Troy Patterson

Educator, Thinker, Consultant

Category: Education

Technology in Education

In my position, one of my responsibilities is purchasing technology. Not only do I purchase technology, but I talk to others about purchasing “stuff”. I work with administrators who are in like positions in other districts. I know many principals (partially the result of previously being a principal). I, and many others, deal with the issue of “cool”. What follows is not about my district, but education in general.

I frequently am asked “what type of computer should I buy?”. People are sometimes taken aback when I respond, “I don’t know. What do you plan on using it for? What are you comfortable with? Why do you want a computer?” See, for me, the Why is more important than the just the What. There is no perfect computer. It really depends on what one wants to do.

These questions are even more important for a school district. When it comes to buying technology, schools are very different than individuals. Schools use technology in different ways than individuals do.

Buying on the sales pitch.

This is a pretty popular issue. This happens a lot. Someone goes to a sales pitch and decides “we’ve got to have this new wonderful widget”. Sales people are generally really good. (It’s kind of their job). However, in the sales pitch, they don’t emphasize the problems that exist. They don’t explain how it will work with your specific network. They may be really well intentioned.

One of my favorite examples of buying the dream, is the purchasing of iPads in schools. Let’s start with this, I’m an avid iPad user. I’m on my third iPad (all of which I’ve purchased with my own money). I think that it is a terrific device. It is an extremely personal device. iPads are not made to be used by multiple people in a classroom. I would even argue that they are not positioned to be the best choice in general in education. With the proper training, iPads could be an extremely valuable tool in education. Let me repeat that. With the proper training, iPads could be an extremely valuable tool in education. Used properly, iPads could be combined with Project Based Learning and other strategies and schemas to lead to real student empowerment. Student could create and consume so much with iPads. In reality, few teachers have the available time and attention to devote to that kind of change. This would not be a just, “oh, well do something different” kind of thing. This would demand a complete re-think of what education is and how it is delivered. All the details and day to day procedures would need to be examined. It’s not just wish. It takes ton of real work. If you don’t believe me, ask the LA school district about their iPad project. Here is some more information: Refund, NPR, MacObserver. LA bought into the promise, the idea of iPads in the school without asking some really hard questions. They never contemplated or planned for the real work (hard work) of actual change.

There has been lots of research on whether technology makes a difference in school or not. One can easily find research that supports either that it is not effective or that is truly makes a difference. That question is a huge question. There are lots of things to look at it and consider for that.

Back to the point. Technology in education is different than what we purchase for home. It is different than what we use on a personal level. Technology needs in education are pretty specific. We should be asking how something is going to be used. We should be asking what problem are we trying to solve. We should be asking how this technology will transform learning in the classroom (we don’t need any more $500 pencils). (The idea of a $500 pencil is when we use a piece of technology to accomplish something that would be more easily and better accomplished using a pencil).

So, sometimes people head out to conferences or salesman come in and “pitch” a product. The sales pitch is convincing and some get really excited about the product. However, the sales pitch is designed to get you to buy. Sometimes asking pointed questions and thinking about the real world use of the product can help determine if that product is right for your school or not. It is best to include a range of users/decision makers in the process.

Buying on the presentation

This is related to the above. Apple seems to be really good at this. Apple puts on a Keynote and suddenly lots of people want to include them into the classroom. There is something great about this. Educators are dreaming and thinking. However, before hitting that purchase button, one should go back to real world questions.

Here is one example. I heard of a teacher who wanted to have an iPad Pro (and Apple Pencil and keyboard) purchased for that teacher’s classroom. This was immediately after the big Keynote. Now, no one had really reviewed the device. No one had considered the pros and cons of such a device. The teacher, though, wants one. (In truth, I kind of want one too. But not enough to have someone else buy one for me when we could use other things in the classroom). The early reviews are out and it doesn’t seem as though the iPad Pro is a great choice for the classroom right now. On one hand, I applaud the teacher wanting to stretch the limits of what is happening in the classroom. On the other, teachers need to really consider what will make the biggest impact in the class. The teacher is an elementary teacher. I’ve reached out to the teacher to request what the intended use would be, but haven’t received a response.

So, I’ll keep asking the question of Why. I hope others will consider the Why as well. I truly believe that technology can make a difference in education. But we need to be thoughtful about what, why and how to get there.

Moodle vs Classroom Update

The last post pointed out some of the differences between Moodle and Google Classroom. Of course, Google being Google, they updated Google Classroom the next day.

The update addressed a couple of major concerns: multiple teachers and the ability to delay posts (create drafts). These are two very welcome upgrades. It demonstrates one of the advantages of Google’s iteration scheme. A weakness was discovered and addressed. Much joy in Mudville.

On the flip side, note that the teacher that is invited to edit the classroom has all of the same rights as the originating teacher – with the exception that the invited teacher can’t delete the course. In Moodle, a teacher has much more fine grain permissions that can be granted. The originating teacher in Moodle can give the co-teacher the right to just grade but not to change the content of the course OR to have the same rights OR just about anything that the teacher wants. Of course, this means planning and training. This is a great feature in the real world. Teachers who work together sometimes have different ways of accomplishing goals. Sometimes they have different understandings. A teacher knowing for sure that their content is safe and can’t be changed can be very reassuring. Also, this helps prevent accidental changes. I know many co-teachers who are working with two or three lead teachers. Keeping things organized is paramount. Accidental mistakes can happen.

Moodle contains many ways to prepare content ahead of time and schedule the delivery of content, activities and resources. Theoretically, one could schedule an entire year ahead of time (bad pedagogy for a classroom that meets physically though).

Also note that students can move/delete files from the Classroom folder. This breaks the connection between those files and Classroom. Hopefully, Google will resolve this issue soon as well.

The recent updates are a nice snapshot of the advantage and disadvantage of Google Classroom. It is still regularly updated. The updates address needs that users have. However, Google is not coming at this from a true educational perspective. They are still not addressing the underlying issues of pedagogy. They are focused on the S in the SAMR model.

Moodle is also frequently updated (every six months an updated version is released). Moodle also addresses teacher concerns. Moodle is also built on the concepts of good educational practice. However, Moodle is also more complex and needs more of a training commitment.

Neither tool is the right tool. Both have their place. Thankfully, teachers have options.

Moodle vs Google Classroom

Dr Jak Tangkuampien, over at Jak’s Thoughts, has a terrific write up about Moodle vs Google Classroom. I had been thinking many of the same thoughts, but he has written up before I did. Give his post a good read. But first, I’d like to expand on couple of thoughts about Moodle vs Google Classroom.

Underlying pedagogy

Google Classroom does a really good job of replicating what many teachers are very comfortable doing already. That is, Google Classroom allows teachers to create documents (templates) that are then distributed to the students to complete and turn in. Google Classroom organizes this nicely. This is analogous to creating a worksheet and passing it out to students. Classroom does make this a digital transaction, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the relationship or the process of education.

Moodle was founded with constructivist educational strategies in mind. Founded by Martin Dougiamas, Moodle was the result of his experience with distance learning in the Australian outback. He was also interested in social constructivist teaching strategies.

Developed by Teachers

Whereas Moodle is developed by educators with an educational bent, Classroom is designed by engineers geared toward education. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Engineers can come up with wonderful ideas.

Long term viability

Google has a tendency to iterate, iterate, iterate. That means that things change. Most of the time, this is for the best. However, as a long time user of Google Reader, well, as a former user of Google Reader, I can tell you that relying on Google to have a product around forever and lead to disappointment. Google killed Google Reader back in 2013. This was after Google had effectively killed off all the other RSS readers but making Reader free and phenomenal. Similarly, Google has retired many other products. A few come to mind:

  • Google Wave
  • Google Health
  • iGoogle
  • Knol

Google has no problem discontinuing products that it no longer feels deserve it’s attention. One must be aware that the discontinuation of a product is definitely a possibility. Thus, given this history, the end of Google Classroom is always a possibility.

Moodle is open source. Even if Martin Dougiamas (founder of Moodle) decides to move on, Moodle can continue to be developed. In fact, there are several forks of Moodle already in existence. Thus, Moodle is sure to be around for quite some while.


Google Classroom handles the distribution and collection of materials. Using Google tools, the teacher can also create quizzes that students complete. Moodle does these things as well. However, Moodle has a great more flexibility and functionality built in.

Jak’s Thoughts

Jak’s Thoughts is a nice write up. He includes things like multiple teachers, groups, the ability to create prior to distribution and more. Multiple teachers is a huge issue for my district. We utilize team teaching throughout the district. Moodle allows for that collaboration to happen easily. Teachers can allow other teachers to just view, to help with grading or to fully edit a course. This power is greatly needed.


Google Classroom is a nice tool. It has a beneficial role for teachers. The learning curve to get started is certainly much lower than Moodle. If you are looking for an investment that can lead to true change, Moodle is hard to beat. If you are looking to move toward using digital tools and taking a small step with low barriers, Google Classroom is a great choice.

Moodle Rubrics

I found this post, My Teacher is a Zombie, about using the rubrics function in Moodle whilst browsing. It is a very nice write up of using rubrics and especially using rubrics in Moodle.

Essentially, Mr. Dorian Love, mentions how he uses rubrics to quickly and more effectively provide feedback to students by using rubrics. This provides the students with a much better idea of what to improve if a higher grade (or more proficiency) is desired. He provides specifics (including a screenshot of an actual rubric) that he uses to grade his “zombie presentations”.

The biggest point that Mr. Love wants to make is in regards to the chore aspect of grading. Using rubrics can help smooth that out. Moodle can help reduce the friction of grading, make it more transparent and more understandable. Basically, it is a win all the way around.

Note that rubrics probably shouldn’t be the only method of grading that you use. This is one more place the Moodle really shines. Moodle does provide the teacher with multiple methods of providing feedback and grading. Within Moodle, the teacher can choose to use a variety of questions that can be automatically graded (multiple choice questions, Yes/No, True False, Matching, Math equations), short answer quizzes, essays, peer reviewed work, and reflections. Most of these can be mixed and matched together.

Like much of life, there is not one simple way of assessing student work. Moodle helps expand the possibilities of assessment in a way that can help teachers do real work.

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