Moodle Conference

Last week, by invitation of Jason Cole (author of Using Moodle), I attended the Moodle Moot in South San Francisco. The highlight was Martin Dougiamas’ keynote on Tuesday morning. He led the audience (around 225, I think) back to the origins of Moodle in 2001 (Moodle is a few years older than Sakai) and his original interest in creating “Open Source and social constructionist epistemologies.” Needless to say, Moodle has spread very widely since it’s birth.

Still, Martin mentioned that they, despite all the obvious success, they haven’t fully achieved his goal, most specifically around providing enough support for constructivist pedagogical models. I found this comment very similar to my feelings about Sakai–very successful, to be sure, but still more work to be done to achieve the original vision. He talked about a progression from using technology to support the administrative functions of teaching (syllabus, handouts, resources) to the more innovative uses and cited statistics to show that most Moodle sites (and I’m sure most Sakai/Blackboard/D2L/Angel sites) are at the beginning of the progression. For example, 60%+ of Moodle sites have more resources than discussion posts.

Martin even showed us the first course he build in Moodle. I noticed, and I think he mentioned, that Moodle 2001 looked and felt very similar to the current release. There are certainly more features and a slightly different look and feel but, overall, I thought that a user who had used Moodle in 2001 could have left on a 7 year vacation and found his or her way around today’s version. I still haven’t decided if that’s a good or bad thing 🙂 I guess, of course, it is both.

He talked a bit about development plans. I won’t go into detail here (not sure I can capture it accurately and there are better places to find this info, I’m sure), but I was struck by a similarity between the product issues he was discussing and recent conversations in the Sakai community. Mainly, Martin talked about how the 1.9 release was focused on “consolidation.”  He meant a focus on bug fixes, stability and attention to user interface details. Moodle 1.9 was, according to Martin, a way to buy time for a 2.0 release that would introduce more new functionality. I’ve talked about “consolidating our gains” as a goal for Sakai coming out of 2.4 and when I look at 2.5 — chock full of bug fixes and small improvements — I’m struck by the similarity with what was communicated about Moodle 1.9.

A couple of other items I found interesting:

  • Focus. Moodle is staying focused in teaching and learning. It won’t be a portfolio system (“ever”) but will focus on pushing content to portfolios.
  • Martin mentioned a desire to course structures and content to “community hubs” for reuse. This would be a great thing for higher education, especially if standards like Common Cartridge and Learning Design were supported.
  • Only 35% of Moodle sites are in Higher Education. 26% are secondary schools and 12% in commercial enterprises. (There’s obviously more categories, but these were the biggest not labeled as “other.”)

Martin and I met briefly to get acquainted–it was the first time we’d met in person. We talked a bit about the industry in general and about possible avenues for cooperation between Moodle and Sakai. We both agreed that there were plenty of possible avenues for this, but we’d both rather accomplish something first and talk about it later. So nothing concrete to report on this front.

In any case, I was pleased to be invited and enjoyed my brief time at the event. I hope to see some Moodle folks at our conferences and would encourage the Sakai community to reach out to the Moodle community. As open source projects in higher education I think there is a lot we can learn from each other and, by doing so, make things better for our constituents. I know, I know… banal sentiments…but I believe them to be true.

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