10 (now 12) Things I learned at the Moodle Moot 2012

Here are a few reflections on Moodle and Moodle Moot.

UPDATE: I’ve remembered 2 more things I’ve learned: using SoundCloud to share audio feedback and the proposed Appification of Moodle addons. Find these new lessons at the bottom of the page.


A. General Lessons about Moodle

1. Community participation matters

I need to be more active in the community if I want things to improve. I have presented at three MoodleMoots so far and I tweet Moodle-related items quite often but I haven’t blogged enough about Moodle nor have I been sufficiently active on the forums and on the tracker.

Last Moot I proposed something akin to Uservoice for normal users of Moodle but there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm for it. This time, we were all encouraged to vote on issues on http://tracker.moodle.org. I’ve already voted and commented on a few. And I plan to keep an eye on more.

2. The Future of Moodle 2 is 2.3

Moodle 2.3 is a rather inconspicuous release but Martin Dougiamas‘ keynote seemed to indicate that it will bring many of the features people have been clamouring for for a while:

  • Better file uploads
  • Option for tabbed navigation of topics
  • Accessibility/usability improvements

So that’s good news. Lots of people who had been apprehensive about moving to Moodle 2 (seemed about half and half at the Moot) mentioned in conversation that what they heard about 2.3 made them feel better about the transition. I remember being equally excited when I heard about 2.0, though, so I’m being at least cautiously optimistic.

3. Moodle pain shared, is Moodle pain …

In addition to my regular paper, I presented a 6 minute Lightning Talk (Pecha Kucha) at the Moot on “5 Moodle 2 Issues that Take up the Most support time“. I really just wanted to get this off my chest but I assumed that either people already knew about them or didn’t have the problems. I was even worried that some of those issues may just be a result of my ignorance.

I was surprised how many people came up to me afterwards saying they learned something new or that they had the same problem. Obviously, I need to be more active on the forums about these things sooner.

4. Moodle UX doesn’t have to be so bad

I came to the conference feeling a bit down on Moodle. I’d seen demos of some of the new VLEs like Canvas that left me wishing Moodle could be a bit more modern. But what I heard about 2.3 picked me up. Then I had a quick demo from the amazing Davo Smith on his module that showed me the future of uploading files to Moodle via Drag and Drop. Wow. And to top it off, Stuart Lamour of the University of Sussex demoed some of his UX improvements to Moodle that simply blew everyone away. And inspired James Clay to write “I love you but you’re boring“.

Then I came home and had to plunge into Moodle admin and the funk returned. The interface is just dismal. Everything takes more steps than it should and it looks like it’s still 2001.

But the conference showed us that things can be different. And Martin D said that he wants to make this a priority.

My vote goes to seconding Stuart and Davo who have shown they can get things done to MoodleHQ for 6 months to get us the interface Moodle deserves in 2.4.

B. Specific Moodle tips and tricks

5. Google Analytics is a good idea for Moodle

I had briefly considered using Google Analytics for Moodle but rejected the idea. Now I’m kicking myself for not having done this ages ago. There’s so much data that GA can provide that will supplement the built in tracking. Adding the JS to the theme will be job one for me. Hopefully, I’ll even be able to get my hands on some of the code Gavin Hendrick demoed during his session that passes Moodle variables to Google Analytics for processing. I’m a bit wary of doing this with user IDs but there’s plenty of anonymous information that could be useful to track. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the live data and also the performance of certain links.

6. You can do some crazy s*!@ with conditional activities and the glossary module but not enough crazy s$#@ with the Workshop module

I saw three presentations that showed me that simple tools can be used in unpredictable ways. Michelle Moore, the Moodle Evangelist for Remote Learner, showed everyone how she uses the Glossary module for things like student submissions, FAQs and so many more.

She also demoed the Workshop module. I’ve been meaning to look into it for years and was immediately taken by it. Until at the end, when I realized that it’s really only suitable for when students grade each others work. I really wanted them to be able to interact about their feedback a lot more.

I then saw a presentation how you can create a whole game just using the conditional activities and groupings. That was scary. I have used conditional activities very sparingly but you can get a lot out of them if you plan ahead (and have a huge wall for post-its).

7. There is a real difference between Groups and Groupings

I have looked at the Groupings feature before but couldn’t see its point. It wasn’t until I saw the presentation on Conditional activities that I realized, they can be used to hide parts of the course from certain students. Which was exactly the sort of feature I was looking for recently and which caused us to create separate courses for different groups. Will have to investigate more.

C. General lessons about life, the universe and e-learning

8. Keynotes are useless

The last 2 Moots were full of keynotes that were only tangetially relevant to Moodle. I remember hearing and feeling a lot of dissatisfaction. This Moot only had 2 keynotes: 1. Martin Dougiamas about the state of Moodle and 2. Helen Foster about the Moodle community. They were both to the point and stimulated a lot of discussion. No others were needed. I have organized a few conferences and I have attended many. And the keynotes are always a big deal ahead of time but a real let down afterwards. The more famous the person, the less new they have to say.

So, a tip to any conference organizer. Get 1 big name and give the rest of the time to the participants for interaction. That’s why everyone was so charged up after this year’s Moot.

In fact, if there could have been an improvement, it would have been a BoF (Birds of a Feather) track. There were a few occasions where I wasn’t all that interested in the presentations in either track and would have preferred to spend the time sitting around a table with like minded people. For example, the Moodle UX roundtable.

9. There should be more 6 minute presentations around

I actually don’t agree with the adage that online videos have to be 5 minutes long. No, they have to be the appropriate length. I have often watched 1-hour lectures online. It was the right amount.

But there’s plenty of content that is only that long because we have that much time. So many lectures could easily be 15 minutes but they are expanded into 50 minutes because that’s what the timetable expects.

So I really welcomed the opportunity to take part in the Pecha Kucha, which is a presentation limited to 6 and a half minutes. I was a bit worried because brevity has never been one of my virtues but the results far exceeded my expectations.

It was supposed to be 20 slides at 20 seconds, but I thought it was just a guideline so I only had about 6 slides (actually, I used a structured PDF document) and spent about a minute on each. I got to say almost everything I meant to say and even had about 20 seconds to spare on the second one. Sure, I didn’t get to elaborate but at the end I felt I’d accomplished about as much as with my 25 minute presentation. And I had the same feeling about watching the other presentations. They were exactly the right amount of time and showed me a lot. Every conference should have a lightning talk section where the presenters are brief and the discussion ad hoc at the end.

10. We can virtualize space but we can’t virtualize presence

A lot of my communication during the Moot was via Twitter. I had several virtual exchanges with people at the conference who I didn’t get to talk to in person. Thanks to Twitter I was on top of sessions, I couldn’t attend and it made the conference a much more exciting event.

Also, one of the keynotes was delivered via Skype.

So why did I even go? Why not just watch the videos of the presentations later? It was not a cheap affair for me to go to Dublin, pay the conference fee, and spend 3 nights in a hotel.

But conferences aren’t just about the information and the interaction. Both of those can be simulated virtually. They are about time and space. I have attended a few conferences virtually but the biggest problem was feeling like I was still at work and doing something on top of everything else I was doing. Being away and focusing just on the conference (actually, I was checking work emails throughout) made all the difference.

I know this is a big problem for pure e-learning in general. I’m finding that students can learn more through e-learning than attendance. But the biggest struggle they have is making sure they can carve out study time in the same way they would if they had to travel to a class somewhere.

I wonder what the solution is.

UPDATE: 2 bonus lessons learned

1. Soundcloud

I completely forgot about SoundCloud. I’d already known about it but it didn’t seem relevant. Now I can see how it would make a great way of sharing audio feedback. I’m certainly going to investigate more. Here’s my audio reflection:

2. Appficiation of Moodle Add-ons

Another thing that Martin Dougiamas mentioned in his keynote that’s worth being optimistic about is the improved framework for Moodle Add-ons that will make them more into Apps. The model is here is WordPress which now makes it incredibly easy to get new modules.

I’ve always felt that the Moodle module/add-on ecosystem leaves a lot to be desired. The repository is more of a hodgepodge of everything and anything than a place where the best things rise to the top. Both WordPress and to a lesser extent Drupal and Joomla are showing the way here.

I have visions (with a twinge of a nightmare) of teachers and students installing their own apps on their pages. Certainly the sort of thing we need.