Day Uno @ #MootUK14

There’s probably better times than 2:20am to start writing a blog post, even more so when it’s 2:20am because you’ve been at the Conference Gala Dinner – then decided to go hunting a statue to take a selfie (I’ll explain this in a blog post in a day or two). But nevertheless, at this time in the morning, here I am writing a post about how the day has been.

Day one of the conference (yesterday was workshops and doesn’t officially count) started with an opening address which immediate hit home:

This perspective will confuse some, and others will wonder why it’s a consideration, but here’s why. Every time your business costs up a job they do, you consider all of the financial outlay involved in the job/project. However, when you’re undertaking a moodle build (or upgrade), most people get stuck focusing on the fact that moodle is open source, and therefore carries no direct financial cost. However, they all overlook the indirect costs, such as the time spent by the member of staff installing it, the time spent configuring it, time spent updating modules and hard coded elements, or even the cost of upgrading that old server which the previous version was installed on.

Typically, organisations forget this internal cost, instead focusing on the fact that moodle (as software) is free, but in fact, the associated cost with creating a moodle instance, and more long-term,  maintaining a moodle instance, is far from free.

From this opening speech, I moved on to a session about user interface. Listening to Alex Walker talk about, and demonstrate the way in which City of Glasgow College have developed a “Timeline” within moodle was nothing short of amazing. Alex (and his colleagues) had manged to build a Facebook-like experience for their students, where the students could see relevant notifications and updates in a timeline format:

This view meant that there was additional interest for the students. Students would log in just to check their timeline, as there was no longer any need for them to check out every individual course page to review any updates, and this in turn saved time for the student, and made them see the VLE as a useful place to check for new information.

Following on from this session was another session about User Interfaces. Now what made this particularly ironic for me was that, having flown 450+ miles to attend this conference, the session was being run by guys from Solent University – who are five minutes drive away from my workplace, and more appropriately, are a team my organisation works with, but I had never realised their VLE was underpinned by moodle.

The really interesting thing about listening to this talk for me, was hearing how Solent don’t consider moodle to be their VLE. Moodle is one part of their VLE, but moodle is not their VLE. Hearing this opinion was very interesting, and even more so when I saw a slide explaining this:

The reason this slide was so interesting for me was that it looks a lot like a diagram I sketched about two years ago for what I wanted the UHS VLE to look like. I wanted to build a system which was actually a collection of related systems – and the only difference was, Solent had actually build what I had only sketched.

By now, it’s not even 10:30am – and my mind has already been blown – this conference has been worthwhile attending, if only for those two sessions…..

From here I moved onto a couple of sessions about mobile learning. Any of my twitter followers will know I started to read Mark Adebour’s book about mobile learning the other day, so to hear Mark talk through a number of the principles was very useful:

One of the main things Mark was trying to get across was not focused on the usage of moodle to support this delivery, but more the way in which people use their mobile devices. A recent study has shown that people use different durations of time undertaing an activity – and the duration is dependent on the device they are accessing the activity on.

Equally as useful was the session from Stuart Lamour who talked about his experiences in building a mobile site for Sussex University. One of the simplist messages I took from this session was about the experience and thought process of our users (students). In most cases, our users don’t think of it as a VLE, to them, it’s just another website (if only one they learn some stuff on) – they don’t think of it any differently, and it’s important that we consider this when producing content which appears on it.

Following on from here were some pecha kucha sessions. Now I’ve never been to a pecha kucha session, nor did I understand what was required – but seeing these sessions in practice, and more honestly, watching the presenters fight to keep up with the auto-advancing presentation – and for me – this speed, combined with the way in which the presenters were literally clinging on to their compliance record made these sessions very interesting. There isn’t really too much more to report, on these session, you really needed to be there to see them, but they were expertly presented, even under the additional pressures.

As we moved into the afternoon, I attended a session from Rebecca Barrington about the use of the gradebook. Over the course of these past two days I’ve grown to realise how much we could do with checklists – however in order to make this really work for us, we really need to focus on this and find a way in which our tutors can view this information. Whilst finding a way for our tutors to view progress along a checklist can be easily achived using the in-built funcitonality. With this in mind, the gradebook provides the perfect way for a staff member to review their students progrress through the course. Rebecca did indicate that. Rebecca was very quick to highlight areas of the gradebook which required adapting, or even installing in the wider context.

The afternoon continued with another session from Alex Walker about the user interface he’s built up for City of Glasgow College. Having focused on the timeline (and other “social” elements) during the morning session, this afternoon session looked at other areas of the interface – including creating your own course type – all of which was very useful to see and has planted many ideas for future development of our VLE.

The afternoon wrapped up with a panel session on mobile learning, followed by the keynote from Martin Dougiamas. The panel session provided a good insight into the issues which face users when trying to undertake learning on mobile devices. As the panel talked about the plans for development in this area, it was clear to see that there are two clear options, either use a mobile theme (such as Clean/Bootstrap) or to use the moodle mobile app. The app does seem to offer some really interesting options, however it was highlighted that a number of activities aren’t yet supported within the app, so there’s still a long way for that to go, but the underlying potential is definitely there.

To end the day was the keynote – which was focused on the future of moodle, and particularly the next two releases. It’s really interesting to see the areas which the team want to expand into. Martin was very clear about wanting to continue to build the product based on the needs of teachers, powered by geeks!

I want to close this blog post with that last tweet. It was something I tweeted about earlier as it’s a real issue for our staff. Within the NHS we seem to struggle to communicate with our staff as they don’t access email. Knowing that you could drive notifications through the mobile app makes this a real interesting area for us to explore. Such a high percentage of our staff use smart phones, so if we could remind them about upcoming events directly to their phone, we should be able to make a real difference to attendance and compliance.

Sorry for the long post. – but there was so much to get across from a really thought provoking day – here’s to day two……