Day Deux @ #MootUK14

Not really sure how to start this blog post – following on from the previous one which was typed in the middle of the night, I now sit on the plane however many thousand feet off of the ground, heading back down south. It’s been a really good few days, and even now, there’s six lovely people who attended the conference on this flight – but my brain is looking forward to switching off completely later!

Firstly I really need to highlight just how well the complete moodle philosophy has flowed through this event. Moodle is an open source system, one made for all to use, share and contribute to – and this same ethos is evident through all 450 people who attend the conference. I mentioned earlier that there were six people on this flight from the conference – it’s somewhat ironic that I’ve flown 450+ miles and having done that, met these people who literally live just down the road from me – and there’s so much that I hope to learn from them in the future.

Anyway, back to today. Day two of the conference started substantially quieter than yesterday – with quite a percentage deciding to take an extra few hours in bed. However the conference began for all of those present, with Gavin Hendrick opening the day with an aim to bridge the two days together. The conversation explored the key points people had learned from day one and the things they wanted to take away with them. There were a number of key themes arising – mostly as simplistic as use of the checklist module, or better use of mobile technologies.

From here we moved onto the first real session of the day. The first speaker in this session works as an RAF reservist and talked about his experiences in this role. He focused on the issues they had faced building an infrastructure to meet the needs of the countries second largest workforce (second only to the NHS). Now I’m completely aware of the challenges which face organisations of this scale, and have been on the receiving end of a system designed for this scale of user, but the system, from the interface through to the methodology that underpins it was a breath of fresh air. It was so nice to see a system of this scale delivered competently and professionally.

The one concept that really struck me was that he talked about how the RAF have a “panic page” – which is an area any staff member can go to, on their own, to find relevant information about training opportunities and requirements for their role. The concept behind this was to allow staff to access relevant training, in some cases in areas which you would normally expect them to understand, without needing to embarrass themselves by asking someone else where to find it. This approach meant that staff could easily ensure their skill set matches their job requirements correctly.

Following on from here, Gideon Williams was next up to talk about how his school have used moodle to innovate practice throughout all areas of their curriculum. Gideon works within a school where they took the approach to fully buy in to education technology from the staff through to the students. Gideon talked about how firstly all the staff were given PC notebooks, and had conventional paper based communication methods (such as pigeon holes) taken away. This essentially forced the staff to begin communicating electronically. From here they were able to start building up their VLE in preparation for the students to access, then as the final step, the students were all given PC notebooks to allow them to access the materials.

The result of this is a VLE which everyone uses. From the staff delivering the education, to the children who are receiving and submitting, through to the parents of the students, who need to get an overview of their child’s development. All of these different levels of people all access the same VLE, but all for different reasons, but the end result is a learning environment where the children are able to thrive and continually develop.

There were two main points Gideon was keen to highlight. Firstly was the fact that you cannot succeed in this type of project without a true leader. It requires someone who is ready to step away from conventional practice and most importantly take the risk which is associated with it. The second point was that every course on the schools VLE is visually different. In order to create innovative practice, Gideon has allowed every course to be different. There is a consistent theme applied across the moodle, but each course is laid out differently and takes a different approach to delivering their content.

The usage of icons, or differing layouts has allowed the tutors to innovate their students, and increase the way in which the students interact with the teachers, the systems and even themselves. Of course, this concept is fine, but it requires an end product to demonstrate its success, and seeing the quality of work and interaction the students submit to the system, it’s clear that these students are innovated by their environment and the output is high quality.

After a quick break I moved on to a supplier session run by E-Learn Design which was providing an Introduction into Iomad. Now, to be brutally honest, I had no idea what Iomad was, nor did I think I had any interest in it, I was literally only there because of the fact that I needed to attend a supplier session for the moot game, and this one happened to be at a time when I didn’t quite fancy any of the other talks, but how wrong I was.

As E-Learn Design started to demonstrate Iomad it very quickly became clear that although I hadn’t known it, Iomad offered a number of pieces of functionality which would be very useful to me. Firstly the tool allows courses to be seamlessly duplicated within different categories. We often have a problem where a course could appear in two or more of our course categories. However, as we don’t wish to physically duplicate the course (creating two copies which would both need updating) we have always had to choose which one category we wished to place the course into, and it simply didn’t appear in the other, however Iomad allows the course to appear in more than one category without actually physically duplicating the course (so you still only have one course to maintain).

In addition to this, the Iomad also contains an expiry notification option. Using this, an administrator can define the validity (duration) of a course, and the students will receive automatic email reminders at chosen periods of time before the training expires. So the student can be automatically emailed a month before their training expires, then again one week before it expires and again on expiry, all assuming the student hasn’t completed the training.

All of this was great to see – however it immediately left me with one massive issue – I actually quite like our moodle developers and wouldn’t want to move away from them, but fortunately this wasn’t a problem as E-Learn Design have kindly followed the moodle ethos and have released all the code for this onto git-hub. This really was encouraging to hear, as now I am able to explore the system usage within our own environment – and I look forward to exploring this with our education leads.

From here, the afternoon took a bit more of a code based turn. It’s been a long time since I was a web developer, but I have a keen interest in the development of our systems, so am always keen to know about the processes. The first session up was the pecha kucha sessions. I loved the format yesterday and was keen to see it in use again. It’s fair to say that whilst I enjoyed the speedy, no-nonsense approach to the delivery, the topics themselves flew well over my head. As Bartosz Cisek talked about testing I’m not sure I could have understood any less than I did, however I did at least understand the concept behind it (and recognise the flaw in our own testing processes)

After a brief session by Davo Smith, followed by a lunch break, I was back on a few more design sessions. Once again, it is always interesting to see how different people have customised their moodle instance. In this two days I think I’ve seen about 5 different custom instances of moodle, and in every case, what has been built has been done so to provide a much more user friendly and intuitive experience of students.

The final session I was able to attend before heading back south was hosted by Michael de Raadt and looked at how moodle can be taken forward. In this session, Michael looked at the way in which new developments are taken forward in moodle. It was particularly interesting to see (and understand) how the tracker on works. Hearing the way that users can generate on the tracker, and how this can be monitored and users can contribute to this was really interesting. As it’s been so long since I developed at this level, I doubt I’ll ever be at that stage, but it was really interesting to hear how the team recognise those who have made significant contributions to the moodle tracker – through use of badges.

Once again – this blog post seems to have gone on far longer than it should have – but unfortunately that’s just a show of how much enthusiasm I have from this conference. Seeing and hearing so much has really changed the way I think about moodle, and highlighted the real need for me to go back to the drawing board with our instance. There will be more for me to say once the dust has settled and I’ve had a chance to review everything – but I really look forward to doing it!!