By Bonnie Tensen
In recent years there has been a great deal of “buzz” about the merits of learning technologies for higher education. At Augsburg, the Hybrid Initiative for WEC courses means that many instructors have extended and intensified the use of Moodle in their courses. But does the time it takes to master an LMS (a Learning Management System such as Moodle) and design and create course content actually translate to increased student learning? Further, since numerous (free) programs on the Web (blogs, wikis, web page developers, video- and audio-sharing programs) provide functions similar to those in Moodle (and may sometimes seem easier to use), why be confined to one program? After all, shareware and social media may be more familiar and/or appealing to students. So it’s understandable that an instructor might ask him/herself, “Why should I Moodle?”
Concealed within this question are two linked, but distinct, queries:
Why should I use online tools and resources (Moodle) to teach my students?
Why should I choose Moodle tools and resources (whenever possible) rather than similar options available on the Web?
The most obvious response to both is that Augsburg has chosen to deliver adult undergraduate and graduate programs in a hybrid–online as well as f2f (face-to-face)–format and has likewise selected Moodle as our LMS. But there are other pedagogically sound and practical reasons for these choices.
Traditional homework assignments require students to interact with course materials or ideas in a static and isolated manner. In contrast, online learning tools (Moodle Forums, Assignments, Quizzes, etc.) extend the learning community beyond the space/time parameters of the classroom. Forums keep students interacting with ideas, each other, and instructors between course meetings, and unlike f2f discussions, they require 100% participation and offer more opportunities for student reflection and interaction. Online exercises/quizzes provide additional (sometimes immediate) feedback, enabling students to better monitor their progress.
Research shows that students consider clarity in both organization and communication to be a key characteristic of the effective instructor. A well-designed Moodle site provides students 24/7 access to course resources, activities, and grades, and furnishes a platform (via the Announcements forum and Quickmail) for instructors to highlight important events and ideas and to inform students of class changes. Absent students can quickly check for updated content, and both instructors and students can appreciate that Moodle keeps all course communication in one place.
Moodle streamlines the grading process. For assignments submitted via Moodle tools (Forums, Assignment file submissions, etc.), grades are automatically entered into a gradebook that students can access in a secure, FERPA-approved manner. The gradebook auto-calculates students’ overall grades (throughout the semester) as well as recording grades for individual assessments. Features like the new PDF assignment option, rubrics, and marking guides help simplify the grading process for instructors and can also provide substantive feedback to students. Moodle reporting features (such as activity completion and logs) permit instructors to quickly review student participation in the course and easily capture valuable data for reports to regulating and accrediting institutions. This information can also be used to manage student appeals.
Simplified Course Management
Even instructors with limited technical skills can design substantive online content and activities with minimal training and assistance using Moodle. In addition, it facilitates collaboration on course development, allowing colleagues to readily share learning materials. The Hybrid Template (when effectively employed by the instructor) offers an organized snapshot of the objectives and requirements of the course. This consistency in course design reduces confusion for students (especially those taking multiple hybrid courses), and makes course materials more readily accessible to students needing accommodations. In addition, Moodle archives all instructional materials and student work–something that may not be possible with proprietary software–and stores it in one location, making it readily available for reuse and repurposing as well as for referencing former students’ work.
Integrated and Supported Systems
Moodle is designed to integrate with other college systems, so courses are auto-populated by the registrar, and any enrollment changes are quickly transmitted. Because it is supported by Augsburg IT, faculty can be confident that students’ personal information and work (as well as instructors’ course content) is secure. In addition, a consistent, single system guarantees reliable technical support for students, faculty, and staff and streamlines faculty development programming.
Given the benefits to student learning and instructional efficiency, the question really should be, “Why WOULDN’T I Moodle?”