Using Moodle with a student centred curriculum

Earlier this month I was invited to do a presentation for the Moodle MOOC. The presentation included the use of the live slides approach where the audience of the presentation is responsible for creating slides from which I as the ‘presenter’ can try and draw a narrative. It’s an approach I’ve used many times with many different audiences, but in this case things took an unexpected detour. As the participants were given access to the white board, they simply would not focus on working together. Now… this was particularly impacted by the fact that the software we were using had ‘moveable slides’ which allowed them more freedom than i’ve seen before, but it ended up taking about 25 minutes to get things started. You can watch it here.


Why moodle?
I got an email today from the excellent Paul Allison asking about the moodle assignment I was actually going to talk about during that presentation and never got around to. Paul shares my concern about Moodle being a platform that can easily lead to a very hierarchical teacher centric approach to online learning. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, but it’s default separation of roles, separation by topic or week, and linear structure can easily guide you to a checkbox, step by step approach to online learning.

I want students to be responsible for much of the curriculum that is covered in the course. I particularly don’t want to create a scenario where the students believe that learning happens when the instructor lays out clear objectives that they are to conquer. I understand that many people think of this as contravening best practice, but i tend to think that it creates a power relationship around learning that can lead to students ‘not’ learning when someone isn’t around to sanction it for them. I think of life long learning as a much messier, disjointed struggle than that. I think that if you are trying to prepare students for confronting decision making about a particular topic, then you need to, in some degree, mirror the uncertainty to daily life so that they can practice that decision making with a guide or mentor close to hand. The course is at if you are interested. The ‘textbook’ for the course is at

So i wanted to use moodle, show my students how a discussion forum worked, but i didn’t want to be controlling it.

The assignment
So, the goal then was to create a moodle activity that would force my students to find an interesting way to use a discussion forum to address an issue that they were thinking about as part of the course. In order to facilitate this I created a Moodle course and invited all my students into it as teachers. We broke them into groups of from 2-4 and each group was responsible for creating a ‘homepage’ as a topic within the course. That homepage (topic) would be theirs to design, develop and host a discussion on their chosen question.

We did the registration live during the class. There were a few hiccups due to some irregularities with people’s accounts… but no real big deal here. As I am wont to do, i didn’t assign individual groups to numbered topics, I let it be a free for all. Groups had to grab their topic by editing it and putting their subject description in the title. This created a bit of a flurry of excitement and a couple of ‘HEY, we were going to do that one’. I wandered around the class to ensure that each group had eventually got a topic section and then proceeded to explain what a discussion forum was and had them do some basic interactions in an example topic area that I started building in the classroom. I am resistant to the idea of creating a proper exemplar as I’m trying to get students to think their way through what should be there rather than try and copy what is there. I always struggle with whether this is a good position to hold or not.

Here is one sample of an entry from one group. I picked it because it’s the right size to fit in the blog post :). It’s also a good example of the kind of thing i was looking for. Others offered much more or less copy on the page… there was alot of variation. But the space became theirs (as apposed to mine) very quickly.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.46.46 PM

Outcomes (so called)
The way things turned out in this class, i was going to miss one of our three hour f2f sessions for a conference. This assignment was intended as a replacement for a three hour class, and the students were therefore requested to show up online from 6pm-9pm local time and participate in as many substantive discussions as they could during that time. They were also responsible for monitoring and facilitating discussions in their own section. A few students setup a google hangout to help in their coordination but most simply did their best to participate.

I was pretty happy with the outcome. We got a fair amount of substantive discussion, and some interesting ideas that hadn’t come up in the course so far. We had a feedback session in the next face 2 face class and students spoke with confidence about the possibilities of discussion forums. Many students suggested that they occasionally became over focused on other topics or their own topic and found it difficult to switch back and forth. I was online in Spain during the first half hour or so and did some trouble shooting over twitter with four or five students.

It’s the first time i’ve had this kind of freeforall in a Moodle. I kinda like it. I particularly like the idea of students building their own home and would like to do something where students had to keep going back to improve and refine their own space. Maybe a whole course for each group. Meh. Maybe next time.

Below is the group feedback that i sent to my students regarding the assignment.

Moodle discussions
Cell phones in the classroom
“Several times last year, when I noticed a student texting while I was giving a lecture, I would stop, stare and wait for them to finish texting, then continue with the lecture, as if nothing ever happened. It didn’t take too long for all to realize that they were being stared at by all. The students themselves then became the “Text Police” My enforcement wasn’t needed.” Daryl
The technology requires an establishment of new society norms. It is, as Sherri suggests, a question of professionalism. That’s going to be different for different classes. But the key is to make overtly clear (as Daryl does very nicely here) about what is expected and what the new normal is.

Twitter and brevity
Do you feel as though 140 characters is enought to say something substancial? Can you pack in lots to communitucate thoroughly? Shannon
It certainly keeps the clutter down! Well, I would say that it can do a lot but, yes, I wouldn’t want to do my dissertation over Twitter ; 0 Mark

A couple of things here. First, I note that Shannon critiqued Twitter’s substantialness in 128 characters… excellent work Shannon. Mark makes one of the two points i would make here a. Twitter is not for everything. The second point is addressed by Andrea when she says that twitter is a place for connections. The corrollary to this is that twitter is NOT, generally, a place for content. If i have something substantial to say i might link to it on twitter… but i wouldn’t try to write it there. It’s just not designed for that.

Finding the need before the tool
I could see us posting a students code and then have students provide feedback on it. One thing that some of this technology provides is a way to do things that some students may be able to get in to using. BJ

I could totally see this as a twitter/pastebin combination. Get students to post the code on pastebin, and tweet it out to everyone else. For that matter… coders have been using IRC for collaboration for a generation. Might be good to get them in the habit of doing that. If you wanted to get real creative, you could setup an IRC channel for students to exchange code with people doing the same type course at another institution.

Kids these days
Spoiled by their parents, which leads to the sense of entitlement and not having to or willing to work for what they want, showing no respect for their parent’s hard earned dollar. Don

I can’t seem to put my hands on it, but i found a quote from about 60BC in the Roman Republic a few months ago that said the same thing as this almost to the letter. This is the complaint of every generation about the one following it. This also doesn’t mean that it isn’t true, but we need to remember not to associate all things into the same problem. Daryl says “he was lucky to have a working wristwatch” a statement that would have been ‘spoiled’ a generation before. We need to remember that it is the adults in society who are responsible for setting norms for the use of technologies, these norms don’t just make themselves. We are entering into a strange period where we have things in our culture that have confused norms associated with them (eg. texting). That’s not the kids fault.

The great higher education money debate
Very cool discussion (and a great way of seeing what a discussion forum can do). I would like to add that when comparing College to University you’ll find different results in terms of ‘lifetime earning’ than you will in ‘immediate employment’. The main theme of the discussion seemed to be ‘it depends on what you want’ which i totally agree with. I eventually ended up with an undergraduate degree in philosophy (after starting in computer programming, which, frankly, i hated). University worked for me – eventually. Anyway, i don’t want to go down the rabbitt hole here, the point is, the discussion forum allows for multiple points of view and it allows for people who don’t necessarily like to break into arguments in class to do so with time to consider what they are going to say.

Online learning
One of the themes of discussion is related to the comparison of online learning with face to face discussion. One of the reasons i love teaching ed366 is that it gives me the chance to be in a classroom, which I love. I also love getting input from people from different perspectives, cultures and experiences, which is often more difficult in a place like Charlottetown. Our class is not particularly culturally diverse. There are affordances to both modalities… some suit some of us better than others. I agree with BJ that my favourite is a blended model where we can steal some of the advantages from both approaches. It need not be either or though, in most cases.

Interesting to see everyone on the same side of a discussion for once :). It speaks well of our government and our culture, i suppose, that privacy isn’t a concern to its citizens. Don says “if you do the crime, you do the time” – and that works fine as long as you and the people with the power to harm/incarcerate you agree on what is a crime. The catch comes when those things don’t line up. Lets imagine that, like in many, many countries, it becomes a crime to criticize a political party or a religion or some other organization. An interesting discussion. In this case our discussion forum, different from the discussion above on university/college, shows our agreement.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

7 thoughts on “Using Moodle with a student centred curriculum”

  1. “hierarchical teacher centric” teaching. You are probably right. You can work hard to shift this a little.

    Years ago in our home grown LMS (Interact, based on Learning Loop, now not maintained we had an item called I think a “group” where with one click a ‘student’ could be given full admin rights in that group. There was also self signup for groups.
    This combination was great for managing free range type courses for In service Teacher development.

    My sympathies for the MOOC. 🙂 I haven’t watched the video. I’m not sure if you are complaining or not. If you give equal power to everybody, chaos can ensue. Or not. It just depends.


  2. @derek Nope. not complaining at all. It wasn’t the presentation i was intending, but it did address the point i was trying to make. It was also a good test of my patience 🙂

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