Monday, 10 October 2011

Augmented banality

By the end of today I need to have some initial materials for nine new units or modules ready for students. You guys teaching Maths or History don't know how lucky you are that, for a large extent, the content is pretty constant. I've got to cover some at Level 2, some Level 3 and for a new HNC programme a couple of modules at Level 4 in things like web development or the impact of IT on business where, even if the technology hadn't changed much (which it has!) there are brand new sets of criteria that students have to meet this year so even if I had done it last year my stuff would need changing and, for the ones I have taken over, the last chap wasn't exactly hot on publishing material.

"It all has to be on moodle," announce managers. That seems to be the Holy Grail nowadays. "Stick it on moodle and we'll be able to tick the E-learning box for OFSTED." But have you tried making a reasonably attractive job of displaying materials on moodle? It's not easy. First it can take an age to upload every image that you want to work with and rearrange things on page and then you're faced with making moodle web pages look reasonable, which requires more than a little skill and some diving into the html code, and often finish up doing what every else does which is to make a list of Office documents and presentations. I understand that moodle 2.0 makes life much easier but we haven't got that.

I can see how it is a good idea to have a central one-stop shop for students. They log in and can get what they need. But that does depend on us all putting what they need there in the first place. And doing so in a way that is a bit more interesting and appealing than the contents page to a textbook with links to text documents that not only take an age to open but, when they do eventually appear, don't actually say much more than the textbook or an Edexcel web page says already. I have seen super examples of moodle being used well but invariably there's either a web design team or expert geek supporting them or even doing the display work.

Even then there are examples of nonsense. Well-designed, but still nonsense. As in the school that e-mails parents about some important announcement with a link in the body of the e-mail. You click the link and arrive at a beautifully laid out and themed moodle page. There is another link to click for the important announcement. PDF time. Long PDF time. Hurray! It's opened, and it's a size I can read without moving back six steps with a pair of binoculars the wrong way round. Two paragraphs. Important, yes. Glad I got the message but ... why on earth didn't they simply stick the text in the e-mail?!

Then I hear that some tutors in institutions get told to put their schemes of work somewhere completely different as well (or instead, I haven't figured out which yet). Not only is that place some drive on the staff server where they probably haven't visited since the 1990s but it's not somewhere they can access from home, and home is the only place they can actually get any work done in peace and with some reasonable software and equipment. As I said, I'm teaching web design, presenting information using IT and other modern, design-led modules like that where how I provide materials should be an example of the very same good practice I am trying to teach them!

My only solution is to produce all my stuff as I had planned, using all sorts of new ideas and applications that present it nicely and publish that on various blogs and web sites as before, and just putting links to it on the moodle pages for now. I can probably make the moodle pages, assuming someone has remembered to give me editing rights to them, and, indeed, has actually created the new ones I'll need, look a bit smarter with some images and design text for links rather than the odd default fonts and sizes with incorrect line spacing settings that display headings in larger fonts incorrectly when they require two lines. But the actual material will be somewhere else where I find much simpler to work with it all.

Of course that will land me in more trouble as I am apparently breaking some E-safety rule by using my own web spaces. If I remove any reference to a non-institution e-mail or non-course-related sections of my site then I may escape the men with the black bin liners. For a while, at least.

And there I was, getting quite excited about augmented reality after a super session at the Eastern Region E-learning Forum. I can probably mange to keep my students happy and well-provided for and stay in a job. But some colleagues I was speaking with really are still struggling, despite all the wonders of the new things happening around us. It really is time that someone has the courage to tell managers who reckon that adding Microsoft Office documents or PDFs and presentations to moodle and shared network drives is good E-learning practice in 2011 that they're wrong. It's just augmented banality.

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