Monthly Archives: August 2014

Moodle Badges

BadgeOne of the topics at the professional development session that I recently delivered that was a real hit was Moodle Badges. (I’ve provided a link to a popular Moodle Badge provider – where you can get a bunch of ready made badges, but, in truth, I created my own for the project).

I set up the training so that each teacher earned a badge before we really started talking about them. They were thrilled to realize that they had earned a badge. When we circled back around to talk about the various blocks that were being displayed, badges was one of the blocks, they had all earned a badge. A couple of them were positively giddy. They saw the advantages of badges right away. (This is a group that is employing game play simulations into their project).

Badges are pretty simple to create. I use GIMP to make badges. GIMP is free and open source – though it has a pretty big learning curve, once you have a basic badge, creating variations can be pretty simple.

Although Moodle makes it easy to award badges for students viewing badges, the process of conditionally awarding a badge needs improvement. For example, right away the teachers wanted to award a badge based upon a certain score on a quiz. This involves a trip to the grade book and setting a passing grade. It should be much easier than that. When you are setting up the criteria for the badge, there should be a field to enter the percentage that awards the badge. This would allow a teacher to award a variety of “levels” of badges.

No matter what, check out badges and get your kids involved.

Moodle Professional Development

MoodleRecently I’ve been invited to work on a project which involves theming Moodle, developing a self-paced course and delivering some professional development. This is an exciting project. The courses that are being developed are STEM related and very high quality. There are several features that I love about this project.

  1. Excellent teachers are writing the course material.
  2. These same excellent teachers are using the course material with students.
  3. The material is being vetted by additional teachers.
  4. Moodle.
  5. The opportunity to work with some really great people.

I’ve written a rough draft of the self-paced course that will be used with new teachers coming into the project. I had the opportunity to work collaboratively with another member of the team. This was a terrific experience. It is such a pleasure to work with a variety of people that truly care about student learning.

I’ve delivered the professional development to a small group of teachers. They were very enthusiastic about what Moodle can do. They learned some of the benefits of using Moodle. (I’m certain that there are some students who will be earning badges soon).

I’ve received some terrific feedback on the self-paced course and will be incorporating suggestions back into the course.

I will say that it feels terrific to get plenty of positive feedback on a presentation and work.

Moodle Tip – Grading Presentations


In chatting with a teacher who uses Moodle really well in class, I’ve learned a neat trick (which will be making it into an upcoming book). He uses the Assignment Module to quickly and easily grade presentations. He does this by utilizing Rubrics. The students don’t turn anything in. However, as they are giving the presentation, he has the Rubric open within Moodle. He simply clicks on the appropriate level for each criterion within the rubric. He also adds comments (a text box associated with each criterion) so that the students understand why he selected the level of each criterion. This way, he is done grading when the presentations are done. Brilliant. Absolutely Brilliant.

The Internet’s Own Boy

I’m currently enjoying the Traverse City Film Festival. One of the movies that I chose was The Internet’s Own Boy:The Story of Aaron Schwartz. See below for a movie recap and my thoughts.

Movie Recap

For those of you who are familiar with the story, Aaron was a gifted child who learned to program. At the age of 14, he helped write the standard of RSS (RSS is a fundamental standard for the web, even though most people don’t know what it is, they use it). Note that he was involved in writing the standard. These are the guiding principles of RSS. This is one example of the deep thoughts that he had, and communicated.

He was also one of the founders of Reddit. When Reddit was bought out, Aaron made a good bit of money. However, he really didn’t fit in with corporate culture (he complained that he wanted to work) and famously got himself fired. He didn’t fit in within the Silicon Valley culture. He felt that people said that they wanted to change the world and make things better, but didn’t do anything tangible to make that happen. He left Silicon Valley and went back to New York. He became more and more interested in social activism.

One of his fundamental beliefs was that the information should be free. He, along with some others but posted under his name, wrote the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. This talks about how information is power and that power should not be “locked up” and held by the few.

Fast forward. Aaron works with group that is “recycling” court documents that people pay to access. The government has set up PACER which is supposed to provide the citizenry with access to official court records. However, they charge for that access. The group, and Aaron, felt that access to the law should be a fundamental right for all. That it shouldn’t be restricted to just those who can afford to pay for it. This was a major theme for Aaron. Information should be free.

Aaron ended up downloading Gigabytes of information from JSTOR through a laptop placed at MIT. The Federal government charged Aaron with several felonies. Since Aaron wanted to work in Congress or the White House, he had grown to understand where he could make true changes, and knew that a felony would mean that he couldn’t do that, he fought the charges.

The fight went on for a couple of years. JSTOR issued a notice saying that they were not interested in pursuing charges. MIT refused to publicly support dropping the charges. Still the Federal government pursued the charges. In fact, they added more felony charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. The only thing that the government told Aaron’s dad is that they wanted to make Aaron an “example”. What was never clear was the example of what.

During the time of the prosecution, Aaron was also fighting for social justice. He was one of the largest voices and organizers of the movement to stop SOPA. When SOPA was first proposed, it looked like a slam dunk. That Aaron and others were able to effectively organize and defeat SOPA was a key to showing Aaron how influential and effective social organizing could be.

Aaron ended up committing suicide.

My Take

One of the things that struck me the most is how much things have changed and how unsettled those changes are for us as a society. Aaron seemed to be caught up in that. He wanted to make changes. He saw things a little differently He fought for knowledge to be free. Fought is the operative word here. There are many who are invested in the way things are (or used to be). Aaron saw that things could be different and worked to make changes.

Another theme was the lack of Congressional understanding. Congress started investing the issue after the public outcry. On of the lines repeated in the movie is “Bring in the nerds” from several Congressmen. The message was simple. The members of Congress were saying “we don’t understand this” and need someone to explain the issues to us. (Congress used to have an Office of Technology Assessment that any member could go to for help understanding these issues, but Newt Gingrich disbanded that group in 1995). Thus, we’ve ended up with Congress making laws for things that they clearly don’t understand. Not only do they not understand, but seem comfortable in in acknowledging that they don’t know (hence the jokes about “bringing in the nerds”). Add in the idea that the Federal prosecutor was using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. This law has changed very little since 1986. Aaron was charged with “recklessly damaging a protected computer” among other things. The law makes no distinction between what happens with the information. Did it make a difference if he was going to use the information to learn something versus making the information free to anyone versus selling the information? (Interestingly, Aaron had downloaded a large amount of information in the past and used the information to analyze what was going on. He did not make the information public).

Public education is in a similar position as Congress. Things have changed. The world has changed. It is time for us to evaluate where we are, what we need to differently, what changes that we need to make. We won’t get it perfect, but we need to continue the dialogue.