Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Got Moodle? the Free, Open Source Program Enjoys Great Appeal among K-12 Teachers, as It Allows Them to Get the Upper Hand on Course Management and Assessment

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Got Moodle? the Free, Open Source Program Enjoys Great Appeal among K-12 Teachers, as It Allows Them to Get the Upper Hand on Course Management and Assessment

Article excerpt

UNTIL RECENTLY, teachers in Bainbridge Island School District on the island of Puget Sound, a mere half-hour ferry ride from Seattle, were handling classroom management tasks the old-fashioned way. Taking attendance, grading, delivering and receiving homework assignments--all were done with paper and pencil. Randy Orwin, the district's director of technology, figured there had to be a better system for recordkeeping, so he decided to go out and find it.

Back on the mainland, in Modesto, CA, staff and students at Teel and Glick middle schools in the Empire Union School District were pleased with the online testing service they were using, but by the end of each day, the network would be nearly paralyzed. The slowdown severely curtailed internet access for other instructional and administrative activities. Bill Click, tech lab supervisor for both schools, knew he needed to find an alternative that would support online assessment while allowing teachers and students to get on the web whenever necessary.

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What do these two distinct circumstances have in common? In each instance, the school district found a solution with an easy-to-use tool called Moodle (http://moodle.org), a free, open-source course management system.

A Dynamic Learning Environment

Moodle, which stands for "modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment," enables educators to manage all aspects of course content and delivery using one integrated system. Compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, and open source operating systems including Linux, Moodle is popular with educators for several reasons, besides being free. Basic implementation is easy, and Moodie's flexible design supports a range of teaching and learning styles.

Beginning users may rely primarily on features that enable them to automate traditional tasks, such as test giving or assigning and collecting work. But that's just a sample of the capabilities of this robust suite of tools. More experienced users can take advantage of features that enable collaboration and peer assessment. Moodle also offers active forums where users can seek technical support and suggest new program components. The system's growing number of user developed modules include podcasting and gradebook options.

It's important to interject one caveat. Although Moodle software is free, there are some costs associated with its implementation. Moodle is server-based. This means that there must be a local server where the software can be installed, or that storage space must be purchased from a vendor. Users need training and ongoing support, which, whether provided by a staff member or consultant, are not free. Maintenance is minimal, but upgrades are required, and users often decide to install new modules or plug-ins to enhance Moodle's capabilities. Again, such services inevitably have related costs. But if the costs can be managed, as you'll see in the experiences of Bainbridge Island and Empire Union school districts, the benefits of Moodle are well worth the implementation and maintenance efforts.

Discovering a Range of Possibilities

Randy Orwin's search for an affordable, computer-based course management system brought him to Moodle in March 2005. After testing the software on his home server, Orwin and a few Bainbridge Island teachers decided to launch a Moodle pilot, housing the software on a newly purchased district server.

With Moodle securely installed, Orwin, an admitted "open source junkie," invited interested teachers to attend trainings in the summer of 2005. "Their teaching assignments vary, but each of them has discovered Moodle features that support instructional and administrative tasks," he says.

As an example, Bainbridge Island's math and technology specialist, Paul Sullivan, is using Moodle to help bring some order to a technology class he teaches for homeschoolers in grades 5 to 8. …

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