Tuesday 26 May 2009

Why I'll take a year's break from moodle

Moodle 2.0 is coming along well according to Martin Dougiamas's presentation and I particularly like the proposed integration with Google Docs (see slide 27). Unfortunately, all the good work looks like continuing through until 2010 and will it even be ready for the crucial early summer of that year when tutors will need to become familiar enough with it to use at the start of the academic year?

Even if it is that still means another year of frustration. Principal woes are the drag of uploading documents individually to each course. I write notes, task sheets and things that lots of people can use and I finish up staring blearily at a screen and trying to remember to choose them and sometimes get so fed up at having to enter this or that time and time again that titles get more and more abbreviated and as for descriptions, well, forget it!

Then there's the business of making the page look reasonably professional. You know, add a few images, consistent fonts and arrangement of things on the page. You've got the images but upload them at your peril as most will be too big either in pixels or KB. Yes, you should have done that before hand but there you are, with editing windows open and ready to roll and the temptation to say 'sod it' and forget the pictures is pretty great. As for figuring out what font or size you may or may not get from the odd information supplied on the toolbar - well even I get fooled by that more often than not.

Something lots of people ask is to have links on the page to other course pages which I can do but, boy, it takes ages. I do try and explain to some of the more web aware how to make the other page if it doesn't exist (and, yes, do all the assigning roles and mind-numbingly repetitive admin stuff each requires) and then note the long, weird-looking url which can be used as a hyperlink for an image or text. Honestly, I do try but mostly feel sorry for them and just do it myself which takes about the same time.

Then there's what actually gets put on to most pages. Word documents abound. PowerPoint files everywhere. Loads and loads of lines of text links to documents that often are far too big anyway and take a while to load, sometimes in one window, sometimes another. Anxious not to give my students the same mundane experience, I use pdfs, web pages, Google docs and slide shows that are there, ready to roll, on the page. However, especially if I want to arrange things a little, I have to work in html view and tables can be so confusing but necessary. 

To cut what could be a long moan short, I have for a while realised that I can create nicer looking and more usable areas on wikis and web pages far more simply. I want students to start in moodle but I get them out again which rather defeats a lot of what moodle was intended to be all about. But do I care about stats for who's visited which page how many times? No. I know my students and can see for myself how they're doing from coursework and simple observation. I can make quizzes with other software and provide feedback on their results automatically. I can handle a bit of extra admin storing the results if need be but none are used other than for refreshment. Forums? Much nicer with social networking apps or something like lefora. Calendars? Again, much nicer in Google or many others. 

I'll get criticised for students leaving the moodle frame but I'm not convinced that other tutors keep them in either with myriad external links and documents opening in new windows. All I lose really are those ruddy stats but so much more to gain. 

Logging in? This became a huge issue this year. It even resulted in having to pay someone else to host it as no-one could really manage the database. All the problems of people not being able to log-in for a couple of months while we decide if they're staying on a course, user names and passwords, incorrect e-mails I shall wave goodbye to. They can add themselves to pbworks courses, forums etc and, whilst I'm happy to share all that I create, if there is something to hide or restrict circulation for then I can do so sufficiently well elsewhere. Anyway, I'm not suggesting we abandon moodle completely so they'll still probably log-in when they can but I shall leave my courses open to guest access anyway. I honestly cannot see that the benefits outweigh what will be the advantages of a much more modern, professional and interesting alternative that might even inspire a few. Who knows, if I can get facebook allowed, the fun will really start and I'm very tempted to experiment with some DIY games apps there.

Not being the ILT Co-ordinator has its advantages! I can just be a tutor and do what I like instead of feeling obliged to set a good example within the party line. Another year of that would be depressing. Instead, I'm actually quite looking forward to the challenge. And 2010, of course.