Training

In the Beginning

School districts over the past few years have equipped their schools with the latest in technology equipment.  This process has been accelerated with the requirements put forth by NCLB whereby technology literacy has been mandated for students by grade eight (Boyle, 2005). Schools have set up computer labs, state-of-the-art media centers, and computers in the classroom in preparation for technology integration.  However, simply having the equipment in place does not guarantee that the teachers will achieve technology integration: “Successful integration of technology requires not only the knowledge of the technology and its potential use but also the skill to plan and execute a good lesson (of which the technology is only a part)” (Painter, 2001, p. 23).

As I entered into the doctoral program in Educational Leadership at the University of Delaware in September of 2003, one of my goals was to focus on technology integration or the lack there of in schools.  The big question was how do we make technology a part of not the end of a process?  What do I mean? Too often students end of a unit of study culminated in a PowerPoint presentation.   The focus became the PowerPoint presentation and not the content of the material being studied.  Students would nervously await their turn to present and be thankful when the experience was finally completed.  And what did they learn from this experience? How to create an animation, transition, or add sound to a presentation?  But what of the topic they were studying?

In one of my classes at the university, a fellow student during a discussion mentioned Moodle.  It was a Learning Management System (LMS) primarily hosted on a Linux based server.  At the time I was using a hosting service that was Windows 2003 server based.  Needless to say, I was mildly interested but really didn’t give it much thought afterwards until I attended the NECC 2006 conference in July of that year.  The big topic of discussion throughout the conference was focused on open source software. One of the most talked about open source software topics was Moodle.

Moodle was designed to support and promote users interested in developing constructivist, student-centered learning environments (Dougiamas & Taylor, 2003). Moodle is a CMS that has adopted a social constructivist theory.  “Social constructism is based on the idea that people learn best when they are engaged in a social process of constructing knowledge through the act of constructing an artifact for others” (Cole, 2005, p. 5).

After returning from the NECC 2006 conference, this was a point where I tell people all of the planets began to align themselves regarding my doctoral studies.  How?  First, I must back track to the spring of 2006. At the time, the superintendent had mentioned at a faculty meeting the idea of teachers forming a collaborative plan to replace the traditional PIP.  At the same time I was in the beginning stages of developing my dissertation.  In speaking with three teachers, we agreed to submit a collaborative plan.  We wanted our collaboration to be web-based. In a previous class at Delaware, I had created a web-based project related to an endangered species unit in the sixth grade science class.  I thought I would take this same model and work with these teachers in creating the same type of web-based project.

Prior to NECC 2006, I had already begun to work on creating these web-based projects. However, I soon realized that I was more enabling teachers than allowing them to collaborate.  This is when I went to moodle.org to do further research into the concept of using a Moodle.    After reviewing information on the web site, I could see a real opportunity in front of me.  The first step was to setup a Linux based web site utilizing a web hosting service.  The website (http://www.techinedonline.com) would serve as the host for this Moodle collaboration.  As I began to explore the ins and outs of the Moodle, I put a halt to web-based project I had begun to create.  As I mentioned previously, the planets were truly aligning for me in both my doctoral work and the collaboration with the three teachers.

Getting Down to Work

            As September of 2006 arrived and we returned to school each collaborative teacher had a course setup within the Moodle.  We setup release time to allow us an opportunity to meet and have them take a look at this “Moodle thing.”  Needless to say, once they saw it they were hooked.

            So why were teachers so hooked?  Teachers appreciated the power behind the Moodle.  In the early stages of development, they used it primarily as a repository for information related to their class.  Teachers began by posting homework assignments, calendar of events, presentations given in class, links to other websites (including their on-line text book), rss feeds, and Jeopardy games for students to prepare for tests.

            As teachers became more comfortable with using the Moodle, they became more curious as to what more could they use it for.  Teachers discovered that they could setup forums that could be utilized for student discussions.  Students liked the idea of participating in discussions but requested more input into what could be discussed.  In searching the moodle.org website, a module was available that allowed students to create their own forums. 

            Modules are add-ins that further enhances the features available for a Moodle.  The module above, Forum Plus, gave students the opportunity to become active participants in the process.  Other modules were added to the Moodle as teachers often would say, “If only I could do….”  Another example was a teacher wished there was a way for students to be able to save files that they could move back and forth from home to school.  Once again a search on moodle.org a module, My Files, was found and added to the Moodle.  Another popular add-on was a module that allowed teachers to add YouTube videos directly into their Moodle course.  My recommendation is for anyone establishing a Moodle site is to keep an open ear to what teachers are requesting and encouraging teachers to explore the add-in modules to see if one fits their needs.

            Another great part of using a Moodle is the Moodle community.  The on-line support is made up of other users.  You can post questions to the various forums and people are very quick to reply. An example happened last year when a Language Arts teacher wondered how others were using a Moodle for novel studies. She posted a question in the Moodle in K-12 Schools forum at 10:48 AM and by 12:26 PM she got her first reply.  Again, I encourage teachers to use the Moodle community as a great support system.

            The ultimate goal is to move beyond simply having a Moodle site as a repository for classroom activities.  Students wanted more of a real time option to post questions to other students or teachers.  We opened up a live chat for students to use.  Students began to use this to post questions about homework. Some students even used the live chat to ask each other questions in preparation for an upcoming test.  Another feature, journal, allows students to have a one-to-one dialogue with their teacher concerning their writing.  On-line assignments, surveys and questionnaires further enhance student interaction.

Where We Go from Here and Obstacles to Getting There

            There are countless ways to further enhance a Moodle site to make it a truly interactive experience for students.  When students become involved with the material their motivation level is increased. For example, the 6th grade social studies class was putting together a podcast to post on the Moodle.  We had a small group of students who were going to serve as the anchors of the podcast.  When did they work on this podcast to complete it? Each day for several weeks students would come to my room during their recess and lunch to work on this podcast.  I didn’t have to prompt them or beg them to show up. In fact, there were times I was running around the building working on other things and would show up a few minutes late. There they would be, waiting at my door tapping their feet, acting like “where have you been!!!”

            I told this story to a recent conference I presented at in Florida (FETC 2008) and teachers were excited to hear how motivated these students were.  Allowing students to participate in their own education reaps many rewards.  Classroom management becomes less of an issue, students are actually learning and applying the material rather them simply memorizing and regurgitating onto a test, and teachers feel a renewed sense of connection with their students.

            The other interesting aspect of presenting at this conference was how many people attended my session “Using Your Noodle on the Moodle.”  It was a Friday afternoon, the last session of the conferences that had been going on for three days.  I thought perhaps I would get maybe two or three, if lucky, a half dozen people attending on this late afternoon session.  To my surprise, the room was filled to capacity and the energy level of the teachers was incredible.  They all wanted to learn more about using a Moodle.  And when they ask, “How much does it cost?” and I tell them it is free. Well, I don’t need to tell you their reaction.

            But what stops more teachers from using a Moodle?  The first thing is people not being aware that it even exists.  That is why I travel around the country presenting at conferences.  There are now over 330,000 Moodle users worldwide.  Word is quickly spreading. I’ve setup my own Moodle site: www.techinedonline.com/moodle for educators to use.  I now have users coming from as far away as Korea to participate in this Moodle.

            However, the biggest obstacle to teachers using a Moodle, which is true of all technology integration, is the lack of professional development.  Too often, I’ve seen districts purchase equipment that sits there not being used.  It looks good to have the equipment. However, it really isn’t about show.  Or I see the equipment used in a traditional teaching style whereby the teacher is in the front of the room with a PowerPoint presentation projected onto an Interactive Whiteboard, while the students sit there in a fog. It reminds me of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where the teacher is in front of the class giving a lecture while the students sit in their chairs, “Anyone….anyone.” 

            We need to stop thinking of professional development as a one-shot deal.  It just doesn’t work!  We need to get into the classroom with the teachers and work right beside them to better understand their world and how technology can be a part of the process of learning.  By having the time to work with teachers side-by-side and showing them how a Moodle might be an opportunity to integrate technology into the classroom, teachers see the value of technology not just something else they have to learn.

            The excitement of the Moodle is real!  I’ve seen the impact it has had with teachers and students.  Once they begin to put it to use the possibilities to expand are endless! I started off collaborating with three teachers in the district. Since then it has grown tremendously. I’ve trained close to 40 teachers in a district of just over 900 students. I’ve presented, and continue to present, to conferences around the country and I’m still amazed at the excitement that it generates.  And this is just one of the exciting areas of technology available to educators today! I haven’t even touched on other Web 2.0 tools. And did I happen to mention Joomla? Well, that is an article for another time!  And by the way, yes they are all free!!!

References

Boyle, A. (2005). "A Formula for Successful Technology Integration Must Include Curriculum." MultiMedia & Internet @ Schools 12(1): 30-2.

Cole, J. R. (2005). Using Moodle : teaching with the popular open source course management system. Sebastopol, CA, O'Reilly Community Press.

Dougiamas, M. and P. Taylor (2003). Moodle: Using Learning Communities to Create an Open Source Course Management System. World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2003, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, AACE.

Painter, S. R. (2001). "Issues in the Observation and Evaluation of Technology Integration in K–12 Classrooms." Journal of Computing in Teacher Education 17(4): 21-25.

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