Friday, November 23, 2012

Future of Moodle from Moodle Founder

Martin Dougiamas at the Parthenon
Greetings from the Inspire Centre at University of Canberra where Martin Dougiamas, Moodle Founder is speaking at the MoodlePosium 2012. Martin started by attributing Moodle's success to it being free, flexible, personal and open. He suggested that 20% of the features were used by 80% of the people and we don't know about the learning outcomes from Moodle.
Martin suggested that Moodle was an attempt to re-engineering education, with 26 people at Moodle HQ. They look at the Moodle forums, bug tracker, commercial partners, conferences and social media. The first Moodle Research Conference was in Heraklion, Crete, Greece in 2012. The idea is to address education issues and what e-learning can do.

Moodel is made up of a core, Mods, and plugins. There are then interfaces to other software, preferably using standards. Moodle 2.4 will concentrate on performance, with a Moodle Universal Cache (MUC). There will be Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) for icons (in theory this is a good idea, but I suggest in practice it will cause problems). Course formats will be redesigned to allow developers to modify the course look (by default they will look the same as before). Plugins will be upgradable via a web interface. Netspot has contributed new assignment features, such as groups and blind marking. The calandar can import iCal. Enrolment can synchronise cohorts to groups, so you can easily manage groups of students. The editor will have configurable buttons and plugins.

Martin suggested that timely feedback is essential to education.He suggests the feedback loop can be tighter by using better analytics and reporting. He emphasises this was not about automating the teacher, but giving them better tools to identify where students need help.

Martin described work for Moodle 2.5 and 2.6 with "Outcomes", which can be used for skills assessment, as is done in vocational education.  With this approach, the student needs to demonstrate they can meet each individual requirement, not just get an aggregate mark which passes the course. However, This "reductionist" approach is not as well regarded in higher education.

Moodle HQ is having another attempt at a Mobile App for Moodle. The previous attempt was an iPhone app which was then adapted for Android. The new approach uses HTML5 and JavaScript. This is a better approach, but I still doubt the value of having a separate Moodle application for mobile devices. It would be better to just have one interface which adapts for mobile devices. However, if the Mobile App works well it could be sued in place of the standard Moodle interface. It may also be a good way for educational institutions to provide a mobile web interface, rather than products such as Blackboard Mobile.

An area where I suggest Moodle needs to be improved is support for real time ("synchronous" in educational terms) and near real time learning. This would address Martin's wish for timely feedback. At present Moodle works in a store and forward mode (asynchronous). Where synchronous learning is required a separate software product is used, As a result the features of Moodle are not available for the synchronous session and many of the same Moodle features have to be duplicated in the other software. Making Moodle real time would be difficult, so I suggest making it near real time.

ps: The mix of features creates a technical issue for massively online open courses (MOOCs). The overhead of the LMS can cause problems with large numbers of users.I suggest this could be improved with some computer science techniques such as compiler optimisation and run time optimisation. With this the course materials would be automatically examined to see what features of the LMS software were actually going to be used and then those features not used would be left out. This would make the software run better.

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