What’s good for “open content” is good for the LMS/virtual learning space?

My tweet stream reminded me this morning that #oer15 is up and running. The following tweet from @courosa was amongst the first I saw.

The tweet draws on the 5Rs framework from David Wiley as a way of defining “open content” as having a license that allows others

to engage in the 5R activities:
  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  • Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

Why stop at content?

When it comes to learning (and teaching), I wonder about the focus on and definition of “content”. Especially if you take @downes perspective that the “content in learning functions as a McGuffin”. At the very least, the content in the courses I design is somewhat important, but it’s not the only thing.

What the learner does with and takes from that content is more important. What the learner does is enabled and constrained by the tools available to them and the affordances those tools offer. Sitting in a lecture, reading a print book, watching an online video, engaging on a blog, engaging in a discussion forum all offer different constraints and enablers.

Regardless of their relative merits, increasingly the learners in my courses are being required to engage with a range of digital technologies in the form of a the institutional LMS and other tools. These tools – both institutional and personal – make up their virtual learning space. Complaints about the LMS have been many and regularly over the last 10+ years.

Perhaps the most regularly complaint from certain circles is that the LMS is not open. Not open in terms of only people enrolled in the course at the institution are able to access it. Not open in terms of once you leave the institution you probably don’t have access anymore. Not open in terms of not being able to use Google (or in my case any search engine) to find material on the LMS.

But recently there has been another trend in institutions that have been making the LMS even less open. Many institutions are now mandating consistent, minimum standards for all courses hosted in the LMS. At my current institution that has translated into the virtual learning space for a course having to look a specific way and more troubling to use specific locally produced tools (e.g. a particular way for presenting assessment information and a study schedule).

What’s worse is that this mandated consistent set of minimum standards is being seen through the lens of an “established” view of technology. That you can’t and shouldn’t change the technology. In fact, if you do change the technology you are seen as breaking policy and are required to “please explain” (as has happened to me this year).

In some large part this type of thinking to me is an example of this quote from Bret Victor

We’re computer users thinking paper thoughts

The mandating of consistent, minimum standards for all courses in an LMS gives me a strong sense of a deja vu for the bad old days of 2nd generation print-based distance education. The days when all the distance education courses for a University had to use the same style guide, even if it broke all the Prolog code in the Machine Intelligence material. Mandating consistent, minimum standards for all courses in the LMS is “computer users thinking paper thoughts”.

It’s an example of people not understanding what’s really different about computers and digital media. Mike Caufield makes this point

I would argue (along with Alan Kay and so many others) that for digital media the most radical affordance is the remixability of the form (what Kay would call its dynamism). We can represent ideas not as finished publications, but as editable models that can be shared, redefined, and recontextualized. Conversations are transient, publications are fixed.
But digital media can be forever fluid, if we let it.

Universities are missing out on the full benefits of digital media because they are “computer users thinking paper thoughts” that don’t even recognise the “remixability” of digital media and the potential that brings. Instead of leveraging this affordance of the medium and letting it be fluid, institutions are setting it in stone.

Even if you open access to the LMS, will it be open?

Even if an institution opens up access to the LMS. Allows any one into it. I don’t think it can be classed as open, because access is only the first step in being open.

I’m thinking that the LMS – or any other institutional virtual learning space – can’t be truly open until allows me to

  1. Retain – to make and control copies of the data, experiences, and perhaps affordances offered by that learning space.
  2. Reuse – the data, experiences, and perhaps affordances in other ways, in this space, and other spaces.

    e.g. download data about learner activity to my laptop to perform analysis not available in the LMS. e.g. take data from the LMS to generate a “learning report” to automatically “mark” learning activities.

  3. Revise – to adapt, adjust, modify or alter the data, experiences, and perhaps affordances in other ways, in this space, and other spaces.

    e.g. I can use jQuery to point the mandated “Assessment” link to assessment information that is presented more appropriately.

  4. Remix – to recombine the original and revised data, experiences, and perhaps affordances in other ways, in this space, and other spaces.

    e.g. take LMS data and data from the student records system to develop a “learning process analytics” tool used in the course.

  5. Redistribute – the data, experiences, and perhaps affordances in other ways, in this space, and other spaces.

    e.g. the idea of a tool that allows the learning material in my course to be re-purposed as an open book.

Should/can the virtual learning spaces be open in terms of the 5Rs? How might this be done? What problems/benefits might accrue?

Personally, these are important and interesting questions. Not the least because I’m already doing this (see the examples above) via various backdoor methods. And it is helping to make the task of teaching 300+ students somewhat bearable.

Starting the “Moodle open book” project

Back in February I shared shared some thoughts about some ideas for grants for producing an “open textbook” at my current institution. In the end, these thoughts were translated into an application which has just been officially announced as being successful. The following is my first attempt to get my head back into the project and outline

There’s also an initial project page.

About the project

Rather use the funds to write an (is it at the stage of “yet another”) open textbook. The project aims to develop a framework to enable the re-purposing of existing course materials as Open Educational Resources (OERs). In this context, “framework” is defined as “a collection of technologies, processes, and practices”. The idea is to create and test a framework that others may be able to use to create their own OERs as part of producing their course websites.

While this project has an initial focus on producing an “open textbook”. I’m hoping the project will move beyond the limitations of the “book” metaphor. For me, an open textbook makes about as much sense as a horseless carriage. In fact, one of the aims of the project is to provide support in the framework for moving beyond an open textbook. For example, enabling the sharing of small bits of the “book”, for that “sharing” to include more than just re-using the finished product, and move more into co-authoring etc.

The starting point (perhaps even core) of the framework will be the Moodle book module. Moodle is the LMS used by my institution. As such it’s the tool I use to teach a course that now consists of 60+ Moodle books. The framework will make it easier for me (and hopefully others) to use the Moodle book within the confines of a Moodle course and to produce OERs.

The framework is required because

  1. the Moodle book module produces material that is not open; and,

    i.e. it only produces resources available from within Moodle. At my institution, this means that only students currently enrolled at the University and at some stage enrolled in the course can access the resources. I’ve had a couple of past students want to access material from the course, but beyond this the content can’t easily be open and generate all the benefits that is meant to bring.

    Beyond getting access to the material the authoring model for the book module is not readily made open. It’s hard to have the collection of books in EDC3100 benefit from the residue of experience of past students. Currently, I attempt to modify the books based on questions and feedback from students. Would be useful to allow them to do it themselves.

    Beyond the students it would be useful for the material to benefit from the expertise of folk outside the course and to be used by them.

    From a slightly more institutionally insular perspective, it would also be useful for books to be easier to share and collaborated on between courses.

  2. the Moodle book module could be enhanced.

    Round trip authoring with the Moodle book module has some space for improvement.

    Even when students can still access the Moodle course site, there are issues around finding the information again. There is no search function. This is a frustration for students (and staff) at the moment.

    There’s limited support for collections of Moodle books. For example, each week in my course takes the form of a “learning path”. The Moodle books – typically at least 4 or 5 a week – outline the path. The current print function can only print a single chapter or all the chapters in a single book. There is no easy way to print a collection of books. Yes some students still want a print version of the information, even though much of it is in a form not conducive to print.

    Currently no apparent simple process for students (or teaching staff) to track student progress through books. At the moment, I’m advising students to bookmark the current page in a book if they have to do something else and haven’t finished the book.

Breaking BAD – the method

The project – like most of what I do – will be use an approach informed by a BAD mindset. That is:

  • Bricolage;

    The focus is on solving existing problems with the tools at hand. i.e. the aim isn’t to identify all the possible requirements, identify some wonderfully perfect future solution drawing on all the latest whiz-bang technology that requires radical transformation of existing practice. Instead, the aim is to address problems facing people right now with the tools that are available. Hence starting with the Moodle book module.

    There’s questions to be asked about whether Moodle is the best place to start this type of project. There’s questions to be asked whether the Moodle book module is the best Moodle module to base this project on. From a context-free perspective, the answers to these questions is almost certainly “no”.

    However, the production of OERs is not a context-free task. From the context within which I set, the Moodle book module is the best place to start. How well it suits others we’ll see. But chances are work on the Moodle book module will be useful to people already using Moodle and the book module.

  • Affordances; and,

    There are two parts to this. First, there’s the more prosaic idea of leveraging the affordances offered by a range of available technologies to provide useful functionality. e.g. forging a link between the Moodle book module and github to offer version control functionality. Second – and perhaps more interestingly – is to harness the protean nature of digital technologies to modify the Moodle book module and its products to ensure that it’s easier for any and all to remix it.

    I’m particularly interested in exploring how the protean nature of digital technologies can be merged with David Wiley’s Remix Hypothesis

    The Remix Hypothesis states that changes in students outcomes occurring in conjunction with OER adoption correlate positively with faculty remixing activities.

    Both in terms of the more standard – the project makes it easier for people (not just faculty) remix OER – but also the more interesting and challenging – the project makes it easier for people to remix the tool used to produce/remix the OER.

  • Distribution.

    How the project might break down the hierarchical walls that inhibit remixing and learning will also potentially take many forms. Providing support for moving beyond the traditional hierarchical distinction between author and readers is one. Breaking down the hierarchical client/server abstraction behind Moodle (and most/all LMS) is another.

  • Product(s)

    The project will likely produce at least the following products:

    1. software and documentation – under the GPL;

      This will most likely be mainly focused on changes to the Moodle book module (or something related). But may involve additional software. It will also include the necessary documentation etc. to support its use.

    2. an open book/OERs based on the EDC3100 course material; and,

      The aim is that the software the project develops will enable the conversion of the course material (based on Moodle books) into OERs of various forms. The question of context specific information in the course material and how generic to make that information will be interesting to explore.

      It should also help the on-going maintenance of the material and perhaps lead to change in pedagogy.

    3. presentations and publications.

      At the very least there will be a presentation proposed for Moodlemoot’AU 2015 reporting on initial analysis of Moodle book usage and functionality (see aim #1 in the next section), identifying potential changes, and asking for feedback and critique. There will also be required presentations at my current institution as part of the requirements of the grant.

      Beyond this there will be other research publications exploring various areas of interest (see a bit below).

    Aims and timelines

    The project comes with four main aims with some associated timelines:

    1. April to July 2015 – Explore the affordances and limitations of the Moodle book module for developing and maintaining OERs.
    2. August to January 2016 – Develop a framework to enhance the affordances provided by the Moodle book module for developing and maintaining OERs.
    3. December 2015 – Test the framework enhance the existing EDC3100 learning materials and produce an open book.
    4. April to January 2016 – Commence and support the integration of this framework into the USQ and Moodle communities.

    The timelines are specific to the grant. In reality, much of this is intended to continue post the grant. If only because I will be using the framework in my own teaching. Some details of what might be done to achieve each of the aims follow.

    Explore the affordances and limitations

    The aim here is explore what people using the Moodle book module are missing and what they enjoy from the module. Also involves becoming more aware of the affordances that are available for producing an OER/open book in terms of broader technologies and practices.

    1. Document the current process for producing EDC3100 “book”.
    2. Analysis of current USQ usage of Moodle book.
    3. Exploration of Moodle book awareness and usage by USQ staff.
    4. Exploration of usage of the Moodle book module amongst the broader Moodle community using a survey and analysis of existing discussions.
    5. Analyse findings to identify broad areas for development.
    6. Present findings at MoodleMoot’AU 2015 and at USQ and encourage feedback.

    Develop the framework

    1. Identify and work with appropriate USQ stakeholders about the project and how to best achieve its aims.
    2. Prioritise areas for change and commence development of the framework.

    Test the framework

    Throughout the second half of 2015 the plan is to use the modified version of the book module in the courses that I’m responsible for. EDC3100 is a course I’ve been teaching for 4 years and has a range of existing resources. EDS4406 is a new course that is about to be developed and taught in the second half of 2015 for the first time. EDS4406 will be using much the same design as EDC3100 and is being developed by a course writer with some oversight.

    Exactly how and what can be tested will depend on local negotiations. The main barrier will be if and how the latest version of the modified Moodle book module can be harnessed in a course that is being offered. There are good reasons why this will probably involve some workarounds to ensure minimum disruption.

    By the end of 2015 the plan is to have at least the EDC3100 material (and hopefully EDS4406) available in ePub/mobi/PDF formats.

    Working with communities

    1. Engage and contribute to the appropriate Moodle forums.
    2. Present findings from the “explore affordances” aim at MoodleMoot’AU 2015.
      Proposals due on 6th May.
    3. Contribution of any changes the Moodle book module to the community.
    4. Share project progress via social media and online development tools.
    5. Presentation at USQ L&T grants showcase.
    6. Production of final report, open book based on EDC3100 material, and materials for S1, 2016 offering of EDC3100.
    7. Artifacts disseminated through the PLAS website and continue discussion regarding institutional-wide adoption of the framework

    Other research

    Beyond seeking to make it easier to develop OERs via the Moodle book the project is also an opportunity to do a bit of small scale research into broader questions about the implementation of e-learning in universities and OERs. Some of the questions I want to explore

    What’s the right balance between course specific and generic?

    The EDC3100 books are specific to the course and its context. It references Moodle, assignments, Professional Experience and other concepts/practices etc that are specific to the institution. These limit the usability and usefulness of the OERs for people not withing that context.

    What’s the right balance between course specific and generic? Can you ever be generic? What implications would have course materials openly available have for pedagogy, for students, for the institution?

    Who is making changes to the LMS and why?

    The Moodle book has been around for quite some time. I’m wondering how much its functionality has evolved over that time. Why? Who made the changes to the Moodle book module? What might be learned from answers to those questions about the evolution and practice of e-learning within Universities?

    How can you break BAD with the LMS? What’s the impact and value of doing so?

    We argued in in this paper that “teenage sex” problem with institutional e-learning is caused by the overwhelming use of the SET mindset to drive its implementation. This project is explicitly trying to use a BAD mindset to help. Can it be done? Or is as we identified in the paper, the overwhelming assumption of a SET mindset too strong to overcome? If it can be, does the BAD mindset help or hinder? What works, what doesn’t? Why?

    Can the “remix hypothesis” and the 4Rs be applied to the systems, not just OERs?

    The 4R framework (again from David Wiley) says that with OER you should be free to

    1. Reuse – the right to reuse the content in its unaltered / verbatim form (e.g., make a digital copy of the content)
    2. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language or modify a learning activity)
    3. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
    4. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

    The technologies currently being used by institutions to implement e-learning – even open source systems like Moodle – are implemented in ways that limit use against the 4Rs. e.g. my experience is that if you revise the HTML generated by the LMS using JQuery or Greasemonkey you run the risk of being accused of being “dodgy” or “breaking policy”. Instead of being open and protean, the digital technologies universities are using are closed (even if they are open source) and concrete in terms of what teachers and students are allowed to do with them.

    I want break the concrete and explore the benefits of being protean.

Designing a Secondary Computing curriuclum & pedagogy course

A colleague and I have been tasked with the design of EDS4406 Secondary Computing Curriculum and Pedagogy. It’s one of a suite of discpiline specific courses being designed to be taken be pre-service teachers preparing to teach those disciplines at a high school level. The following outlines some initial ideas for the course design.

The course is likely to have small numbers.

The following is all some initial thinking, open to critique and revision. In fact, the aim of this post is for others likely to be in the course team (and those working on other related courses) to offer such critique.

The main sections are


Beyond the aims outlined in the course specification, it appears a good thing for the course to really be focused on helping learners: further develop their identity as a secondary computing teacher; form productive connections into networks associated with secondary computer; engage with the discipline and its operation and challenges; and, develop practices and resources that they will continue to use as they start work as secondary computing teachers.

i.e. get them beyond thinking of themselves as students studying a University course and more as secondary computing teachers. The pedagogy, assessment and activities in the course should reinforce this. The resources and practices associated with the course should aim to be something that they will continue to use (and perhaps contribute to) post graduation. But rather than being a “destination” itself, the course resources and practices should (as much as possible) be integrated into existing networks associated with teaching secondary computing.

This should also apply as much as possible to the resources and practices used to develop the course. Practice what we preach.

The course also need to fulfill the requirements outlined in the course specification and the various requirements of the relevant accrediting agencies etc. Including the increasingly prevalent requirement of “recency of practice” for the people “teaching” into the course. (I wonder how much the design of the course can challenge the notion of what “teaching” into this course actually means).

How will the course work?

Aspects of this – not surprisingly – are influenced by the design of the other course I teach (EDC3100).

No lectures. No textbook to purchase. That said, there does appear to be a potentially appropriate textbook (thought at least one review of the prior edition was a little underwhelming). Something to follow up.

A constraint is that there will be 10 weeks of teaching (out of a 13 week semester). Whether or not the course will be organised as weeks, topics or something else will have to be answered later.

The core components of the course will be a collection of “wrappers” or guides. Each wrapper will be largely focused on a particular task. The tasks will be aligned with the course objectives and the related APSTs. Each wrapper will include:

  1. some (minimal) contextual wrapping/context/introduction to the task;
  2. a pointer to specific resource(s) to support the task;
  3. an activity or three that the student has to complete; and,

    Some of which will be assessment tasks.

  4. a space to collate what current and prior students have done around the tasks.

Initially, the “wrappers” will be hosted on the course site (Moodle). Hopefully this may evolve over time. The wrappers – especially the resources they point to – will be curated via Diigo. i.e. not manually entered into the wrapper, auto-generated from a specific Diigo list.

All participants will be asked to contribute to a Diigo group for the course. Allowing the available resources to change over time.

Each student will be required to create/use their own blog to engage in reflection, discussion, and “submit” their assessment/portfolio tasks.

The assessment is nominally two 50% assignments. But each will be made up of a sub-set of selected tasks from the “wrappers”. The tasks are completed on the student’s blogs and collated/marked/managed via BIM.

The primary task for teaching staff will be to model the behaviour we’d like the students to demonstrate. A large part of this will be helping learners make connections with other students, other insights, and external people and resources. This is done by observing student participation (on their blogs, in the activities etc) and intervening as appropriate. Lastly, they’ll also need to mark assessment tasks.

One plan for the development

How to do this, here’s an initial list of tasks/observations and the people involved. Each step is expanded below. The roles/abbreviations used below are:

  • CE – Course Examiner;
  • CM – Course Moderator;
  • CW – Course Writer;
  • CT – Course Team (all of the above); and,
  • OC – folk involved with writing the Other Courses similar to this.

The intent is that the tools (Google Apps, blogs, Diigo, and perhaps Trello) used to teach and learn within the course, will be those that we use to develop the course. This is part of the modelling the practices we hope students will adopt.

For example, here’s the Trello to-do list for the development. I’ve been wondering how and with what value Trello (or similar) might be leveraged as a tool to help students with task management.

Current identified tasks/aims and people (all very tentative – and definitely not necessarily a purely sequential process)

  1. Share the foundation (OC)
  2. Map the course – elements and approach (CT)
  3. Curate related resources (CT – but mostly CW)
  4. Curate related resources (CT – but initially CW)
  5. Write the wrappers (CW)
  6. Implement the course site (CE)

Share the foundation

There are a range of other courses that share a common set of objectives with this course, but which are focused on other disciplines (e.g. Secondary Science, etc.) Each of these courses are seeking to develop the same objectives, but with discipline specific knowledge. Each course does build on learners’ existing generic knowledge (e.g. assessment, use of syllabus documents etc.) it would appear useful to build this shared foundation in way that was visible and could be used by each of the courses.

Especially useful for course writers being brought in for their recency of experience and discipline knowledge; but who are not likely to have great depths of tacit knowledge about the institution and its programs (not to mention those full-time staff who don’t have have those great depths of knowledge).

At the very least, this course needs to develop some form of foundation for its course writer.

The APSTs are the current focus, so perhaps building on those would be a method.

How to develop a method that more than this course can contribute and gain value?

Map the course

Currently the course is a collection of learning objectives, APSTs, topics, assignments, and a semester broken up into weeks. Each of these need to be explored, evaluated and mapped. What and when will each thing happen? What needs to happen? How much can we change? What can’t we change?

All need to be specified to give the CW a map to fill in. A set of tasks to focus upon.

I wonder what “maps” that others have developed.

Always interesting to enter into this important process and identify the (apparent) complete lack of any tools and resources to help. There may well be some somewhere, but knowing where they are….. Of course, sometimes the only thing worse than not having institutionally provided tools and resources to help with a difficult task. Is having an institutionally provided set of tools and resources.

Curate related resources

Based on the map, personal experience, and simply what you find when you aren’t looking start developing a list of resources related to the course and the various elements of the map. Curate these using Diigo and appropriate tags.

I’ve put this before ‘write the wrappers’ as getting a broad idea of the resources that are available and their content would seem to be good input for that step.

For example, a quick initial list from this morning

Connell, A., Edwards, A, Hramiak, A, & Stanley, N. (2015). A practical guide to teaching computing and ICT in the secondary school

Kemp, P. (2014). Computing in the national curriculum A guide for secondary teachers Computing in the (p. 34). Retrieved from http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/data/uploads/cas_secondary.pdf

Kennewell, S., Parkinson, J., & Tanner, H. (2004). Learning to Teach ICT in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved from http://books.google.com.au/books?id=dcCGhyk0O9EC

Schulte, C., Caspersen, M., & Gal-Ezer, J. (Eds.). (2014). WiPSCE ’14: Proceedings of the 9th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education. (2014). New York, NY, USA: ACM.

Wozney, L., VenKatherinesh. V., & Abrami, P. (2006). Implementing computer technologies: Teachers’ perceptions and practices. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 14(1), 173-207.

Write the wrappers

aka “fill in the map” or “insert *magic happens here*”.

Iterative development. Initial preference would be to do this using web pages hosted by github, but will be dependent on the capabilities of the CT.

Implement the course site

Much of how this course will work is similar to prior courses I’ve worked on. The CW is not likely to have a lot of experience setting up sites with Moodle. Would appear logical for me to do this step.

Concrete lounges and why basketball players aren’t better hockey players

Assignment 1 for my course is due later today. 100+ students have submitted. Time to explore the Moodle assignment submission system and how to allocate assignments to markers.

So what?

Why would that be interesting to anyone not using Moodle? Well because…

Is elearning like teenage sex?

One explanation for the quality of “e-learning” is

We have taken our teachers who have been really effective at face-to-face teaching and asked them to also be experts in online teaching. Get real! That’s like asking a good basket baller to become a good hockey player. Yes it’s sport and yes you have a ball and competitors, but the rules are very different. And yes, if you’re a good sportsperson, chances are you can pick-up on being good at another code, but it will take time and quite a bit of training.

”Die Schuhe sind zu groß.” - ”The shoes by Jorbasa, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Jorbasa 

That’s certainly part of the problem. But – to extend the analogy – the other part of the problem that I experience day to day is that universities are asking the good basketball players to play hockey with equipment that’s quite a few sizes too small and simply doesn’t help them play hockey, let alone learn how to play hockey.

This is not to say that the provision of the appropriate equipment is easy. It’s not. It’s incredibly difficult. A wicked problem.

The point is that the perspective (from the same post) is – in my experience – not the case at all

We already have all the tools we need to get our students engaged. Sure there will be new ones that come along from time to time that will do things a wee bit better, but for the time being we have plenty to make this happen.

As a teacher engaged with e-learning at a University, most of the technology provided is a concrete lounge.

Assignment submission

My current institution has this year moved away from a locally produced online assignment submission and management (OASM) system toward one embedded within the Moodle LMS. There’s apparently been some customisation of the standard Moodle OASM system, but it’s not clear just how much. I’ve already heard reports from other staff (with courses that have assignments due before mine) that allocation of assignments to makers is less than easy.

The following documents my attempts to do this and seeks to explore if the Moodle assignment submission system will be an example of the wrong size shoes for playing hockey.

I’m a hockey player

Background: I designed and implemented my first OASM system back in 1994/1995. From then through to about 2004/2005 I led the design and implementation of various generations of an OASM system and wrote the odd paper about it. I know a bit about these systems. I’m not a basketball player, I’m a hockey player.

Assigning some assignments – do it myself

Documentation by mray, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  mray 

First test, can I figure out how to do this via the interface. i.e. don’t read the “manual”.

Assuming the “Assignment administration” menu would offer some insight/affordances.

“Marker assignment quota” seems the most obvious option. A couple of observations

  • Apparently one of the students has some how been allocated the role of marker, she is appearing in the list of markers.

    My first question is obviously, “How the hell did that happen?”. The user is currently assigned to both the student and “general admin” roles. I don’t remember (even accidentally) making this change. Wonder how it happened?

  • This offers a choice of unlimited or a specific quota, but isn’t pre-populated with data already entered.

    i.e. to employ the markers to do this work, I had to negotiate with them how many they could mark and then specify that in the contract process. Having to re-enter this data in another system is a bit of a pain. I understand why it hasn’t been done. These are two very separate systems managed by very different parts of the institution. But if the shoe were too fit…..

Concrete lounge #1: Having to re-enter data already present in other systems.

View/grade all submissions

Next bet is to try the “View/grade all submissions” which shows a filterable list of all the submitted assignments and allows a number of operations to be done upon them. I’m assuming that “allocate marker” could be one of them.

Yep, “set allocated marker” is an option. Select the student(s) to allocate, select the menu option and hit “Go”. Brings up a page with those students listed and another drop down menu of markers. You chose the marker and hit “Save Changes”

Two potential problems with this

  1. Pre-allocation; and

    This does imply that you can only allocate markers to assignments that have already been submitted. I’ve got at least one marker who has a fixed group of assignments to mark. All located at a specific campus. In a perfect world I’d be able to pre-allocate the assignments from those students to the marker. Rather than have to wait until they are submitted and manually allocate them.

  2. Manually selecting individual students.

    Individual allocation is ok, but I would like to see at least two additional options. First, the allocation by group option available above. Second, a random (or perhaps specific) allocation of specified numbers. e.g. I have markers who will make 50 assignments, I’d like to automatically allocate them 50 assignments and have the system randomly allocate them. I’d rather not have to count to 50.

    Even better, it might be nice to say allocate them 50 assignments, but aim to achieve a balance of ability levels (perhaps based on GPA or some other indicator). Few things are more depressing than having to mark 50 low quality assignments. I assume there would be other allocation schemes people would like to apply.

Are there other options beyond this?

Grading options

Under the “grading option” drop down menu there is a “auto-allocate markers” option. But I wonder if it’s smart enough to handle variety. i.e. I need to ensure that one marker gets all the students at one campus, but can randomly allocate the remainder.

I don’t want to experiment with this option, just in case it goes ahead and auto-allocates straight away. So I’ll do a Google search for documentation. The search results are not that clear.

It appears that Moodle 2.6 added two related features – marking workload; and, marking allocation. These have to configured into the assignment activity. Did I do this? I did indeed. And this provides the functionality I’ve already identified.

So let’s just suck it and see. Good, it doesn’t do this straight away. It allows the options to

  1. allocate all unallocated, submitted submissions;
  2. allocate all unallocated submissions (including unsubmitted ones);

    Both these options are dong be specifying an “allocation batch size” and either doing an “Allocate” or “Simulate”. The simulate is a useful feature.

  3. copy allocations from another assignment.

Nothing here about allocating based on groups.

Filters and options

There are a collection of filters that can be applied, based on

  • # assignments per page;
  • assignment status;
  • marker allocation;
  • workflow status;

    A slight duplication to assignment status, but based on a different approach.

There’s nothing here about filtering based on groups. Is this because I haven’t configured there to be?

Group options in the settings

There is a “Group submission settings” section in the assignment settings. But most of this is based on the idea of students submitting assignments in groups. Not using groups to allocate assignments to markers.

No obvious options

I’m giving up. I can’t see from the system any obvious ways to allocate assignments easily via groups.

At this stage it appears that I will have to

  1. Manually allocate all students at one campus to their marker.
  2. Use the auto-allocate feature for the remaining students.
Edu Doggy by David T Jones, on Flickr

In theory, I could negotiate with the first marker to do an auto-allocate. But I think it important that he mark the assignments of his own students. Changing that preference would be the case of the tail wagging the dog.

Use the documentation

Before I do that, let’s see whether the documentation provided by the institution can offer any insight. It appears that this might be the solution

However, if the assignment activity has first been configured into groups, these can be manually assigned to a specified Marker.

I’m not entirely sure what this means. Let’s experiment with a dummy assignment and use the “common module settings” and the groups there.

First, the groupings don’t seem to be appropiate. No option to do it at campus level.

Okay, this appears to have added an additional option to filter which students/assignments are shown based on groups.

This would provide the option I need (a bit of a kludge), but the question is whether or not the setting can be changed on the fly – i.e. after students have started submitting?

The other question is what do (or will) the students actually see. I don’t believe there is actually an easy way for me to test this.

Let’s try making the change. Appears to be no problem with other assignments. I assume Moodle will warn of any horrible consequence? Famous last words? Logically there shouldn’t be a problem, but….

Change made, but there is no difference in the display. The option to select just the students in a particular group does not appear. Perhaps it can’t be changed once submissions have been made.

Concrete Lounge #2: No apparent way to filter assignments/students by groups

Group membership is stored independently of assignment submission in the Moodle database. It should be possible to offer a “Group filter” – perhaps even one dependent on the “grouping” – as a way to modify the viewing of all submissions.

Looks like I’ll have to do this manually.

Documentation at the wrong abstraction layer

Concrete Lounge #3: The local help documentation (like most help documentation) is written at the level of functionality. It describes the interface and what each interface element does. It isn’t organised at the level of “activity type” i.e. the level of the users.

i.e. I have a certain model of how I want to manage the submission, allocation, and marking of assignments. That’s what I know. That’s where I am. Documentation that started at this level by describing a list of different models of using assignment submission and then describing how to configure the Moodle assignment submission system to implement this model would be more useful (and much more difficult to write).

Better yet. Would be an assignment submission system that would present a list of different models, briefly explain each one, allow me to choose which I want, and then set up the system to fulfill that model.

i.e. the system actually fit what I wanted to do, rather than required me to engage in explorations how to figure out if and how I could translate the functionality of the system into what I wanted to do.

Sorry, but the tools we have available at the moment aren’t quite ready to help basketball players become better hockey players.


As per the comment below I missed an option to flick. That’s done and I can see the groups and make use of those. So here’s what I did

  1. Allocate unsubmitted from campus X to the marker;

    Set filter to the tutorial group I need and filter for “unsubmitted”. This is so that if they submit, they will automatically appear on the marker’s list.

  2. Allocate submitted from campus X to the marker;
  3. Auto-allocate the remaining submitted to markers;

    Priority is given to those submitted.

  4. Drop the allocation for campus X marker

    Problem: the campus X marker was originally allocated 22 students to make. But one has dropped out. Meaning when I do an auto-allocate (simulation) he gets allocated another marker.

    I also have to make sure that the “student marker” has an allocation of 0.

  5. Do the auto-allocation again.

Now all I need do is to figure out how much advice the markers will need to download, mark and resubmit the their allocated assignments.

What advice is there?

Hard to explore this myself as I don’t know how much my view of the system is the same as what a marker would see.

The “Download all submissions” option gets them all, not just the ones I’ve allocated.

Appears that the “view all”, play with filters, and then download is the way to go. I assume that the markers won’t need have the “Marker filter” to play with.

I wonder if the organisation has given any advice specific to markers. Of course, the “portal” I can access links to various staff support sites won’t let me login on my current browser. Nor on chrome.

Oh dear, the “portal” still has a large explicit link to the old assignment submission system.

Now begins the traipsing through various sites to figure out where it is.

A couple of red herrings and finally found the document I had been using (not only was it hidden away in the object repository, I had to login again to access it) and it confirms my suspicion. Downloading will be fairly simple for markers – once they find the right place and buttons to push.

But there doesn’t appear to be any specific file/resource that can be sent to markers. It appears that I’ll have to create my own (just like every other person in charge of a course with multiple markers). Of course, the other option is that I’ve missed the presence of this other document entirely.

It appears a cut down version of the larger document was circulated. Found this out via personal networks and Twitter, rather than via other means. The smaller document had been circulated earlier via email, but finding it in my Inbox……

The documentation is very generic. I’ll update it and include a direct link to the specific assignment.

What is downloaded?

A zip file with all student submissions in a single directory. Wonder how it works if the students are submitting multiple files? Does it put each student’s submission into separate directories then?

Specifying moderation samples

In terms of moderation, my practice is to specify to the marker at least 3 assignments that they should mark first. These are sent back to me ASAP for moderation and any advice on marking. The aim is that the 3 assignment represent a spectrum of abilities based on GPA typically: a 6+ GPA, a high 4/5 GPA, and a sub 4 GPA.

As in the past, this information isn’t part of the OASM system. So I have to do it manually via a spreadsheet. However, in the past the OASM system did provide a spreadsheet of students allocated to a marker. This enable the use of Excel formulas to find some samples. Doesn’t appear possible to do this via Moodle.

Luckily the “more student details” popup described here lets me click on a link in the list of students and find out the students GPA (amongst other things).

Concrete lounge: Can’t easily allocate sample marking based on student GPA (or other means) in part because can’t see how to expert students allocated to a marker to a spreadsheet.

Contacting the non-submits

Another task at this time is to approach the students who have yet to submit the assignment and see what’s going on. Some of these will have extensions, some won’t. Is there an option to show those students who have not submitted, but haven’t received extensions?

Doesn’t appear to be.

Concrete lounge: Can’t see how to list those students who have not yet submitted the assignment, but who haven’t been granted an extension.

The options appear to be scrolling through the list of almost 50 students and manually identifying those without extensions. But even when I do that, what can I do? Can I send those students an email message?

Doesn’t appear to be possible.

Concrete lounge: Unable to send group (or personalised) emails to students who have not yet submitted the assignment.

Wouldn’t be too hard to write a Greasemonkey script that extracts the email addresses of the students without extensions.

  • name in c2 (cell 2)
  • email address is in C4
  • an extension is indicated by a div with class extensiondate in c5

But that would require a bit of extra work. I do have some Perl scripts that I use for web scraping that could be more easily converted, but not as shareable. Script written and email sent.

Concrete lounge: Unable to use filters to identify students who have not submitted the assignment AND do not have an extension

Uploading results and marked files

Uploading the marked files seems fairly straight forward, as long as the same filenames are retained.

Question remains about how to upload the marks. The OASM system won’t be smart enough to extract the results from the uploaded files.

Oh dear, it appears that results need to be added manually for each student. That’s a bugger if you’re a casual marker employed to make 50 assignments. Beyond the time and workload implications, there’s the problem of human error, especially with a hugely repetitive manual process.

Correction, I need to enable the “offline grading worksheet” option. Yep, that adds “download grading worksheet” (and upload) to the options.

Framing some project ideas around support and services for learning and teaching

When time permits I’m working with a group (one of many) that is tasked with coming up with project ideas that could support my current institution’s strategic plan around learning and teaching. In particular we’ve been tasked to consider projects that will help build the institution’s capacity to

Continuously improve capacity to effectively and efficiently develop, manage, and deliver support and services.

The following is a re-working of a presentation of some of the groups initial ideas. The re-working is very much my own thinking, so while it’s based on the ideas of the group it isn’t necessarily representative.


Some of the assumptions that underpinned the group’s thinking include:

  1. The ultimate aim is to enhance student learning.
  2. Over recent years the institution has spent a lot of time and resources directly on enhancing the student learning experience.

    A trend that is not stopping, as a number of the other groups in this process appear to have a strong student focus.

  3. The perception of many teaching staff, however, is that the experience of teaching staff has been somewhat starved of attention and this is creating difficulties in teaching.
  4. While not the only factor in student learning, the impact of the teacher does retain some significance in a formal education setting.

Hence the focus of the group on how to enhance the support and services available to teaching staff.

Identified Projects

The initial set of projects discussed at the initial presentation were

  1. Situative teacher learning: support and services;
  2. University of the API;
  3. Authoritative data sources;
  4. Maker spaces; and,
  5. Governance.

What follows is a description of the first four of these.

Situative/Distributive teacher learning: support and services

There continues to be concern at this (and most other) institution about the quality of the online learning (e-learning, insert your own favourite phrase) in many courses. The “distributive teacher learning” project sees this problem as a problem of teacher learning and cognition. Teaching staff are facing difficulties in developing and accessing the knowledge and capabilities required to produce better online learning. To address this problem, it needs to start from a conception of learning and cognition.

The conception on which this project is based could be called either situative learning (Putnam & Borko, 2000) or (a recent slight extension) distributive learning (Jones, Heffernan, Albion, 2015). A view that sees learning and cognition as: situated, social, distributed, and protean. These four perspectives inform how a “Distributive teacher learning” system would operate.


Support and services to learn how to solve a problem or develop new insight is situated where the requirement arises. For example, if I have a problem in a Moodle discussion forum, then the support and services that will help me learn how to solve that problem are located right there. I don’t need to remember which non-searchable institution specific website contains support resources that might help me. I wouldn’t need to remember which of the three support units of the institution is best placed to help. I don’t need to wait until the next scheduled face-to-face session to ask for help. The help that is provided is also as specific to me as possible. If I’m in charge of a course, I would see a different set of support and services than if I were a casual marker.

Also, the support and services could/should appear where ever I am when I’m teaching. It shouldn’t be restricted to the LMS. It should include the institutional e-portfolio, the student records system and other institutional services used to support teaching and learning. In a perfect world there should be no apparent difference around where/how support and services are available. It’s there where I need it.

In a perfect world it would not be restricted to institutional systems. There are a broad array of external systems being used to support teaching and learning. Some of them (e.g. hosting of student email accounts with Google) are institutionally approved. Others aren’t so formally approved at the institutional level (e.g. the use of blogs on WordPress.com). When I’m teaching using these external tools, the support and services required for my teacher learning should be visible.


The support and services that are situated in the place are not limited to those provided by the central support institutions. The support and services encourage and enable communication, collaboration, and sharing of experience amongst all of the people using that particular tool or space.


A distributed view of learning and cognition sees knowledge as not limited to individuals, but is instead spread across people and technologies. Too many of our systems assume that the cognition must reside solely in the head of the teacher/user. For example, a gradebook that requires human beings to manually search for students with results that are within 0.5% of a grade boundary and upgrade the result of those students. The system doesn’t help by providing some level of knowledge of capability. A system based on a more distributed view of knowledge would be able to highlight those students with a result within 0.5% of a grade boundary. The system does some of the work.

Beyond this, the system would aim to help make connections between people and practices.


Digital technologies have always been amongst the most protean – flexible and adaptable – of mediums. Back in 1984, Alan Kay writes that the computer offers “degrees of freedom and expression never before encountered” (Kay, 1984, p. 59). Since then enterprise computing has shown all the flexibility, adaptability, and fitness for purpose as a concrete lounge. Support and services for teacher learning that are protean move away from the established practice of a focus on the design of a “perfect” system, and move toward a system that allows users to create and share work-arounds (Koopman & Hoffman, 2003). A flexible and adaptable system that grows and changes in encourage the development of knowledge and in response to that changing knowledge.

University of the API

An Application Programming Interface (API) is a method by which the data and services provided by a system can be used via other applications. This allows new and interesting services to be developed in an agile way. Increasingly the capability to use APIs is not limited to programmers. Services such as If This, Then That (ifttt) are putting the capability to leverage APIs within the hands of most people. For example, this announcement of a thermostat control company providing an API that integrates with ifttt.

Already there are a growing number of American universities providing APIs around a number of institutional services that can be used by appropriate people. This white paper on University APIs provides additional information.

The availability of appropriate APIs around institutional services would enhance the distributive teaching learning idea in two ways:

  1. make it significantly easier to implement the idea; and,
  2. significantly enhance the protean nature of the tool by supporting the development and sharing of new services by people other than central IT.

Authoritative data sources

APIs are designed (in part) to provide access to data. For example, there might be an API to generate a list of all students in a course who are late to submit their first assignment. Such an API can only be implemented and useful if there is an authoritative source of data for: the due date for an assignment, the list of students enrolled in a course, and which students have or haven’t submitted their first assignment.

Makerspaces and hackfests

The 2015 Horizon Report for Higher Education lists Makerspaces as a “technology to watch”. Makerspaces are defined in the Horizon Report as “are community-oriented workshops where tech enthusiasts meet regularly to share and explore electronic hardware, manufacturing tools, and programming techniques and tricks” (p. 40). The connection to teaching and learning is that institutions “are taking advantage of makerspaces to provide students and faculty a place that is integrated into the community to do their tinkering” (p. 40). Makerspaces are a “collaborative workspace where learners from every discipline can feel comfortable learning skills”.

The focus here is on how Makerspaces can be applied to the question of teacher learning. There are at least three different possibilities:

  1. Setting up physical makerspaces where teaching staff can feel comfortable learning through making is one option.
  2. Exploring the use of the distributive teacher learning space as a form of virtual maker space.
  3. The use of physical makerspaces or hackfests as methods for quickly developing new services for teaching and learning.


Kay, A. (1984). Computer Software. Scientific American, 251(3), 53–59.

Koopman, P., & Hoffman, R. (2003). Work-arounds, make-work and kludges. Intelligent Systems, IEEE, 18(6), 70–75. Retrieved from http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=1249172

Putnam, R. T., & Borko, H. (2000). What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say about research on teacher learning? Educational Researcher, 4-15.

Embedding prezi – some tests

A student of mine is reporting problems embedding a Prezi into a blog post. Here’s a quick test.

Straight from Prezi

Let’s go with the straight prezi embed code

It looks something like this

<a href="https://prezi.com/embed/8enn0a8y7qx3/?bgcolor=ffffff&#038;lock_to_path=0&#038;autoplay=0&#038;autohide_ctrls=0#">https://prezi.com/embed/8enn0a8y7qx3/?bgcolor=ffffff&#038;lock_to_path=0&#038;autoplay=0&#038;autohide_ctrls=0#</a>

And the embeded prezi should appear below


After a preview it’s obvious this doesn’t work.

The assumption being the that Prezi “embed code” isn’t liked/supported by WordPress.

The question being whether you can transform the Prezi “embed code” into something that is liked by WordPress.

Transform the Prezi “embed code”

A quick Google search embed prezi wordpress.com blog reveals this service that appears to transform the embed code.

Oh, but it looks like Prezi’s done something that might break this transformation on WordPress.com

Yep, that doesn’t appear to work.

And the same Google search above reveals this discussion which describes why.