Making Progress

We’re finally making some progress in the online learning environment. When I started teaching in 1993, I wanted to find a way to use the social, collaborative atmosphere of usenet in education. I was only interested in asynchronous communication — message boards — where people could contribute at different times.

The advantages were easy to see. You could have longer discussions, and get into the topics in greater depth. You could include more people — students from multiple classes or grades or schools or countries. The students who are too shy or self-consious to raise their hands in class could compose their thoughts before posting in a less-threatening environment. You could have multiple, simultaneous conversations taking place in parallel. If desired, you could also set up an anonymous system, where the participants don’t know each other’s true identities (though the teacher probably would), making it a very useful tool for discussing sensitive topics.

In 1994, I set up a bulletin board for my students. I installed it on a computer in the classroom, and had to "turn on" the BBS software before leaving for the day. It was connected to a modem in the classroom, and students could dial in to it. This didn’t go very well. For one thing, most of the students didn’t have Internet access at home. Plus, the custodians would keep turning the computer off. And, during the day, this was a student workstation. It wasn’t the best situation.

A few years later, I tried again. By that point, we had Internet access and could use online discussion boards through a web interface. The students were more easily able to participate, but it was an optional, add-on activity, and we couldn’t get enough of a buy-in from the students to build a critical mass. We still didn’t have universal Internet access at home, and couldn’t require use of the system. Still, I learned some pretty valuable lessons.

About 4-5 years ago, we started using the Manhattan Virtual Classroom. It worked all right. We had a couple classes working in it. It was still an adjunct to the primary class. Students didn’t have to participate. And the software itself was a bit cumbersome to manage.  A year or so later, I discovered Moodle, and set it up on one of our servers. By that time, I wasn’t teaching anymore. I showed it to a few teachers. They liked it, but were worried about the learning curve. We played around with it for a few years without making much progress.

This school year, finally, we’ve seen Moodle take off. Two high school teachers used it all year as a substantial component of their English classes. At the same time, one of the four middle school teams started using it with the sixth graders. And one of the fifth grade teams started doing some projects in it, too. In general, the students are finding that it does all of those things that I was trying to accomplish more than a decade ago.

One high school teacher, Ben Lesh, asked the students for some feedback on Moodle. Here’s what they had to say (boldface is mine, spelling mistakes are theirs):

"Moodle at the beginning it was a pain, but as the year went on the easier it got because I would just do it every week either in Thursdays or Friday’s study hall… Overall its a good idea because its a good ways to give bonus points becasue if your doing your homework you’ll see the post for bonus on moodle."

"I think its good how we use moodle. Its kind of like an internet classroom 24-7. Its good because if you have questions about things you can just jump on moodle and most likely get an answer within a few hours. I dont really know what could be changed to make moodle better maybe a chatroom that stays on like when we had to do our Gatsby projects."

"I enjoyed my experience with moodle. Having done this already will give us a head start when it comes to online college courses. One thing I liked was the tests and quizes we had. It was a fun change to the original taking tests and quizes in the actually classroom. I think the chatroom would be a nice feature so you can directly ask someone a question if they happen to be logged in the same time you are. Over all I give it a A-. The time limits on the quizes were a little fustrating but without one it would be to easy to get a perfect score everytime."

"Overall, I think this whole Moodle thing has been kind of annoying and just another thing to do. But at least it was easy points and definitely better than handwritten homework. And from what I’ve heard, college involves a lot of online assignments, so hopefully it’ll help out/prepare us for that."

" It wasnt too bad.  It was a way to bring new conversation to the classroom, and helped understand certain things (using wiki vocab, or what not).  I think it might be a better idea to have a different post requirement scheme.  i would have instead of 2 posts a week, 4 posts every two weeks.  So if a student gets onto a subject, and more join in, it can be an insentive to keep the conversation going for it is opening up new ideas as well as completeing the grade requirement.  Posting twice a week seems to make us give up a a thought chain after two posts.  Just an idea.  Vocab wasnt too bad, although it might be easier with another minute or two."

"When i first started moodle i didn’t like it very much but as we did it more and more i understood it more and liked it more and more… i would have to say i like the groups better than Mr. Lesh giving us what to post about because when we post on our own we can post our opinions and its more open then if we have a specific topic that we have to follow…. its easier to come up with your own ideas than have to post on other people’s ideas…. i very much liked moodle and i’m glad that its how colleges teach too because its a good way to say your opinion somewhere and see what everyone else says too and a good way to keep up with understanding what we learn in class"

"I think it was an interesting experience.  This is because you could go on here for help with projects and get information.  I think it was also painful without a spellchecker, I doubt any of us would make on that national spelling bee, because you make a mistake you had to find out if you made one and where it is.  Overall I think it was a 90% on our school’s grade scale."

"um… i was not a big fan of moodling. when we first started it i hated it.  but as the year went on and i got more comfortable typing my thoughts down that everybody could see, it wasnt as bad as i thought it was going to be.  This was an easy way for the most part to get points.  I also thought it was fair that if we didn’t get the grade we wanted on the vocab, that u would let us make it up.  I liked discussing as a whole better than in the little groups.  I think i just liked it better becasue you would hear everybodys thoughts instead of just 4 people.  So… yeah i wasnt the biggest fan, but i didnt die so i guess it wasnt too too bad."

"I liked Moodle. It was a way for me to share my thoughts since I wouldn’t voluntarily share them in class. Posting was easy points. The vocabulary quizzes were better on moodle because you had more time to study and take the quizzes rather then the quiz being assigned for one day. Since this is a way things could be done in college I think it better prepared me for that. I think it was g
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d when we were split up into groups. If you were the leader it made you have to think about what we were reading to come up with a topic that people had to post on. If you were a participant it made you post more that you normally would. I think being in groups made everybody post about what we were reading a little more. "

"I thought that the moodle was an excellent idea.  I think the part I liked best was being able to turn in our papers online instead of bringing them to school.  This was great incase there were any last minute questions and because I hate having to print off a three page paper and then having to make sure that it made it to school in one piece.  I also liked this better that class discussion points like we have had in previous years.  Some of us don’t like to speak out loud in class.big grin  Also taking vocab quizzes online means you can take it when you are ready instead of in class.  I say keep on doing it but you may want to make it where all the kids post at least twice a week so that they participate more."

"Moodle gave easy homework points as long as you were responsible and remembered to post once a week. And for us quiet people in class, we got to give our opinions. I also liked being able to submit our papers online and taking tests/vocab quizzes."

"I have enjoyed doing the online class-discussion/homework. some things that should be improved: The hallway forum should be used more, Should have weekly quotes or aphroisms that students can discuss,overall A. I had a great time this year!"

"Can we please leave Moodle on over the summer?  You can give us books to read and we’ll discuss them together, just like old times- only no tests or homework! What does everyone think about this brilliant scheme?"

"I really hated it. It was a pain in the beginning, middle,  and  its a  pain right now! so I am going to end this post now!"

"At first I hated Moodle becasue I would always forget too check the website, or not even know how to do anything on it.  But over the whole year I started to like it, because I would get excited too see who responded to my posts.  Another thing I like was submitting our papers over moodle because it was a lot easier and owuld be no fuss.  I am glad we did it because like you said Mr. Lesh we will be doing this in college and now I have a headstart."

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Author: John Schinker

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2 thoughts on “Making Progress”

  1. From the comments the students posted, it appears to me that the two greatest advantages to use of this technology in education are:

    1. It gives the more quiet, thoughtful, reserved students a forum for sharing their ideas. It is common but sometimes unfortunate that “type A” students, who think quickly and out loud, dominate classroom discussion. Comments of “Type b” students, which are often just as, if not more, more thoughtful and insightful, never have a chance to be heard because the discussion has moved on by the time their thougths are formed.

    2. It gives students a chance to experience a different medium of communication more commonly used by adults. Anecdotally, students these days appear to use IM and text messaging to communicate with each other. Technology savvey adults use email for longer communications. This is especially true in a business environment. I’m not sure how much colleges and universities are using forums like Moodle, since my college days are years in the past. However, even if this technology does not specifically prepare them for college, it does prepare them to interact with older adults in the workforce.

    ~ Debbie

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