EXAMINER -- When Liam Burke sees a PowerPoint slide during a third level lecture, he might take some notes about it. But when he sees those electronic notes coming from the online learning system at Tipperary Institute, he has to listen because he knows they are part of a time-based module coming from Moodle, an Open Source Virtual Learning Environment.
"Moodle helps you focus," says Burke, a third year multimedia degree student. "You get a learning pathway. It's a handy way to stay on top of new study material."
Eighty-five lecturers from Ireland and the UK want to produce their learning material and achieve the same effect, so they attended the first Irish Moodle Moot held at DCU on September 10th. Several Irish third level lecturers have become evangelists for Moodle. Presentations from Athlone IT, DCU and Tipperary Institute have featured at Irish Learning and Technology Association events. The ILTA.net Yahoo group traces these developments over the past two years--examples of collaboration across the country between several third level institutions.
This fact merited the attention of Pat O'Connor from the Higher Education Authority when he addressed Moodle Moot delegates. "HEA will favour submissions for funding that have a colaborative element in them," O'Connor advised. That encouraged several e-learning developers to step up conversations at Moodle.ie, the Irish site dedicated to Open Source Software in education.
Moodle's course managment includes several learning metaphors teachers can use when setting up their online courses. Many start with using Moodle as the submission point for assignments. Moodle can also track whether students read required material. The system includes wizards for online self-assessment, real-time chat, and sophisticated discussion boards.
Moodle is free but its features compare favourably with programs like WebCT and Blackboard that cost more than €30,000. It has an international audience--more than 1200 installations in 92 countries.
The back end of Moodle is PHP. "We have no problem with its stability," Denis Cahalane from DCU's tech services unit said. "It's really solid and we use it with several departments." All of the Moodle suite is Open Source. DCU provides access for students directly from their network logons on campus.
The pedagogy of Moodle is social constructionism. Instructors count on students contributing to the mix of learning activities. Jennifer Burke, a learning specialist at DCU, envisions students from different colleges working together online to create a project.
Moodle goes beyond distance learning because it augments lessons through enhanced teacher-student interaction.
"All the ICT department instructors have Moodle sites at Tipperary Institute," said John Jennings, the lead Moodler there. "When they calendar their continuous assessments, everyone can see when students might be overloaded with deadlines." Second year student Sean Barry agrees. "Moodle is a distinguishing part of TI. Being able to see what's on is important. We like checking our continuous assessment results on own. Plus, a lot of people came to college to learn how to develop educational multimedia materials. They want to work as Moodle developers."
In addition to developing online syllabi, glossaries and homework assignments, multimedia students use Moodle to create quizzes.
To get to Moodle from home, students log onto learning.tippinst.ie and click on their course from there. Any computer since 2000 with a Web browser and access to the Internet can get to Moodle.
According to survey data, more than 70 percent of students attending Tipperary Institute have a computer connected to the internet at home. They can take online quizzes generated from randomnised sequence of questions and then compare themselves to their peers.
Questions from courses include "find the crime" where students face time limits while identifying errors in word usage. The Public Relations course has an online wiki that students use to answer model questions taken from past final examinations.
Before Moodle, Tipperary Institute lecturers would put their presentations on an intranet direrctory and then circulate the information in class. This would not be visible from outside the campus. Now instructors can add their material directly through Moodle, restricting its viewing
to those enroled in the course.
The hallway conversations at the first Irish Moodle Moot suggested all
sorts of novel ways to use Moodle. "It adds an important dimension to teaching and learning," said Morag Munro from DCU. With a strong Irish community behind the program, Moodle promises to enhance the broadband experience for anyone wanting to take short course or degree programme. This fact should be duly noted by the Irish Information Society Commission.
Published by the Irish Examiner, September 17, 2004.
View Moodle as a slideshow.