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Currents: pilot program tests moodle

Colby-Sawyer Students and Professors Experiment with  Moodle Course Management Program

While students and faculty are now used to the course management program known as BlackBoard, another titan of course management software may be coming to a Colby-Sawyer computer near you. This semester the college has been running a pilot of Moodle, an open- source course management program, with five professors. According to Director of Information Resources Kenneth Kochien, Colby-Sawyer is one of many institutions around the country and the world considering Moodle as a means to manage courses.

Moodle has some definite advantages, including its affordability, and flexibility.

“Moodle is an open-source program that is used and supported world-wide,” said Kochien. “As an open-source program, we would not be paying a license fee to a vendor; this would reduce the overall long-term cost to students. That doesn't mean Moodle is free; in order to effectively implement Moodle at Colby-Sawyer we would require the use of third-party consultants.” The program was designed by teachers and they and other open-source developers continue to shape and improve Moodle over time.

“Moodle has a world-wide community of users and supporters who are not only providing input into new versions of Moodle but also developing modules or extensions that are compatible with Moodle,” said Kochien. “That means that if a developer or faculty member from anywhere in the world makes a module available, we could implement it here at Colby-Sawyer. Because Moodle is used at so many institutions with a wide range of technology environments, it is likely that many issues have already been addressed or that someone else is already working on the latest opportunity.”

According to Kochien, the reactions from those who participated in the pilot of Moodle have been positive overall, but they do note that the process has not been without frustrations. “I thought that it would be very easy to use Moodle after feeling very comfortable as a BlackBoard user,” said Mary Moran, adjunct professor in the Nursing Department. “It is a totally different program and requires a bit of learning and practice to fully utilize all the program has to offer.”

Students also noticed a difference in the way that Moodle works in comparison to BlackBoard. “It's like Facebook meets BlackBoard,” said sophomore Chris Diego. “It allows you to put up personal information about yourself, including images. I thought the layout and interface was pretty well organized and easy to travel through, but I didn't like how it felt like I was a part of a social network.”

Associate Professor of Humanities Hester Fuller was one of the professors testing the new software. She found that the big issue with Moodle was the way that students look at what is actually on these course management web sites.

In Fuller's New Media Technologies class, the course information was presented in different units with a focus on particular readings, video and other content. What she found was that students often did not see this information because they simply looked at the “Upcoming Events” tab for their homework and failed to scroll down to see all the information that they needed. As a result there was much confusion on both sides.

Fuller says that the experience has been both humbling and exciting for her. It was, she notes, interesting to see how her use of technology and the way that she teaches connected in her testing of Moodle.

“Like many here, I have been using BlackBoard for a long time and have grown extremely comfortable in that system. I made the foolish assumption that my comfort with BlackBoard would translate into facility with Moodle,” said Fuller. “I was wrong. I did not afford myself enough time to translate my courses from one system to the other. This is not because Moodle is particularly difficult, but because I am 'used to' another system. I failed to anticipate the particular challenge that would be involved.”

While Moodle presents some challenges for the students and faculty of Colby-Sawyer, Kochien says that it something that the college should consider.

“Good stewardship of institutional resources requires that we carefully consider this opportunity,” said Kochien. “Thanks to the faculty and students in the pilot, we have learned a lot about what it would take to convert to Moodle at Colby-Sawyer.”

-Amber Cronin '11, December 2009