Troy Patterson

Educator, Thinker, Consultant

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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


Grade

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.

Moodle Work

Moodle 2.7 I’ve been hard at work creating Moodle materials. One thing that really stands out is just how powerful the program really is. The answer to just about every question about Moodle begins the same, “well, there are several ways to accomplish that”. Or “it really depends on what you want to do”.

Take for example the Lesson module. The Lesson module is a wonderful, powerful tool. Lesson allows the creator (usually the teacher) to create multiple pathways for students to follow. This means that the teacher can have students read a selection, and then answer a question. Based upon the answer to that question, the student could move to a page which would continue the lesson or be redirected to a page that would provide more background knowledge about the issue. Additionally, these questions can be automatically added to the gradebook. Or not. “It really depends on what you want to do”. In fact, when you are setting up a Lesson, the default will add an entry to the gradebook. But this might not be what the teacher wants to happen. In my experience, most teachers don’t use the adaptive nature of the Lesson module, they tend to provide a straight line for the students to work through. Lesson can be great for that too. Here, “it depends on what you want to accomplish”.

In general, I think that is a real strength of Moodle. The power to allow almost anything to happen means that different teachers can use the program in different ways. It means that more goals can be accomplished. It means that teachers are not limited as much by the program. However, it also means that the program can be complex. It means a commitment to learning how to use the program (and more so, how to use it well). Teachers already have a lot to learn. Teachers don’t have spare time on their hands to invest in learning how to accomplish things through Moodle. This is especially true if they consider what they are currently doing to be “effective enough”.

I hope that Moodle continues along it current trajectory of making things better looking and more user friendly without sacrificing the power that lies behind the curtain.

Catching Up

I’m back from ISTE (obviously) and been pretty busy. There have been lots of things going on that have gotten in the way with keeping up the site.

On a personal level, I’ve been dealing with parents that are getting older and in need of some additional attention. I think that we’ve got that worked out now.

I’m doing some consultant work which has taken a good bit of attention. It’s a lot of work, but very worthwhile. I’ll post more about that in the future.

On the professional front, this has also been a big summer. My district has passed a bond which will allow us to better serve the students, teachers, administrators and community. However, this also comes with a ton of effort by my team. We’re working on putting things in place so that the school year can start smoothly.

That being said, I should be catching back up on things shortly.

ISTE 2014 Conference Schedule

 

ISTE   I’ve landed at ISTE 2014. For anyone who has never attended, this is an overwhelming conference. There are thousands of people in attendance. The conference is always in a very large city with a massive conference center. This year, Atlanta, Georgia is the spot. The Conference Center has several buildings. The conference begins on Friday and runs until Tuesday.

The start of the conference is the overview of the schedule. This is done using the Conference App. The app itself is very overwhelming. The central issue for me is which sessions can I attend.

  • When are these sessions?
  • Are sessions offered more than once?
  • What is the session about? There are lots of overlapping sessions. There are also lots of extra pay sessions. I have mixed feelings about extra pay sessions. On one hand, I certainly understand individuals being compensated or their expertise, time, and efforts. ISTE wisely has mostly segregated these sessions to the morning of Saturday. I like that. However, notice it is “mostly”. I do wish that the paid sessions were a little more, shall I say, affordable. Lots of the sessions are in the $100-200 range for a half day session. The real truth is, that I feel that many of these sessions are things that you could fairly easily learn on your own. There is some advantage to streamlining these topics, but $100 seems pricy to accomplish that. For example, there is a session that called “Streamline your daily tasks using Google tools and scripting”. The description is: “Discover how to make everyday processes more efficient using new tools and scripts.” This session is $109-$119. The description really isn’t enough for me to make a $100 commitment. However, I may be in the minority (this session sold out). This is not to disparage this session, by the way. This is just my view.

I spent several hours going through sessions so far. I still don’t have a discrete schedule (lots of choices, with many overlapping). This is one thing that I don’t like. Sessions may run from 8:00-10:00am. Other sessions run from 8:30-9:30. Others, 8:30-11:00. I prefer straight forward, simply organized blocks of time. You know 8:00-9:00, 9:00-10:00 OR 8:00-10:00. That way, if I attend a two hour session, I know that it replaces two one hour sessions.

I can imagine that traffic flow is an issue with a conference this large though. Again, this is a huge conference with tons of things going on.

Moodle News

For the past couple of years, we’ve been working on the development of a format for Moodle that would truly lower the barrier to implementing and using Moodle. The idea was to create something very familiar for teachers and students to start with.

Well, we are getting one step closer. The Michigan REMC group has approved funding to start the programming. This has the potential of being a huge win for teachers. The new “social format” would allow teachers to quickly interact with Moodle. All the while, the full power and scope of Moodle will still be available.

If you’d like to know more, see this posting on Moodle.net. (I believe that you may have to register to view- registration is free).

There is still a ton of work to be done. However, big KUDOS to Chris Kenniburg and Bryan Smith for their work in getting this to happen. Also we greatly appreciate the vision to fund the project from the REMC group.

Flipped

I’ve been reading about “flipped” this and that lately. Now, I love buzz words as much as anyone. But why is everything flipped these days? I’ve just finished reading another article about flipped staff meetings. The idea behind these flipped staff meetings is that the mundane informational items are communicated via email or newsletter instead of being shared at the staff meeting. In other words, let people read what they can read and spend staff meeting time with teachers sharing best practices ideas and concepts. How is this a flipped anything? Granted it is a good idea, but flipped?

I was last a building principal over three years ago now. All of our meetings were run with teachers leading the way. We focused on school improvement ideas. We shared best practice strategies. We modeled lessons that were actually used in classrooms. We met in groups to discuss teaching strategies, students, curriculum, etc. We didn’t call it flipped. It was just good practice. I put out a weekly newsletter to share information (with a cute name, of course).

Flipped seems to be the most current fashionable jargon word available. I’ve heard just about everything referred to as flipped. So much so, that flipped has lost almost all meaning to me. There could be a good debate over whether or not the flipped classroom is actually effective or not. To do so, we’d first have to agree on the definition of flipped.

Now, I agree that not everyone is at the same juncture of their journey in educational practice. I’m sure that there are many concepts and ideas that I’m behind in understanding and applying. But can we at least stop glomming unto a name and applying it to everything?

School Visits

The last couple of weeks have extremely busy. Like most educators. However, I was also lucky enough to spend a great deal of that time in schools. Specifically, I spent time in classrooms and media centers (libraries). I miss watching kids learn. I miss the ”light bulb” moments. It was great fun to see that again.

I also spent a little bit of time teaching classes. Not the full on, teacher lessons, teaching all day, but at least I was able to do some real instruction. The topics were things that I was pretty comfortable with and have taught before. Mostly, I was teaching about technology, how to navigate through a web page, etc. (On a side note, it is amazing how many educators don’t really know how to use a browser. Things like bookmarking, Back navigation, etc are a strange concept to some.)

One of my favorite moments was in an elementary school. A teacher was running late. I was in a classroom to help with a Promethean Board issue. The teacher I was helping started collecting the students from across the hall. The room quickly filled and there were more students yet to arrive. I told the teacher that I would take the other class back to their room and get them going. The incredulous look was priceless. “Are you sure?”

I assured the teacher that I would be fine. I had a great time with the first graders. The teacher arrived a bit after we started things out.

I was once again reminded how different things are when you work year round. You lose a bit of the ebb and flow of the year. Since there is no “break” to look forward to, no real new beginnings or endings, the ebb and flow become much closer to a monotonous drone.

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