Monday, October 29, 2007

The Next New Thing

So here we are. It's Monday night, but it sort of counts as a Sunday because this was a three-day weekend. (School holiday, long story.) The first marking period just ended there were two primary orders of business over the last few days: first to get the college recs out to the students applying for early admissions, and second to get the papers corrected and the grades done; they have to be entered on the school computer system by Wednesday. Other than that, it's been almost...calm, for a change. Which gives me a little time to think about the Next New Thing, which at this point looks like Moodle.

Moodle has been around for a while, and when I checked it out a year ago my socks were definitely not rolling up and down, but now my school's tech department has signed us up and we have our own-in-house version taking shape with the usual assortment of early adopters knocking themselves out. What I like so far is that in its present incarnation it has some neat features that are more or less immediately usable, and then lots of other bells and whistles that it's going to take me a year and a half to figure out, by which time it will probably have been made obsolescent by the Next New Thing. But, for the record, here's what I'm playing with so far:

Moodle is set up sort of like a blog page. The left sidebar is for maintenance functions, and the right for whatever you decide to put there: calendar, archive, headers for recent posts, etc. and I've created forums for our class to extend their discussion about what we're reading (The Poisonwood Bible, at the moment). Students can rate one another's posts based on whatever criteria you as the teacher decide to foreground; you can, for example, provide meta-tags and ask the students to label entries which meet certain conditions (cites text; raises a question; explores alternative answers, etc.)

There's also a cool feature that allows you (and/or the students) to create a glossary/lexicon. When we do literature circles, I'm asking the lexicographers to select five of their most significant words and add them to the lexicon. The words can be categorized and tagged with keywords (like the kikongo word below). You can also sort and track entries by date, category, and author (useful for checking to see who has completed the homework).

These words then form a database from which you can display a "Word of the Day" (the Vocabulary spotlight in the lower right in the first picture above). There's also a quiz-generating function which I haven't played with yet, and a whole grading module which basically allows you to use the Moodle site as your complete course-management system. I'm not there yet, and don't know if that's where I'm heading. With grading, as with poetry, I'm still more at home with the ambience and soft-edged indeterminacy of pencil on paper.

I've begun creating forums for other class activities. For example, our writer-in-residence Chang-rae Lee visited our class last week, and so I created a forum (number 4 above) and asked each of the students to report on something they thought was interesting or memorable. I've also figured out how to set up widgets in the sidebar, like the flickr badge in the upper right of the first picture, using regular html coding.

There's a group of teachers from the junior school and the academy (high school) who now meet once a week to share what they're up to with Moodle and help each other troubleshoot. One of the supposed advantages of Moodle is that because it's open source eventually you can get access to other modules and programming innovations from people all over the world. All you need to be able to do that is... time. Right now, I've got a foot in the door, and I'm playing around small kid kind in my own little sandbox. My vision is constrained by the realities of everyday teaching. But so far this has been a pretty easy first few steps, and I'm hoping that I'll find more and better functions on the way.

1 comment:

Sarah Puglisi said...

Thanks for this. I've got a number of people "all about moodle" in my life. It would seem this gives me a peek. Today i worked on a blog for my 1stgrade, ideally this will be something they "take over" what I did took 2 or 3 hours. And it's just full of junky problems. Plus I had the time taking a day off. Practically I have too much to do. And this is another thing that takes energy. But a possible "neat idea." I appreciate this piece.

I do check in and read, usually feel depressed about my writing or "level" but definitely enjoy reading. sarah