Limits in developing innovative pedagogy with Moodle: The story of BIM

The following is the extended presentation abstract I plan to submit to MoodleMoot AU 2010. The idea was to submit a paper, but time has run out. The recent blog posts (starting with this one) about the story of BIM provide some of the early reflection that will form the basis of the presentation. The challenges mentioned in those posts will be abstracted somewhat to generate a series of limitations.

In part, the approach I am taking with this presentation is to respond to the polyannas who complain about me being too negative, and never seeing the positives. It’s always been my argument that what I do is not to ignore the positives, recognising and reusing what’s worked forms an important part of my information systems design theory for e-learning. For example, as far back as 1999 I have three publications (1, 2, 3) where recognising and reusing the positives is a key feature. It has been my argument that the polyannas are so busy focusing on the positives because they don’t want to recognise and engage with what doesn’t work. It’s a case of “don’t mention the war”, the SNAFU principle, confirmation bias and pattern entrainment, defensive routines and the lack of a willingness to question the practices on which ones self esteem is built. For me, it is only through recognising, understanding and addressing the limits that you can encourage innovative learning and teaching. You have to recognise and respond to the context.

Abstract

Open source Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Moodle are widely recognised as addressing a number of the limitations of proprietary, commercial LMS. Just as those commercial LMS addressed some of the limitations of the “Fred-in-the-shed” era of early web-based e-learning. Early web-based e-learning addressed some problems with text-based Internet e-learning, which addressed limitations of text-based computer-mediated communications…and so it goes on. Rather than being “without limits” this presentation will suggest that e-learning with Moodle, as currently practised, has a number of limits and that progress can be made through the recognition, understanding and removal of those limits.

The presentation will argue and illustrate that these limits place significant barriers in the way of encouraging widespread, simple improvements in learning and teaching. Let alone the barriers these limits create for the development of true pedagogical innovation. The presentation will explain how these limits are not solely, or even primarily, due to the characteristics of Moodle. It will outline how the majority, but not all, of these limits arise from the nature and characteristics of the broader social context, institutions, purpose, processes and people involved with e-learning. It will show how a number of these limitations have been known about and generally ignored for decades, to the detriment of the quality of learning and teaching. The presentation will also seek to identify a variety of approaches or ways of thinking that may help transform the practice of e-learning with Moodle into something that truly is “without limits”.

The presentation’s argument, the identified limitations and the potential solutions all arise from and will be illustrated by drawing on the experience of developing BIM (BAM into Moodle). BIM (http://davidtjones.wordpress.com/research/bam-blog-aggregation-management/) is a Moodle module released in early 2010 and currently being used at CQUniversity and under consideration by the University of Canberra. BIM allows teaching staff to manage, mark and comment (privately) on individual student blogs that are hosted on the students’ choice of external blog provider. BIM is based on BAM (Blog Aggregation Management) a similar tool integrated into CQUniversity’s home-grown “LMS”. Since 2006, BAM/BIM has been used in 30+ course offerings, by 70+ staff, and with 3000+ students making 20000+ blog posts.

The design of BAM/BIM is intended to remove an inherent limit that underpins the design of all LMS. That is, as an integrated system, the LMS must provide all functionality. It appears that this is a limit that the design of Moodle 2.0 seems focused on removing. However, this presentation will suggest that this is only one of many, often fundamental, limits surrounding the use of Moodle, and that these limits need to be recognised, understood and addressed. The suggestion will be that it is only by doing this that we can aid in the development of truly innovative pedagogy.

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