Moodling Around

moodle free for reuse

CC image courtesy of jlconfor on Flickr.

For this assignment, students in ETEC565A were permitted to choose from a selection of industry-proven Learning Management Systems (LMS) and were tasked with creating their own from the ground up.  Although some students may have some prior knowledge with a particular LMS, I would speculate that most students were relatively new to this mode of content delivery.

To view a tour of my Moodle site, please click here.

Why Moodle?

I chose the Moodle LMS primarily for two reasons: word of mouth and function.  I am fortunate to work with one of the most talented Librarians in the Victoria School District, Geoff Orme.  Recently having completed his own Master’s in Librarianship, Geoff unequivocally suggested that I use Moodle over the other LMS platforms and so that made my noodle lean towards Moodle, straight away.  Secondly, after being pointed into the Moodle direction, I did some preliminary research into it.  What I immediately liked about Moodle was that it was designed exclusively for educational purposes.  Although I am not familiar with many of the other LMSs, I have done a significant amount of research with WordPress.   I soon realized that WordPress needed to have Plug-ins added to it to make it functional as an LMS, whereas Moodle did not. I felt that an LMS designed solely for education would be easier to use than a platform that was primarily for blogging.   Whether or not these reasons for my choice are particularly compelling to other students in ETEC565A, is debatable.  Nonetheless, I needed to venture in some direction so Moodle was my winner!

Target Audience and the Organizational Context

In the seventeen years that I have held my contract at Esquimalt High School in Victoria, British Columbia, every teaching year has included teaching both academic Math and Physics.  We are a small school of just over 600 students, so that means that I am typically the only Physics teacher and the Math class that I teach multiple times per year is Foundations/Pre-Calculus Math 10.  FPC Math 10 is particularly tricky to teach because there are triple the learning outcomes from Math 9 and there is a Provincial Exam at the end of the course.  In Grade 10, students may opt to take the “easier”, Trades Math course (Apprenticeship and Workplace Math), although this route will limit students post-secondary options should they wish to not go into a Trades program.

When a student finishes their Math 9, we generally recommend that they pick their next math course based off of their standing.  Should they obtain over 70%, we recommend FPC Math 10 and for those landing between 50%-70%, we recommend A&W Math 10.  In my experience, however, students will often ignore their teachers’ recommendations, and sign up for the harder course, even though they lack foundation math skills to successfully navigate through it. Because of this, students in my FPC Math classes range from incredibly skilled to incredibly not.  It is therefore critical for me to be able to differentiate my teaching to cater to a very broad range of mathematical and organizational skills.

Another consideration that must be acknowledged when crafting a math course, is that a significant number of students arrive with what I call “Math Baggage”.  For reasons that I am not clear about, students will associate whether or not they are “good” at math based on how much time it takes for them to understand a concept. Negative self-talk, coupled with societal voices that reinforce that “math is hard” and “it is okay to not ‘get’ math” only serve to create barriers to learning the subject matter.   Math anxiety is also prevalent among students where the majority of my students will self-report to having “some” to “a lot”.  Creating a learning environment that is both effective and safe for students to develop in is very important to me.

Lastly, I have chosen to utilize a hybrid, on-line and traditional delivery model of my course. My school is situated in an inner-city section of Victoria.  Many of my students experience transient living arrangements, and often in single-parenting scenarios.  It is a reality that some of my students only have access to technology at school or at a public library.  Ironically, although many students come from lower to lower-middle class households, almost all of them have cellular devices.  Paying for their own costs to have a phone via working many shifts a week is not uncommon.  Due to the inequity of access to reliable technology, the course that I will be designing will capitalize on certain aspects of on-line learning, but the majority of the content will remain to be delivered from the classroom.  Consequently, I am choosing to use Moodle to provide a portal to enrich and reinforce the curriculum as opposed to purely delivering the content.

Tools and Design Elements: My Educational Rationale

I will now break my site into sections and for each section I will discuss:

  • How these tools/design elements facilitate learning and/or
  • How these tools/design elements achieve the course learning objectives

The Home Page

Aesthetically, it was important to me to keep the Home Page simple so that the functionality of the site would not be complicated.  I did not want to overload the student with an excessive amount of content as this is the launch point from which students must navigate through every time they visit the site; consequently, it was important for me for a student to be able to get to the page they required within one or two “clicks.

The four black buttons on the home page represent the four main pages that I would like students to access with ease. The Course Outline and Interest Inventory are where students should initially head at the beginning of the course, however, once a student has been inaugurated, the two next main access points would be the Student Blog Page and accessing course material.  I really preferred the option of having every unit displayed sequentially on the Home Page.  Even if a student were to be accessing the Review Material at the very bottom, a quick flick of a finger will get them there in a fraction of a second.

On the right of the page, you will see a Google Calendar that shows when lessons, quizzes, work blocks and test dates are.  Realistically, these dates will change due to last minute assemblies, field trips, etc., however, with a Google Calendar, these dates are easily changed.  I have opted to use the Google Calendar because of its ubiquitous nature in society—doctor’s offices, schools, businesses, etc. are opting to use this on-line, synchronous calendar en masse and with the option to have multiple calendars nested within one calendar, it is a extremely versatile calendar available freely to the public. Most recently, Google Calendar has added its “Reminder” feature where users can track their “to-do” lists within their calendars and consequently “swipe” them away, once they are complete.  Ultimately, teaching students the most up-to-date ways to use their phones beyond social networking, should be an unwritten learning outcome, as far as I am concerned!

The Course Outline

It is my belief that every school has its own personality; its own flavour; its own “life force.”  I saw value in branding my Course Outline with a photo of our gymnasium, filled with students and staff.  It reinforces the notion that simultaneously, we are one as a school, one as a class, and one as ourselves.

For the most part, my Course Outline is fairly standard as it gives students an idea of my expectations, assessment procedures, and other miscellaneous, yet informational tidbits. I attempted to take advantage of the online nature of this document by breaking the entire page up with images and including links to appropriate external pages, such as the Prescribed Learning Outcomes for FPC Math 10 in British Columbia.  Like the Home Page, I utilized linking to another page via a button for my Late Work Policy and Retesting.  Although, it is fairly text heavy, I’ve utilized headings and colour coding to allow students to skip to portions that are important to them.  I considered reducing the amount of text on this page, but then chose not to, due to the nature of my students.  For up to four weeks, I will have new students entering my course and because of this, I wanted to publish an outline that is fairly detailed for the late comers.

As previously mentioned, most of my students self-report themselves as being on the spectrum of math anxiety.  Mathematics anxiety, can be described as “anxiety that interferes with one’s ability to manipulate numbers and problem solve in mathematic related situations” (Richardson & Suinn, 1972). It is one of my goals as a teacher to help my students learn to manage and ideally reduce their anxiety so that their learning and classroom experience is as positive as possible.  One trigger for students who struggle with math anxiety is testing; particularly testing that is considered to be “high stakes” or when the tests are not announced, as with a “pop quiz” (Salend, 2011).  By having clear procedures surrounding assessment within the Outline, it is my hope that my anxious students can be more at ease from the very beginning of the course.  To that end, embedded in my Retest page, I have included a stop motion animation video that I had created for ETEC500 that chronicles a former student’s struggle with math anxiety.

Lastly, since this page is online, what better opportunity is there to get everyone to put the same apps on their phones?  For those few students that do not have smart phones, my classroom houses six iPads with these apps on them.  To date, every student has been able to access the required app due to having these iPads to supplement a potential lack of “BYOD”.

The Interest Inventory

Arguably one of the most useful addition to my technological evolution this year was having my traditional paper interest inventory turned into a comprehensive Google Form.  The form allows students to skip over parts that do not apply to them (such as the International Student section or the section for students with Individualized Education Plans), and more importantly, it creates a spreadsheet of everyone’s responses that I can transform into a bounty of different applications.  Students are also able to communicate with me regarding specific concerns and learning needs.  This form can be emailed to people directly and embedded into any webpage—its versatility is commendable! (Should a reader be interested in the specifics of this form, it is presently set-up as a “public” form ready for anyone to complete.)

The Student Blog

The potential for greatness that student blogging can afford is vast.  Researchers have created a virtual laundry list of possible benefits of student blogging including student collaboration, giving introverts a voice, promotion of critical thinking, and providing differentiated learning opportunities, just to list a few.  (Absalom & de Saint Léger, 2011; Brownstein & Klein, 2006; Luemann & Frink, 2009; MacBride & Luehmann, 2008; Morgan, 2014; Sawmiller, 2010)  It is my intent to model my student blog after Winnipeg educator Darren Kuropatwa’s class blog, in which he has been incorporating blogs into his practice since 2005 (MacBride & Luehmann, 2008).  Kuropatwa’s main blog activity is to have students rotate being the “Class Scribe”.  The Scribe’s responsibilities include summarizing the key ideas, posting questions that they may have and including any class announcements.  For my students, I will encourage them to embed multi-media, however, in the first round of scribing, this will not be a requirement. The comment box will hopefully allow students to discuss questions and observations they may have about the class.  Eventually, I will add a weekly “challenge question” to the blog where the first correct response that is posted, will permit the student to skip their next scribe post.  Once a student completes their post, it will be their responsibility to choose the next person and to strike their own name off the list.  Since the list needs to be editable by everyone, I chose to make the list on a Google Doc, which only the students of our class will have editing rights to. For the purposes of this project, I have included a sample scribe post from one of my current students.  This post is one of the better posts that has been crafted in that the student incorporated multimedia and was very thorough in her summary.

 

Contact Me

With many aspects of learning, students are going to have their individual preferences, so why would communication be any different?  On the Contact Me page, I’ve included my e-mail and a link to my biography page on our school’s webpage.  For some students, e-mail is somewhat of a chore and is considered to be antiquated. Hence, I have opened up a variety of avenues to facilitate communication, including Twitter, Instagram and Remind.com.  Should a student prefer sending me a message via semaphore, I may not respond, however, with having four other options they should be able to pick at least one that speaks to them.  Eventually, when my Master’s degree is complete, it will be my intention to establish a weekly office hour via Google Calendar and Google Hangout, where students can join the conversation with me online on the weekend or in the evening.

External tools

For my Moodle site, I have utilized both the Google Calendar and a Google Form, which provides the platform for my online Interest Inventory.  In the Victoria School District, the district has opted to utilize GAFE (Google Apps For Educators) as it allows students to collaborate seamlessly within a variety of apps and it allows them to store unlimited data on Google’s cloud.  The apps are also advertisement free and the district has the ability to control access to appropriate, online websites.

With regards to FIOPPA legislation, students who are in Grades 9 through 12 are permitted to self-consent, allowing themselves to be part of GAFE without parental involvement.  On the consent page, students are made aware that their data is being stored outside of Canada’s jurisdiction and are simultaneously informed to not disclose personal information within the GAFE environment.  On the school district’s website, it details that both school district administrators and Google administrators have access to data that is stored on their GAFE accounts.  Appropriate use and inappropriate use of the GAFE accounts are detailed very clearly, as well.

The Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia has produced a document entitled, “Cloud Computing Guidelines for Public Bodies” (2012).  It is clear that using any program such as those found in GAFE, results in a student’s data being stored outside of the provincial jurisdiction. Thankfully, by having the student self-consent, the district may circumnavigate this potential privacy issue. This document also states that students may not consent on the behalf of others:

One challenge with consent is that recorded information often contains the personal information of multiple individuals.  For example, if a public body wanted consent to store a student’s email about her parents’ divorce on a server located outside of Canada, the public body would have to obtain the consent of both the student and each of her parents. (p.4)

            Upon learning of this information, I have since removed parental email addresses from my Google Form. Regardless, having these privacy related conversations with my students will only make them better digital citizens, so I welcome this opportunity.

Summary

Creating a Moodle Page falls under the umbrella, “Labour of Love”, in my opinion. It is not as easy to use as a “drag and drop” system, although its potential for greatness justifies the relatively steep learning curve that novice users must endure. I easily watched over two hours of YouTube videos to get to where I am now, and I anticipate needing to watch a number of other videos to learn how to actually create lessons and assessments.  Having a limited amount of practical experience with WordPress, has made my Moodle indoctrination slightly easier.  Unquestionably, if the content creator is not apprehensive with diving into the code of the page, arranging Moodle pages is also simplified. Being an educator in a district that has embraced GAFE, it is difficult to not want to embrace both Moodle and GAFE concurrently, as both LMSs have their advantages and disadvantages.  Regardless of my love affair with GAFE, however, I am looking forward to the second part of this assignment.

References

Absalom, M., & De Saint Léger, D. (2011). Reflecting on reflection: Learner perceptions of diaries and blogs in tertiary language study. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 10(2), 189-211.

Brownstein, E., & Klein, R. (2006). Blogs. Journal of College Science Teaching, 35(6), 18-22.

Luehmann, A. L., & Frink, J. (2009). How can blogging help teachers realize the goals of reform-based science instruction? A study of nine classroom blogs. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18(3), 275-290. doi:10.1007/s10956-009-9150-x

MacBride, R., & Lynn Luehmann, A. (2008). Capitalizing on emerging technologies: A case study of classroom blogging.  School Science and Mathematics, 108(5), 173-183. doi:10.1111/j.1949-8594.2008.tb17826.x

Morgan, H. (2014). Taking advantage of web 2.0 technologies: Classroom blogging basics. Childhood Education, 90(5), 379-381.

Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia. (2012). Cloud computing guidelines for public bodies. Retrieved from https://www.oipc.bc.ca/guidance-documents/1427

Richardson, F. C., & Suinn, R. M. (1972). The mathematics anxiety rating scale: Psychometric data. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 19(6), 551-554. doi:10.1037/h0033456

Salend, S. J. (2011). Addressing test anxiety. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 44(2), 58-68.

Sawmiller, A. (2010). Classroom blogging: What is the role in science learning? The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 83(2), 44-48. doi:10.1080/00098650903505456

School District 61. (2016) Google apps for education (GAFE): Privacy and personal information. Retrieved from https://www.sd61.bc.ca/programs/digital-learning/sd61-gafe/privacy-and-personal-information/

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