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Last month, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Japan to speak at MoodleMoot Japan and I wanted to write my thoughts on this unbelievable experience.

Japan is wonderful, but it can be very confusing for newcomers. Fortunately for us, we were met in Tokyo by Justin Hunt. Justin is a resident of Japan and is the creator of the Poodll plugins for Moodle. I caught one of his presentations of his Read Aloud plugin which converts speech to text and for me, it was a little magic. To give an introduction on how it works, the student reads a passage of text and it is then submitted for processing, A short while later it is returned with a mark for the accuracy of the reading. The plugins are especially useful for Language teachers. (Try it here)

The moot was organised by the Moodle Association of Japan, and there is a strong theme of University professors who teach English and many who are serious Moodle developers there. Moodlemoot Japan is small by comparison with other Moots, but I believe it is the most highly concentrated powerhouse of Moodle ideas anywhere. They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but I seem to have made an excellent choice of heroes, I met developers of plugins I have heard about for years and it’s always great to put a face to the people that develop my favourite plugins.

It was held at the University of Shizuoka (SIST), which is fairly small by UK standards and many of the attendees were staying at the same hotel. We could eat breakfast with delegates and then go to the presentations with them.

On the subject of eating, you really do need a tolerance of different food to flourish in Japan. As much as I enjoyed the local delicacies, after a few days, I was pining for some Weetabix and muesli.

My first presentation was a workshop on Quizzing, in which I gave the users access to a bank of over 600 questions based on learning English. These questions were in categories (e.g. verbs, tenses, nouns, vocabulary etc) but more interestingly, they had tags associated with them. Categories are useful but a question can only be in one category, whereas it can have multiple tags associated.

The ability to search questions by tags was only added in Moodle 3.5 last year, so most people have little experience of this feature. In my presentation, the users had teacher access, so they could experiment with searching by tags and add their own to see how it might work for their own system. The questions are freely available for redistribution and modification, if you would like access to a course where they are installed, please email – callum.barrett@tituslearning.com and we can set you up with an account. About 400 of the questions are available under a free license for use, modification and sharing.

My main presentation was half an hour after Martin Dougiamas (the founder of Moodle) so I had a lot to live up to. The rest of the staff at Titus and even my friends (who know nothing of Moodle) have been hearing me rehearse my presentation, and I think the practice paid off. A video should be available soon on the Titus Learning YouTube page.

The other presentation that caught my eye was by Elton Laclaire, a professor at Sojo University Japan. This was based around the situation in Japan where there is an emphasis on test preparation, and reading students are not used to taking an active role in speaking. He described how they have designed a curriculum focussed on recorded conversations and speaking fluency tasks delivered through Moodle. This is not a uniquely Japanese issue as speaking and listening were removed from the English exams taken by 16 year olds in the UK.

After the conference, we had the opportunity to explore Japan further. Most people already know about the Japanese bullet trains but even their local commuter lines are clean, fast, reliable and frankly, amazing. Japan has a reputation for being very expensive, but in my view, it was no more expensive than visiting London (or possibly a little cheaper). Japan is famous for having little crime and the people are enormously helpful and a lack of common language seems to be no barrier.

I would like to thank the Moodle Association of Japan again for inviting me and I would encourage anyone toying with going to MoodleMoot Japan to go. You will not regret it.

For any assistance with Moodle plugins, you can also contact the team at Titus Learning – we’re always happy to help with any Moodle query however big or small.