In Part 5 I looked at Moodle as an example of a CMS. Some of the issues of pedagogy for an online course are covered in Doherty, C. (2005). Understanding trouble in paradise: Intuitive natives and
screaming aliens. A paper presented to the OLT 2005 Conference, QUT, Brisbane, 71-80.
Heres is more detail on Moodle as an application. I mentioned that Moodle should be usable on small screen and smart phones without many changes . I was able to get it work okay on Opera web browser in small screen mode (this emulates a PDA type device), but on with the Openwave SDK Mobile hone emulator. The web pages displayed on the mobile phone, but each column of text was squashed to fit on the small screen and so was unreadable.
The Moodle team need to install an alternate CSS style sheet for mobile devices, to tell the web browser to use just one column (this is what the Opera browser does for its small screen mode).
Leaving that to one side, a good way to see if the advocates believe what they are saying is to see if they use their own tools. So I tried the Moodle Features Demo Course. The is a Moodle course to show off the features of Moodle.
The course first presents you with a typical three column screen. The screen is a bit too busy for my tastes, but that may be because the designer is trying to show off all the features of Moodle in one place, or perhaps because this the page the student will keep coming back to. I found a box offering to enroll me, so I clicked on it and was then presented with a "Topic outline", equivalent to about one A4 page of text (which is not too big).
What I found disappointing was that the course gets immediately into the details of Site, User and Course management. The stuff about the philosophy has been left behind and there doesn't;seem to be anything about how or why to prepare a course.
Interestingly there were 975 people enrolled in the course, 14 of whom had used it in the last 24 hours and four of who were in Canberra (including me). I noticed that participants had Blog entries to introduce themselves, so I created one. The Blog function uses a web based editor, much the same as ones used for other Blogs. This worked fine, even on my slow (64 kbps) wireless link.
While providing a Blog and user profile is useful in getting the students to get to know each other, there is also a danger they will say too much. Participants in courses need to keep in mind that they cannot entirely trust their fellow students and should not reveal too much.
The demo course has a "news" forum. This had nothing in it, but would be typically used for course announcements. There are also "Learning forums" for group discussions . The forums can have RSS feeds, making it easier for the students to keep up with developments. In the past I have found such on-line forums a bit overwhelming. Moodle has options such as allowing each student only one discussion topic, to stem the flood.