The Google Plus logo

Thoughts on Moodlemoot 2013

During the two days I spent at MoodleMoot Dublin, I had an overwhelming sense of information overload which made it all but impossible to blog during the conference. However it was clear at the time that a number of key themes were emerging from presentations and discussions: responsive design and usability, learning analytics, application performance, and Moodle’s place in the fast changing  world of higher and further education.

moodlemoot logo

Moodle’s place in the changing world of education

This was one of the big questions for the conference and there were three key sessions where this was dealt with: ‘The Future of Online Learning’ panel session on day one, the Martin Dougiamas ‘Future’ keynote on day two and the ‘Education in a Global Context’ panel session also on day two.

‘The Future of Online Learning’ was an interesting panel session which dealt with the changing nature of online learning. Technology is opening up new opportunities at the same time as budget cuts put institutions under tremendous pressure, and this panel discussion focused on this fast-changing context in which Moodle operates. There was some good audience involvement and some key themes emerged including:

  • a lack of recognition of learning through assessment and accreditation
  • the need to track learning experiences more effectively, using big data and learning analytics with the aim of improving the online learning experience
  • the rise of “surface” learning as we increasingly learn through social channels such as Twitter and MOOCs.

Through all these themes however, there was a feeling that formal learning remains relevant, expecially for the deep learning experiences required in certain professions (as one delegate said, “I don’t want my surgeon learning their trade solely on a MOOC!“)

 

The keynote on day two was by Martin Dougiamas, aka @moodler. Martin is the founder and lead developer of Moodle and his presentation was simply titled, “Future”. Martin noted that “Moodle is no longer competing with the juggernauts, it IS the juggernaut” and this brings with it a whole new set of challenges to deal with. A key concern of his related to an educated guess that “80% of the teachers use 20% of the features” and also that we currently know little about the learning outcomes of students using Moodle.

Martin talked through some key initiatives for the future of Moodle which will include:

  • research.moodle.net will become a hub for research, not just a conference site, and that research will inform the future direction of Moodle.
  • more detailed logging will be used for feedback and analytics, which will use technology such as NoSQL. This is an interesting development, big data and analytics are clearly an important part of Moodle’s future.
  • performance improvements will be a priority, such as implementing fast caching all over Moodle, taking the load off the database
  • a new Mobile app which is almost ready for Beta release.

‘Education in a Global Context’ was a session that I didn’t take an awful lot away from other than a confirmation of that fact that academic institutions are trying hard to work out where they belong in a world that for them is changing unrecognisably.  MOOCs are springing up everywhere, there is a drive to free content and academic institutions are being forced to experiment with new business models and learning models in order to adapt and survive.

Mobile and responsive theming

Responsive theming was a massive talking point over the two days. Bas Brands and Stuart Lamour are two of the faces behind the popular Bootstrap responsive theme and both were at the Moot and able to respond to the huge amount of interest in this. The Bootstrap Tracker item took on a life of its own with Martin Dougiamas suggesting that Thursday’s hackfest should focus on getting Bootstrap ready for inclusion in Moodle core, adding “My own priorities are to have one consistent system in Moodle that is beautiful, responsive, consistent, performant, SUPPORTS PLUGINs and is long-lasting.” This triggered some major activity in the Tracker from the other involved developers such as David Scotson about the best approach to achieve this. It was fascinating seeing the Tracker become so alive because of events unfolding at the Moot and the huge groundswell of support for responsive theming among the delegates. Sussex University and Glasgow City College were at the forefront of things, demonstrating their own responsive sites, with London’s City University following in their footsteps and starting to do usability prototyping of a responsive theme also developed by Bas Brands. With major implementations like these on board and the apparent buy-in of @moodler, this one is going to keep moving fast.

City University presentation by Mike Hughes (requires Flash Player to view)

Performance optimisation

Some of the best sessions I watched related to high performance. Alex Walker from City of Glasgow College, Cathal O Riordan from Waterford Institute of Technology, Jon Moore from Remote Learner and Simon Storey from Catalyst all ran fascinating sessions that covered Moodle for high performance. A recurring theme was performance testing using open source tools such as Apache ab, Jmeter, Siege, Blitz and Blazemeter. This was music to my ears. I worked for 8 years in software testing and established the website opensourcetesting.org back in 2003 which is still going strong. It was great to see coverage being given to open source performance testing tools, even @moodler was saying how excited he was about developments in open source test tools and the positive impact this was having on Moodle development.

Learning analytics

Learning analytics was another recurring theme of the conference. Kings College London ran a great session titled ‘Informing design through Moodle analytics‘. Their KEATS analytics project is a standalone app which may be reworked as a moodle plugin. It analyses Moodle logs and provides some nice insights into areas such as learner engagement which are useful for the ongoing design of courses.

This was also a theme in my own Tin Can API session. There is lots of misinformation doing the rounds about Tin Can API so I gave an overview of the intention of Tin Can API as a way of tracking social and informal learning experiences rather than just formal e-learning such as SCORM does. My aim of the session was not to promote Tin Can API but to stimulate some discussion on the merits of building Tin Can API support into Moodle. I thought the session was a real success, with about 10 mins of debate afterwards from the audience about how much really needed to be tracked and how it could be done. My big takeaway was a suggestion from a clearly engaged @moodler that the Moodle logs are already in the noun-verb-object format so it makes more sense to build Tin Can API support around the Moodle logs rather than creating a new module.

There is some work already underway to refactor the SCORM module, which will pull in Tin Can API statements from e-learning modules such as those produced in Articulate, and I guess that is something that needs to be done for that particular scenario. However in setting Moodle up as a Learning Record Store, or to push Tin Can API statements out to other Learning Record Stores, the Moodle logs are quite possible where efforts should be focussed.

On a related note, my session was paired with Gavin Henrick’s LTI session. There must have been three separate LTI sessions and lots of people were talking about it enthusiastically. There are parallels between what Tin Can API and LTI are trying to achieve in pulling together learning experiences from across multiple online applications. I didn’t cover the strengths and weakness of each approach in my session but will make that a theme of a future blog post.

Roundup

This was a hugely enjoyable and informative conference and I had an absolute blast from the moment I walked through the hotel entrance and got sidetracked for several hours in the bar prior to check-in, to the final debriefs over coffee awaiting the airport bus (strangely, Martin and Ian from Charity Learning Consortium were involved in both those events).

The two conference days were topped and tailed with a workshop day on Monday and Hackfest on Thursday. But being a parent of three young kid and this being half term week, being away for the two conference days was enough for me, so I did not attend either of those days.

The networking side was fantastic, highlights included meeting up with developers who I’ve only previously met online; swapping stories and experiences with other Moodle vendors; a first face to face meeting and discussion with @moodler; the gala dinner on a brilliant table with Synergy Learning, Sussex Uni and Bas Brands; catching up with old customers; meeting Moodle users old and new and learning about their experiences. It was an amazing event.

Coming into the Moot my thoughts had been dominated by putting together the presentations I had to deliver, but coming out the other side I had a new and unanticipated problem: dealing with the overwhelming amount of information that came with two days of presentations, debate and networking. A great problem to have and a truly immersive learning experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Thanks so much to Gavin Henrick and Mark Glynn and their small army of helpers. Here’s looking forward to Scotland Moot in 2014!

This post was written by Andrew Downes and first appeared on the Epic blog on 15th March 2013.