Online Course Delivery

Monday, January 23, 2006


Moodle is a learning management system (LMS) - a free, Open Source software package designed using sound pedagogical principles, to help educators create effective online learning communities. Current version is 1.5.3 (Jan., 2006).

Moodle started from an Internet-based postgraduate course called "Constructivism" at Curtin University of Technology, by Dr. Martin Dougiamas, for teachers engaged in professional development through distance learning. They constructed the web site using a new open source courseware system called Moodle, Martin's Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. Since version 1.0 of Moodle announced in 2002, there are 8729 sites from 146 countries who have registered, speaking 70 languages, with 222195 courses, more than 2 million users and 400 thousand teachers (statistics on Moodle official site, Jan. 2006). Including, Teachers College of
Columbia, British Open University and many famous schools. It can scale from a single-teacher site to a 40,000-student University. Actually, Open University is working on providing Moodle for their 200,000 students who are globally distributed.

MOODLE - Video Introduction
Here is a video introduction for Moodle at University of Cornell. Since this is a big file in size, it might take you several minutes do download and play.

Strength & Limitation
Several evaluation reports that Moodle are highly recognized in communication tools, the creation and administration of learning objects, comprehensive didactical concepts and tracking of data. Concise evaluation and feature description of Moodle can be found at EduTools. Learners can use Wiki in Moodle and create personal home page. The testing, scoring, grading and student tracking tools of Moodle are explicit. Moodle provides 3 default course templates: activities arranged by week, activities arranged by topic, or a discussion-focussed social format. The system also provides 10 course interfaces templates for instructors so that instructors and have personalized look and feel. Moodle supports the use of SCORM objects that give freedom for instructors to migrate learning objects from other systems. Moodle can run on any browser supporting HTML 3 or higher and cascading style sheets (CSS).

Although Moodle was considered to be easy to use software, however, you'll need a web server to install the program; you also need web server software (e.g., Apache), PHP scripting language and data base (e.g., My SQL). These programs are commonly used for configuring a web server. However, for teachers, they are still an issue that they have to conquer before they could build their courses on Moodle. Another weakness for using Moodle, especially when you didn't purchase services from its commercial partners, you can't always expect 24x7 speedy responses for your questions although there are free support from Moodle organization and several user communities that will generate answers for most of questions. Moodle miss to provide some features that are getting more and more popular in version 1.53, such as, instructor-controlled whiteboard, video services, student community building, central learning objects repository for instructors.

Cost of acquisition
Moodle is free to download and use it on any computer. There is zero cost for acquisition. Thanks to the big and growing installation base, Moodle users can easily find inexpensive supports, hosting service starting from $5 per month; freelancers for customize design can be found with a simple click in Google search. Moodle is distributed under the GNU Public License.

Teaching Practice

Although a huge amount of schools are adopting Moodle for their courses but most of them do not allowed guests to enter. Here are some examples for you to get initial ideas about how Moodle is working.
EdLab Seminar at Teachers College in
Columbia University
A Chinese course using Moodle can be found here.
Bromley College of Further and
Higher Education, UK, described their experience in implementing Moodle here.

As an Open Source software, Moodle support a social constructivism of internet-based teaching by providing pedagogical aspects missing from many traditional e-learning. For example, student personal home page provides opportunities for learners to build their own knowledge base and record learning process that is very important for reflecting and self-direction; workshop group module support peer review and project based collaborative study; student tracking and performance reports give instructors a handy tools to reflect and adjust teaching methods without time consuming; tight feedback helps to maintain learner enthusiasm.

If we reviewed Michael Moore's transaction theory of "distance, dialog, and structure", we'll easily grasp the good and bad for selecting Moodle. When instructors encourage learners to let the mind wander and do something creative without exactly particular purpose, the learning pace and direction became sort of difficult to control by instructor and could present a kind of loosing in process. Instructors are always advised to select platforms carefully according to the characteristic of subjects and learners.

-- Susan


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