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boatIt’s been a year and a half now since I first started thinking about online learning. Joe introduced me to Jobline, then came a course with the Virtuelle Hochschule Bayern and finally Margit for the Bayerischer Volkshochschulverand. Now I’ve had this site with its Moodle section running for about five months, and only a few people have signed up. But I’m not worried. Doing Jobline on this site was great. Moodle makes it easy to manage assignments and correspondence, find things, get and send messages, post and read feedback, use links etc. Everything is neatly organized, very pleasant. No hassle with incoming emails and attachments. So Moodle shines as a platform for a classic teaching setup, with the teacher giving and correcting assignments in a virtual classroom.

But that’s not what I originally intended to do with Moodle, because my teaching is generally much more geared to what my adult learners need ad hoc. Moodle’s weaknesses are the weakness of online learning in general, namely that it is exceedingly difficult to create the many dimensions of spontaneous social interaction and learning in a more or less text-based online environment. There are certainly ways out of this narrow use of Moodle, but it means adding more technology to the mix.

My real hope is to animate my students to develop their own learning agenda, choosing which content to work with, and becoming far more creative than just posting comments in a forum. I was hoping that people would create projects in dialogs that originated in the forum, but that’s not happening. I think the blended mix needs more face time and more playful interaction. There’s not a whole lot that people can do in basic Moodle except write in the forum. They’d need to know how to make films and record themselves etc., but that probably excludes 90% of my students.

Then of course Moodle is a closed-off platform, so you don’t get surprise visitors to add spice to life. Being out in the Internet and surfing around is more stimulating than what a small group of people can produce. I first noticed that dilemma when a group of teenagers I was teaching were more interested in finding penpals than anything that I was posting.

I was also hoping that the Moodle blog function would be a hit for writing projects, but few people are born bloggers – they prefer a clear assignment. Using the blog as a personal diary is weird, because the teacher can read your notes to yourself. Unpleasant for the teacher too, let me tell you.

One good way to grow knowledge organically is with a wiki. The teacher can provide a framework for students to fill in alone or in a group – perfect. But using the Moodle wiki is no fun at all. I’ve spent hours with it and still can’t create a personal wiki for individual students. Oh, well. My motto is: Never give up. Maybe I’ll need to incorporate external wiki software instead.

Having this blog, which was supposed to just advertise the Moodle block at the back, has naturally kept the students I’ve invited to join from going to the Moodle course. If you don’t have much time for English anyway, and the blog gives you a bit of food for thought, why go through the hassle of setting up an account? Friends tell me my texts are too long and the English is too difficult. Hmm… ok, so maybe I should write in German ;-). No, seriously, I don’t want to simplify language here, language teaching should happen in the courses. This blog should invite you to swim in the big, beautiful ocean of language. But I hope the shorter texts with videos that I’ve been posting lately will help.

Anyway, surfing around those great user groups on Ning and reading the edublogs, I see that I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in education technology. My colleagues on the other side of the Atlantic are way ahead of me, and I’m looking forward to the next stage of edutech. I can say “Second Life sucks” and “Twitter is a total waste of time”, but the cool cats are going there, and I guess I’ll just have to keep moodling through.

  • You’re a teacher just starting out with blended learning? Read Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett, Blended Learning. Using Technology in and beyond the Language Classroom.
  • If you’re a teacher using Moodle, I recommend William H. Rice, Moodle Teaching Techniques. Creative Ways to Use Moodle for Constructing Online Learning Solutions for ideas on how to use the Moodle features quiz, question, choice, wiki, glossary, lesson and workshop.
  • My favorite edublog: Larry Ferlazzo. New edutech apps every day – impressive.
  • The most impressive social network for Web 2.0 in the classroom: Classroom 2.0
  • A friendly social network for blended learning: Blended Learning and Instruction. Barbara Lindsey posted the following video, Supermarket 2.0, there (from Kinnernet 2007). Enjoy!
  • Learning the Ropes – Zum sich durchwursteln

    to muddle through – sich durchwursteln
    to sign up – sich anmelden
    assignment – Aufgabe
    correspondence – Briefverkehr
    to post – (online) schreiben
    hassle – stress
    to shine – glänzen
    to be geared to something – an etwas ausgerichtet sein
    narrow – eng
    to originate – seinen Ursprung haben
    face time – Präsenzzeit, physische Anwesenheit
    exclude – ausschließen
    closed-off – abgeschlossen
    add spice to life – dem Leben die (nötige) Würze geben
    penpals – Brieffreunde
    weird – seltsam
    to grow – wachsen lassen
    incorporate – einbinden
    food for thought – Stoff zum Nachdenken
    edublogs – Lehrerblogs
    it sucks – es ist ein Schmarrn
    a waste of time – Zeitverschwendung

    Learning English tip of the week

    The rule of the game is: Never give up. Keep moving forwards, one step at a time. Don’t be too easy on yourself. To break through the glass ceiling you need to keep challenging yourself. How to do it? Keep your learning sessions short and intensive. This week, take a short section of a text you find interesting and summarize it in your own words. And learn one interesting word, and use it in your summary. Bingo! you’re one step further.

    Teachers, experimenting with education technology (edutech) and online learning may be fun for us, but will the students enjoy it? I laughed out loud about what these kids think of Moodle:
    “I’m stuck in Moodle Prison”