Moodle for multiple choice

Using ICT for communication in teaching is great, and it’s what hooked me to adopting technology as a professional focus. It’s the “personal” quality of Web 2.0 tools that opens up new kinds of learning.

But systems really shine when they are allowed to be, well, systems. In teaching they need to be well-designed to provide the right kind of feedback to the user. They’re good for formative analysis – guiding the student in his or her learning process – and for final evaluation – passing the benchmark. How you set up the exercise or test visually on the page and how you word the feedback is important. When I run my next Moodle course for teachers, I’ll need to teach them how to make multiple choice tests. I’m not looking forward to it, though: the Moodle interface is so awful to use for input, and you can’t do much with it visually. Oh, well. It’s free 😉 – I’ll have to see what I can do with Hot Potatoes now, and whether that’s simpler.

Oh, boy. How many hours do we have?

Google and Moodle

Dave Nagel reports that Google Apps Education Edition is coming to Moodle. Moodlerooms, a Moodle partner, is launching a new enhancement to the open source LMS in collaboration with search giant Google to provide access to the application suite using a single sign-on. Through the integration, users loaded into Moodle will be automatically loaded into Google Apps Education Edition, providing users with Web-based e-mail, document authoring, spreadsheets, presentations and sites, all integrated with their online learning platform. From a teacher’s perspective, this provides an easy way to assign students to collaborative tasks without having to worry about the students having different operating systems or incompatible software or being unable to access an online system. From an IT staffer or CIO’s perspective, this provides an integration tested with large-scale data loads.

It’s not for free, but (Anne: see comments) It’s something that might come in handy for schools with small budgets, as it should simplify administration. School teachers will love it, as it’s great for kids who don’t always have their own email account yet. I’m not sure it makes sense for adults. Let’s see whether the Big Ones in adult ed (Open University…) adopt it.

Flash fiction

Sorry, folks, I’m using this blog to think through some stuff today. I’m Moodling again, at least theoretically, to prepare for an upcoming workshop. Can’t show off old user content anymore since I deleted all former users and their work as an antivirus precaution, and don’t want to do what I did before because I’ve been there and done that. My current challenge is to break down my own steep learning curve into the right kind of bites to pass on to fellow teachers, both in the workshop and on the Ask Auntie Web blog. The Island Weekly is my home office blog, and since I’m hardly teaching at all at the moment, this blog is going through yet another change. Stick with me, baby :)

What are the most productive uses of Moodle in EFL? How about students writing flash fiction? A famous work of flash fiction, probably the shortest, is Hemingway’s “Short Short Story”, which goes like this:

“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

Brevity is the soul of wit, said Shakespeare, and this type of writing is based on omitting needless words yet delivering the full story in all parts and engaging the reader completely. Some types are based on an exact word count, e.g. Drabble (100 words), the 69er or 55 Fiction. Joan Popek summarizes flash fiction very nicely, and shows how trimming language makes it more vibrant:

Long version: The freezing, icy wind which was blowing from the North made John’s face feel cold. (15 words)
Flash version: Icy wind bit into John’s face. (6 words)
S. Joan Popek, Writing Flash Fiction

In Moodle, this type of assignment could work in various ways:

  1. It could run in the open forum as one-off postings that are shortened by subsequent commentators using copy and paste to pull it into their window, and then editing it down. The forum is a brilliant tool because it makes subsequent steps nice and transparent. This would have the advantage of not having any nasty markup to distract in version 2 or 3. I love the forum for the freedom it allows learners – it’s akin to classroom participation.
  2. It could be a collaborative team assignment for a group forum, who, when they are finished, simply post their product as a nicely styled pdf. This would have the advantage of allowing for a bit of graphic design fun. Hm: I had this type of assignment when I was learning Moodle, and I didn’t like it. It feels more like “homework” when the process is in a private group and you have to deliver one document as a final product.
  3. It could be a wiki project, especially as the teacher can prepare a framework for students to fill in individually. I especially like the idea of wikis for pair work, because it’s an intimate and focussed collaboration. However, the Moodle wiki is truly awful. One could link to an external wiki (eg wikispaces) but that’s not as neat, because it involves an extra sign up. And then all that setting up of pages, just for pairs? Boo. So unless the wiki is used over and over during a course, it’s not worth it. They are very effective in summarizing the fruits of learning.
  4. One could include rewriting exercises in a test/quiz format, providing multiple choice alternatives like I do in the exercises for Spotlight Online.
  5. Polls on a regular basis on troubleshooting grammar mistakes and style issues that are typical when students try to shorten phrases – the way Germans tend to use noun phrases, or overuse the gerund
  6. One could also provide an assignment with a Word document containing text bites to be edited and handed in as an assignment to be graded in the traditional way.
  7. One could start things out with a picture or film or object to generate a word list, i.e. these words must appear in each story. Not everything needs to happen online and in multimedia. But it would be fun to get the whole class twittering, send them to a photo stream and then take the words they post.

Moodle

For over a year now my dear host Christian has put up with my Moodle platform. You’ll remember, I ran a few courses on it and did something for the LMU and for the VHS, and I was intending to run a train-the-trainer session for MELTA. But being hacked has come as a shock and is just really the last straw in a process that has turned me off to Moodle.

The problem with my Moodle is, frankly, that my business clients will always get in touch with me using their preferred means, their messaging systems, not following some unique rules that a Moodle course sets up for them. Moodle is good for schools and universities that need to manage complicated distance learning setups, because teachers need to impose discipline to manage the large number of people and tasks involved. That’s why Open University and the Fachhochschule für angewandtes Management use it successfully. But in adult education as a platform for blended learning providing space for projects? I think using other applications, such as a proper wiki, is probably better.

It’s been kind of cool to be able to show my Moodle site to people. It used to frustrate me at teachers’ conferences, when techie teachers talked about what they were doing and how they were doing it, to notice that they knew how, theoretically, but they weren’t really applying it because there wasn’t much demand, or because, frankly, it didn’t work all that well and the content and didactics were slave to the technology. I’m a very practical person, and the only way to find out whether something is good is to work with it, intensively and extensively, with different types of users or learners.  Since I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself, I was able to show my Moodle stuff for what it really was.

Right now there is other work to be done, so I don’t know how the saga will continue. Maybe this is the final curtain for my Moodle. Christian has offered to have a second look. So maybe not. But as far as my interest in online learning is concerned, this is most definitely not, as the Germans say, das Ende vom Lied :-) !