Over the coming weeks and months we’re fortunate enough to be publishing a series of guest blog posts by a number of industry experts. Our first post in the series is written by Brad Philpot, founder and owner of Philpot Education, a licensed provider of worldwide IB teacher training.
I was introduced to Moodle in 2005, when I was working for a bilingual school in Amsterdam. Those were the early days of Web 2.0 and e-learning, and I could see quite quickly that this piece of software would be a ‘game-changer’ for my classroom. What’s more, I had visions of a new school culture that would be paperless, transparent and connected. Ten years later, I see how some of these ‘visions’ were naïve. But on the whole, I see that schools are only now in a position to embrace the possibilities of Moodle. Here are 5 steps to help you implement Moodle, all of which incorporate lessons that I have learned from my experiences as a consultant in the worlds of international education and information technology.
1 – Get management informed and on board
It’s easy to find someone in management to support a technological advancement in school. Managers and leaders are afraid of missing the latest development and seeing student numbers slip. Many schools hand out iPads only because the neighboring school has attracted more students by handing out iPads. But how many managers and leaders at these iPad schools actually use tablet-based software for learning on a daily basis?
In all fairness, the answer to this question is changing rapidly. Ten years ago, schools were run by the Baby-Boomer generation (those born in the ten years after the war). These days, managers and leaders in education actually grew up with Apple 2s and Commodore 64s. Whereas it was once difficult to explain the added value of installing Moodle on the school’s server, it is now easier to get management on board. If management can see the advantages of making Moodle an integrated part of school culture, then it will take off and thrive. If Moodle remains a ‘project’ for a few enthusiastic teachers, then it will wither.
2 – Go all the way
I often hear teachers complain that they have five different pieces of software that they use for five different purposes. They submit curriculum plans on one online platform, but they enter grades on another one. They usually create a quick and easy website to communicate with their students on Google Sites. And most teachers do not have editing rights for their school’s public website. But imagine a school website where students, teachers, parents and managers can all log in, where students can submit work, teachers can schedule meetings with parents and management can review curriculum. Moodle can handle all of these functions and many more. If you think of Moodle as a learning content management system (LCMS) instead of only a learning management system (LMS), you’re taking a big step toward integrating it into your school’s culture. I recommend ‘going all the way’ with Moodle, making it the ‘go to’ platform for all forms of communication.
3 – Get professional help
The lifecycle of an IT development at an average school usually goes something like this: An enthusiastic teacher has an idea, management agrees to phase it in (depending on its proven success), colleagues and students tinker with it, some informal feedback is taken into consideration, the next big idea comes along and overshadows the first big idea. Do not expect Moodle to instantly change your school. It is only a tool to help you run a school and educate students effectively. In fact, you may be disappointed to see what Moodle looks like after you have installed it on your school’s server. But don’t let this be the reason for abandoning it.
Learning to use a new tool requires help from an expert. Moodle can do whatever you want it to do, but it takes a third party (such as Titus Learning) to rebuild and reformat it to accommodate accordingly. If management and teachers can sit down with Moodle specialists and engage in blue-sky thinking, then something magical can come about. If you wait for it to prove its space on the server, you will be very disappointed.
4 – Everyone is the ‘IT guy’
Most teachers see themselves as educators first and foremost. Technology is someone else’s job. It’s important to have role division in any organisation, and this is probably a good one for schools. However, if teachers can be empowered by technology to share homework, submit grades or email parents, then the whole organization benefits. Setting up a ‘class’ on Moodle, adding topics and marking assignments are all made easy through a WYSIWYG interface (What You See Is What You Get). Unfortunately, many educators switch off at the thought of digitising their lessons. This is where training comes in handy. With a few small workshops, educators can gain the confidence to log in and edit their school’s site. This specialised training may be the biggest factor in ensuring the success of Moodle in your school’s culture.
5 – Give it time
If you ‘go all the way’ in implementing Moodle into your school, you will discover that the job is never done. You may decide to use the calendar function for all school events. You may rebuild the grade book. You might want to create accounts for parents, so that they can track the progress of their children. If you accept that ‘good things come to those who wait,’ then you will have the patience to see your school’s Moodle grow over time. Setting targets and benchmarks is part of the implementation, but these may need readjusting as you learn more about the nature and scope of Moodle. In some senses, implementing Moodle may always be a ‘work in progress’, just as education is always a work in progress. With over ten years of experience, it is safe to say that this piece of open-source software will continue to develop as your school develops.