This past year I tried moodles for the first time. I had heard about moodles from teachers who have enjoyed great success with them, and was confident that I’d emerge from the semester with a new favourite tool.
I didn’t. I am not a fan.
To be fair, I think that in the right circumstances, a moodle might be a very powerful option for a teacher. I just didn’t happen to find myself in those happy circumstances.
What is a Moodle?
Moodle is described as an open-source learning management system. The list of features are impressive: integrated student blogs, wikis, forums, chats, document uploading, and even marking. Some institutions use moodles to deliver online courses; others use it to complement face-to-face classes.
From what I’ve heard from teachers who have used moodles successfully, a good moodle is a one-stop shop for your digital classroom needs. Absolutely everything you may want to do online can be handled within the moodle, which means only one set of user names and passwords is required for students. It sounds amazing, but …
The Hitch …
A moodle needs to be self-hosted. I found a couple of sites offering hosted moodles for free, but discovered that some of the essential features (like blogs and wikis) were then disabled. (I have no idea why.) Since I’m fairly comfortable with managing websites (after all, The Lamppost is a self-hosted WordPress blog), I thought I’d give the self-hosting option a whirl.
Moodle has a strong support community and self-hosting is by no means an impossible task, but it was definitely an added set of chores that I didn’t need in a busy semester. I found the documentation difficult to navigate when compared with the WordPress documentation. Half of the time I’d be asked to log in to see a resource, which I found purely irritating. One other note: if you don’t already have a site hosting plan, then you’re looking at spending an extra $80-$100 per year for the pleasure of managing your own moodle.
Initially I thought that the ability to have everything in one place was worth the hassle of the moodle set up. But then I discovered that some of the features were significantly limited when compared to other free services.
The blogging platform was very weak. When compared to the 21Classes portal, I found the moodle blogs clunky. The debates and discussions that I had enjoyed before were missing, because… drumroll… the moodle blogs did not allow comments!
The wiki feature was also definitely sub-standard when compared to Wikispaces. It was poorly designed and difficult for students (and me!) to use compared to other wiki platforms.
I belatedly learned that the moodle marking feature was useless to me, since I am required by my administration to use a standard software package for marking.
Finally, any time a group of students would be working on the moodle, one would all of the sudden call out, “Hey! Why am I now working as [a classmate's name]?” I know that this wouldn’t happen if we were working on an institutional installation of moodle, so I’m not pointing fingers at the software itself; still, it’s a problem that I don’t want to have repeated in the classroom again.
In past classes, my students have left excited about the kinds of online discussions and digital collaboration that their futures might hold at college, university, or work. Sadly, I know that the students who experienced this moodle with me will not. In retrospect, I should have pulled the plug after the first two weeks to salvage the semester for them.
A Moodle Might Work for You If …
- You plan to use more than one digital tool in the semester. If you’re only going to use it as an electronic bulletin board, then just use a blog. (You’ll have more hair left at the end of the semester.); and
- Your Board and/or school administration has installed it. That way the back-end security and administration is done by someone else, and it’s truly free. In this instance, the disadvantages may be rather minimal compared to the time you’ll save in administering separate blogs and wikis; or
- You really enjoy using open-source software on websites that you host yourself, and you’re ready for another learning curve. If that’s you, go for it and please stop back here to share what you’ve learned!
Image by db*Photography
Series image from ryan_franklin_az