrote…

Among the highlights of Moodlemoot for me was the presentation by Hiram Bollaert on the use of quizzes to teach statistics in Moodle, food for thought for our research modules in the Open Education Unit. From the presentations I attended, it is clear there is a lot of great work being done on improving the Moodle experience for both teachers and learners, with the development of some very useful plugins for instance. Of particular interest to me are the plugins on image copyright attribution mentioned in Nigel Owen’s talk which will be very useful when developing learning resources within Moodle. The ability to view a student’s complete submission, grade and feedback history is another nice feature presented by Jessica Gramp and Tim Neumann. It struck me throughout the conference that there was a great willingness to share resources and plugins among the attendees. Well done to everyone for a successful Moodlemoot.

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Alan Crean wrote…

The event itself was extremely well run, well attended and had a rich variety of topic content. I attended the event in the vain of cameraperson. It was very much for me like a bag of Revels. By and large most presenters were intriguing and engaged the audience, yet a small few failed to captivate.

I think it’s a great thing to meet so many people from different countries with differing opinions and views and different techniques that have been put into practice. I have since made a new working relationship with a programmer from the Open University of Israel who is currently working on Moodle and Google Drive integration. The conference team worked hard and it showed. The schedule remained pretty much on time. Beverage and snack breaks boosted the energy levels regularly. The social event was amazing, really enjoyed the night… maybe a little too much!

Congrats to all who worked so hard to make it a success. DCU and NIDL should be very proud that such a successful event took place on our campus.

Valuable Contribution to e-Learning Summer School

Last week a number of NIDL staff contributed to the 12th edition of the highly successful e-Learning Summer School hosted by the Learning, Teaching and Technology Centre at Dublin Institute of Technology. This year’s event explored the question: What impact is digital culture having on higher education? Over the week approximately 40 third level educators (many from DCU funded by the NIDL) came together for a rich and varied programme, including a session on Digital Assessment by Elaine Walsh and Eloise Tan; a couple of contributions by Mark Glynn on Screencasting and the use of Moodle; and a final keynote by Mark Brown on the “Promise, Progress and Pain” of digital learning. Full credit goes to the team at DIT for organising such a valuable professional learning experience.

Summer School 

Major Contribution to EdTech 2014

NIDL and DCU staff played a prominent role at the recent EdTech 2014 conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA). Over a dozen presentations were given by DCU and linked College staff and both Dr Eamon Costello and Dr Mark Glynn were centrally involved in the conference organisation. The highlight was probably Professor Mike Sharples‘ keynote on lessons from massive pedagogy using FutureLearn as a case example. Dr Enda Donlon was a finalist for the Jennifer Burke Award and only missed out by 2 votes in taking out the prize.

Presentations from NIDL staff included amongst a range of topics: using surveys without the hassle in Moodle, lessons from the experience of implementing MOOCs down under,  the use of Metis for school placements, the DCU e-portfolio initiative, an assessment matrix for designing and developing assessments, an example of augmented reality in higher education, and design and implementation of a blended learning programme in Malawi, and the value of increasing flexible access to third level learning.

The conference closed with an address from Professor Sarah Moore from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning who formally launched the draft or preliminary Digital Learning Roadmap for building capacity in higher education.