Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

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Differences between Moodle 1.9 and 2.0: #1 Files

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We haven’t fixed a date to upgrade to Moodle 2.0 yet, but we’re gathering together some preparatory resources. Dave’s Moodle 2.0 Adventures, a visual introduction to File management from Mark Drechsler with a rom-com twist, gives an overview of the changes to come and anticipated reactions from users who have a Teacher role.


Written by Mira Vogel

February 4, 2011 at 15:00

Posted in learn.gold, moodle

Styling Moodle

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A presentation by Matthew Cannings.

Recommended for anybody feeling overly constrained by the appearance of their Moodle (here, learn.gold) area.

Written by Mira Vogel

December 14, 2010 at 18:17

Posted in learn.gold

MoodleMoot UK 2010 – review

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I spent 13th and part of the 14th of April at MoodleMoot UK 2010, the annual cross-sector conference about our Virtual Learning Environment, Moodle (branded at Goldsmiths as learn.gold).

By way of background: Moodle is open source software. Developed and owned by its community of users, it is free to download and install, and can be locally adapted (resources allowing). Goldsmiths was an early adopter of Moodle, and before my time, John Phelps was a presenter at an early Moodle Moot 2004. Since, Moodle has taken off in the Higher Education sector. The Open University has ploughed £5m into developing Moodle and has given these developments back to the community. Among many others, LSE, Essex, Liverpool John Moores, City University London, and the University of Bath chose Moodle.

I went to specifically find out about the coming version – much-anticipated ‘Moodle 2’. This new version is expected to be a departure from current versions, taking on more of a Web 2.0. You can read about progress updates on the Roadmap pages at moodle.org.

Sadly, I was scheduled to be at Goldsmiths for a meeting at the time that Moodle’s founder and principal character Martin Dougiamas was scheduled to speak.

Happily, he was presenting from Sydney Perth, so presumably it was captured and will soon be available on the conference site.

An overview of some of the presentations I attended follows.

Our departing Warden Geoff Crossick gave the opening keynote (he’s incoming VC of the University of London; MoodleMoot took place at Senate House).  This began with a sad prognosis of the HE sector – not for much longer a life-course stage for school leavers,  in competition with other private organisations with degree-awarding powers, explicitly hitched to national economic ambitions interpreted as standardised skillsets, with speculative (“what if”) research and teaching an increasingly elite niche within the sector. Then with some well-chosen adjectives, he made Moodle at Goldsmiths sound amazing. Finally a caution to the custodians of Moodle – learning technologists and academic developers – that e-learning would be eyed as a way to save money, and e-learning as an enhancement would require robust defence.

Sugata Mitra spoke about the Hole in the Wall project, which began with a computer embedded in a wall in a New Delhi slum absent of good teachers, and culminated in some astonishing findings, including that Tamil-speaking children can teach themselves GCSE-level genetics in English on a computer (I simplify – you can read more at his page, and there’s a forthcoming BJET paper he said he had a job to get past the reviewers because they couldn’t quite believe his findings). Relating how scores of children self-organised to share a single computer, he was very amusing on the emergence of an administrative class and the harnessing of boffins.  I wonder if this man has some magic about him – how on earth did he manage to persuade his educational studies department at the University of Newcastle to go along with a research project to find out if school children require teachers?  He ended with the idea of an army of volunteers from affluent countries in the ‘cloud’ helping learners in disadvantaged parts of India via web video linkup.

Mahara – what I took from this session was mostly reassurance that many institutions are at the same stage with Mahara (learn.gold’s social networking, personal learning environment and portfolio counterpart, available from the bottom right of the learn.gold front page, once logged in). With portfolios on institutionally-hosted systems, it’s important to be able to get to them after graduation. Derren Thomas talked about the Leap2a standard which puts the ‘port’ back in portfolios and allows them to be packed and unpacked across different online portfolio systems rather than being tethered to a single one. ‘Friends’ was thought to be an inappropriate blanket term for fellow learners in a learning environment. And I found that there really isn’t yet a way to add students to groups other than one by one – this is bound to change in the future because it’s the source of a great deal of frustration. Note to self – try out the CV builder. Also good/frustrating to note that other people experience the same style-sheet problems as we do, namely squidged-together heading lines and occasionally overlapping layers. This would put off a lot of prospective users who are working visually rather than textually and depend on layers behaving themselves. But we like Mahara.

Ross McKenzie of the Open University made a very informative presentation. The OU set out to rectify their “shoddy performance” on taking from the Open Source Community and giving little or nothing back. They invested £5m  in Moodle (most of which, as Martin comments below, was spent on implementation – as a distance learning institution Moodle is the main learning environment). Their installation contains 2,000 separate localisations (code they script to adapt Moodle from the standard installation) and the scale of work to maintain these is quite significant given that the OU upgrades 4 times annually on principle (“release early, release often”) to avoid having to download patches all the time. Their gantt chart (parallel development model where they are adapting for the coming version almost as soon as they have installed the current one) was incredibly busy-looking but their team is probably the biggest in the UK (remember that the OU is a pioneering distance-learning institution and Moodle is basically the long and short of their entire learning environment). They are very user-centred – each quarter they gather requirements, begin a 3-month period of development (i.e. coding their localisations on the coming version), followed by functional testing, then pre-release testing. I can never remember which number version of Moodle we’re on here – the OU name theirs after malt whisky. Oh, and they recommend to resist the temptation to install a beta release and always go with the stable version. Also of interest on the subject of roll-over, the OU keeps all course in read-only mode for 3 years after graduation. Other recommendations: tirelessly promote to colleagues what Moodle does and will do, or they’ll never know. It was interesting to hear him talking about Moodle 2.0 – the localisations are very much tied to earlier versions and the OU has to basically choose whether to a) resource their remaking for the radically new version b) have fewer localisations or c) fork the Moodle project (i.e. not upgrade to Moodle 2.0 but take the existing Moodle in a direction convenient to them, given their localisations).

Next I squeezed into Moodlenomics, an economic compare-and-contrast of different models of open source software production, from centralised hierarchical models like MySQL where contributors and users have little say, to sponsorship models (e.g. Apache server technology used by governments, institutions and banks all over the world) where you gain influence through making valuable contributions, and donations do not buy influence relative to amount donated. Moodle is developed within what the presenter called the ‘Trademark model’. There are some donations – money and developer time – and some direct commissions but the main business model is for Moodle Partners, commercial enterprises which sell technical services to institutions. The general feeling (unfortunately resonant) was that “Moodle is too big to fail” i.e. if –  heaven forfend – a meteorite was to obliterate the Sydney Perth premises, the University of London Computer Centre (which hosts Moodle for U of L institutions and others) would step in, or somebody else. Apache had a staggeringly small outgoing last year of £210k. What Moodle’s is I forget – but it’s quite dinky.

I don’t have much to say on the other presentations I attended, which tended to be either sector-specific, generally visionary, or at a different stage of Moodle adoption. This was my first Moodle Moot. It was pretty much about reconciling Moodle with institutional practices and vice-versa – practicalities and logistics. I’d look forward to it maturing, as ALT-C is reputedly beginning to do, into a conference about learning.

Written by Mira Vogel

April 15, 2010 at 16:53

Posted in event, learn.gold

Tagged with ,

FAQs for learn.gold (our Moodle VLE) / using Moodle to find out about Moodle

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I spend a fair proportion of my time – particularly at this time of year – answering emailed questions about our Virtual Learning Environment (Moodle, branded learn.gold).

Every time I get a question I think might be more widely relevant, I create the response in Frequently Asked Questions form, post it on learn.gold, and refer the questioner to that. This has saved a great deal time and I’ve authored 77 of the things without going out of my way.

For this I chose a Moodle Database which worked pretty well with three simple fields: question; answer and keyword. Then a colleague pointed out that there was another possible approach – Moodle’s Glossary which actually has an FAQ format.

So I worked up some questions in both and then decided to put it to our users. I set up a brief Moodle Questionnaire – “Which FAQ version do you prefer?” and then used our front page bulletin board (Moodle Forum) to alert staff and students. It was summer and the response rate was pitiful – 7 students and 2 academic staff took the questionnaire. At time of writing:

  • 5 preferred the Database version; 1 the Glossary; 1 neither; 1 either; 1 wasn’t sure

I asked for explanations, and paraphrase below:

Feedback in favour of Database

  • Easier to search
  • Better-looking
  • Clearer layout, better formatting
  • Better search options

In favour of Glossary

  • Easier to use


  • Both too complicated; better to have all the FAQs on one page so you can see them at a glance [but at-a-glance doesn’t really work with a huge list which can’t easily be categorised or ordered alphabetically]

I’ll leave it up for the beginning of term, and then go with the consensus. But it looks as if it’s going to be the Database.

Written by Mira Vogel

September 4, 2009 at 10:27

Posted in learn.gold

Tagged with ,

Our learn.gold (Moodle virtual learning environment) interactive audio tours and guides

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Our learn.gold (Moodle virtual learning environment) interactive audio tours are scripted and recorded by me, in squeaky but enthusiastic tone. I decided to create audio tours because learn.gold is in many ways a space in which users need to understand how to get from A to B and carry out C.

  • so there’s an interactive hands-on learn.gold audio tour and transcript for students
  • and a tour and transcript for staff

We have just upgraded, so it’s time to check them again – update Aug 11th 2009: all checked and ready to use now. They’re designed to be as future-proof as possible, and there is a balance to be struck between pedantic tweaking and wasting time updating the recording, transcript and navigation timings, and getting these uploaded via the Web Team.

But I think there are enough improvements to be made to justify making some changes.

The Student one:

  • Reset the Demo area to Guests Not Allowed, so that audio tourers see the Participants block. But since there has been interest in this area from other institutions, might be better to change the script to direct audio tourers to the Enrol Me In This Course link, and then reset the Demo area to Allow Guests.
  • Wondered about putting Support alphabetically in the Course Categories page, instead of at the bottom; decided against it but this means that the instructions are a little inaccurate, but not critically so.
  • When discussing the Blocks on the Demo area, might be worth explicitly mentioning that there are many others

The Tutor one:

  • Throughout, change “adjacent to” to “close to” (for smaller screens)
  • Getting to the front page –  httpS://… (omitted the ‘s’)
  • Finding the Beyond the Obvious course area – currently assumes that tutors have not enrolled in anything else, and that the Course Categories are displayed on the front page. Needs amending to get them to click on All Courses. (This is made explicit later, so no need to explain at that juncture).
  • Entering the course area – similar to students it might be better to set the area to Allow Guests, and change the script to direct audio tourers to Enrol.
  • On Compose A Web Page,
    • would be good to mention that the meaningful title also appears in the Index of Resources (which is mentioned in relation to the Summary, a little later), which is why it should be short and differentiate that resource from others.
    • There is no “Show Settings menu next to the world Window” any more. Change this to “the menu next to the word Window”
    • “Then click Save” should be “Then click Save and Display”
  • Change “You can see your test Web Page” to “You can see a link to your test Web page”
  • Choose or Upload a File
    • “you’ll notice that underneath it” for the Choose or Upload a File button needs to be “close to it”
    • “File uploaded successfully” add to this “and you should see a link to your file”.
    • “The click Save” add “And Display”
    • “Since this podcast only covers the basics” should be “Since this recording only covers …”
  • “Glossary exists to” – add that it can be used to FAQ.
  • Get rid of LAMS – no longer exists
  • Add something on Questionnaire.
  • The most famous Wiki – also mention OpenStreetMap
  • Groups “will not be able to see what other students are doing” change to “will not be able to see what other groups are doing”
  • Settings “takes post you make on your area’s News forum and shows them on the front page” change to “and links to the most recent ones on your front page”

Now need to change the script, record, re-do the timings, send changes to the Web Team. When I recorded in Audacity I bookmarked the different sections, so it should be easy to find the relevant parts redo the navigation timings.

Update Aug 11th 2009: all done.

Written by Mira Vogel

August 6, 2009 at 12:36

Posted in how-to, learn.gold

Media Law & Ethics learn.gold VLE area critical factor in winning Teaching Excellence Award

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bjtc_logoTim Crook, convenor of the popular Media Law and Ethics course in the Media and Communications Department and former CELT fellowship holder, emailed to let us know that his course area on the learn.gold virtual learning environment was the swinging factor that persuaded the UK Broadcast Journalism Training Council to give Goldsmiths the Excellence in Teaching Broadcast Journalism Award for 2007-2008.

At the awards ceremony it was stated ‘The intranet site provides anything and everything, and much more to any student studying or needing to find out about Media Law & Ethics. It is outstanding.’

Here’s a short mp3 format interview with Tim (right-click, or apple-click for Macs, that link to save to e.g. a portable player). The first part of the recording is an excellent introduction to the course itself; how it is taught and the kinds of learners it attracts. At 7 min 49 sec Tim discusses the aspects of the course and the VLE area which were valued by his learners and by the BJTC. Of particular interest is the role of this enormous repository of resources in a course whose focus is media ethics and law as a dynamic collection of texts. At 10 min 53 he talks about his use of the log files to gauge use and perceived relevance of the different resources he has made available. At 11 min 42 he observes that theory students, whose assessment is based on coursework, are beginning to opt for a fearsome-sounding 3-hour unseen paper. From 13 min 21 sec he talks about the award ceremony.

Written by Mira Vogel

May 5, 2009 at 11:33

Google education integrates with Moodle

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It’s generally agreed that, as the boundaries between teachers and learners, and between learning and living, become less defined, and as more emphasis is placed on social learning, that certain qualities are increasingly important:

  • Integration is important for cross-referencing, for sharing and for aggregating and reaggregating in different ways for different contexts
  • Learner control is important – in order to work optimally learners should be able to choose the environments they work in, although institutions should ideally provide and support instances of environments which fulfil core learning requirements. (It kind of goes without saying that the same goes for teachers.)

At Goldsmiths we use Moodle, an open source Virtual Learning Environment i.e. a teacher-controlled environment which despite many opportunities for interaction and learner control, can feel somewhat at odds with the idea of portfolio learning, social networking and project work. Moodle has been thin on tools for content creation, collaboration and sharing –  tools and environments for these activities have developed independently and can be integrated if there is the will and resource (IT programming skills) in an institution.

Google is a leading web-based global advertising company responsible for some of the most innovative communication, information, authoring and hosting tools for individual users. Google Search is a famous world-beater but Google is also the creator of Google Apps (including its Education Edition), a free suite of online office tools (document authoring, presentation, calendar, chat with or without audio and video, email, sites etc) based in the so-called cloud – i.e. hosted and served rather than locally installed and therefore available from any web connection regardless of location. Google Apps occupies spot 12 and 15 respectively for learners and e-learning professionals in Jane Hart’s top learning tools for 2009.

Google Apps and Moodle are now integrating. This means that:

“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.”

Two educational organisations have been piloting the integration: Project KNOTtT, a group of institutions from Kansas, Nevada, Ohio, and Texas, and Centro Latino, an adult education institution.

More at Moodle Rooms (set up a user account to view).

This is probably going to take off in a big way.

Written by Mira Vogel

April 27, 2009 at 13:49

Posted in learn.gold