Online learning and the move to Moodle at City College Manchester.

(Unit 117 - Education Issues, 7407 stage 2)

The use of technology pervades our lives. In teaching, the uptake has been sporadic, with some teachers becoming evangelical promoters of technology in learning, while others turn their backs on the tools and dismiss them as gimmicks interfering with the fundamental human interaction at the heart of learning. But what is the picture at our institution, City College Manchester?
This reports looks at the case for elearning and the strategies and challenges for CCM.
1] Why the need to develop elearning?
2] Why do we need a VLE?
3] Why choose Moodle?
4] What are the best features of Moodle?
5] What are the challenges in bringing about change?
6] What does the future hold?
7] How can teachers be encouraged to embrace elearning?

1] Why the need to develop elearning?

Personalisation is a buzz word currently in education - tailoring learning to the individual's needs. But it is not just a soundbite, as it reflects a utopian approach to learning that puts the learner at the centre of the process with all the attention he needs, going at a pace he dictates. This is not a new concept. Our stereo-typical image of Plato teaching shows a teacher and student unfettered by time and space (or targets and statistics) - a healthy learning environment! external image platoaristotle.jpg
As education became more of a mass-population experience, so it tended to lose this personalisation and become a production line of rote learning. To return to 1-to-1 teaching in our time is difficult. Society has changed and cannot afford that luxury, so we need to replicate it's fine, pedagogical philosophy in another way - and this is where technology can make a difference - not technology for it's own sake, but tools that get to the heart of effective learning, tailored to the individual.
The possibilities are vast; writing online to publish and collaborate, creating multimedia to express and communicate, forging learning communities worldwide, extending the social experience of learning beyond classrooms and timetables, and so the list of benefits goes on.

But this report is looking more specifically at the Moodle environment at CCM. Here's feedback from my learners about the key benefits, after a year of using Moodle.

Find more videos like this on Classroom 2.0

ash1.jpgAsh - paper-light, better
organisation of work,
efficient, secure,

blayne1.jpgBlayne - your work is
organised online, a
continual portfolio.

craig1.jpgCraig - good communication,
peer review, storing work.

dario1.jpgDario - everything in
one place, efficient,
peer review, easy
to use.

fab1.jpgFabien - good organisation of
work, 24/7 access, peer
review, reflection,

mike1.jpgMike - helps organise
work, stealth learning
of IT and web tools.

paul1.jpgPaul - reflection on creative

rhi1.jpgRhi - organisation, peer
review, voice for every
learner, confidence building,
develop analysis skills

stew1.jpgStew - reflect on performance

tamara1.jpgTamara - portfolio building,
bite-sized chunks.

Respected edublogger Will Richardson started a discussion at NECC 2007 - "don't hand it in, publish it!' [] which has resounded with the community of education bloggers. Will Richardson writes at that "my kids just are not being served by the constant passing of paper back and forth", implying that when we ask students to write, they should publish in the media rich world of the internet - the tools exist to let this happen and the myspace and YouTube explosion demonstrate that this generation is motivated by media production as a means of expression, with all the elements of text, images, video, sound, music and story-telling that involves.

Web technologies allow learners to make connections beyond the confines of their class and teacher, to communicate and collaborate around the globe. The JISC report on the impact of Web 2.0 on learning [] states "the crowd, and its power, will become more important as the Web facilitates new communities and groups."

Steve Butler (head of elearning at CCM) responds to the question - 'elearning; what's all the fuss about?'

MOVIE - missing
[I do not have permission to publish this movie on the net - please see '' on the CD]

Steve Butler's key comments: we are experiencing a revolution comparable with the industrial revolution and must respond to it. Learners have a right and expectation to use technology in their learning.

Our students (particularly under 25s) are 'digital natives' - they live there lives with an online identity every bit as active as their physical identity, and teaching and learning should capitalize on this not only to give students an environment with which they are comfortable, but to take advantage of the efficient and inspiring tools on offer.

2] Why do we need a VLE?

Steve Butler responds to this question.

MOVIE - missing
[I do not have permission to publish this movie on the net - please see '' on the CD]

Steve Butler's key comments: wide range of activities, staff and students can manage and control learning.

A large institution like CCM needs to manage its systems and provide infrastructure for staff. Although all the tools within a VLE exist all over the web, a structured VLE allows the institution to support teaching and learning throughout the college.

3] Why choose Moodle?

The first VLE the college chose was Blackboard, undoubtedly an appropriate choice at the time. But as web technologies developed, Blackboard did not evolve to meet the needs of teaching and learning, furthermore it was costing £20,000 per year and regularly had operational problems that the Blackboard company seemed unable or unwilling to resolve. The wider question is about the choice between proprietary software and open source. Blackboard is proprietary; Moodle is open source. Can proprietary software keep up with developments in web 2.0 technologies that are driven by individuals and small start-up businesses. Much of the innovative work done in web technology is not by the major IT companies, so change is driven by users. Look at the numerous examples of some kid in a garage starting a website with a unique function, that 3 years down the line turns into a major acquisition by a multi-national; YouTube and Myspace went this way.

In Niall Sclater's podcast mp3 about why the OU uses Moodle.
]] he discusses a host of reasons why the OU has chosen Moodle as its VLE platform, much of it boiling down to the open source philosophy.
Steve Butler responds to the question - why choose Moodle?

MOVIE - missing
[I do not have permission to publish this movie on the net - please see '' on the CD]

Steve Butler's key comments: cost implication, Blackboard was not fit for purpose, Moodle provides an amalgamation of useful tools, such as the ones learners are accustomed to (social networks, writing online, collaborating, multimedia integration) open source development - driven and developed by the community of users.

4] What are the best features of Moodle?

Steve Butler responds to this question.

MOVIE - missing
[I do not have permission to publish this movie on the net - please see '' on the CD]

Steve Butler's key comments: Moodle functionality offers a 2 way process, interaction and collaboration. It's not about delivery but interaction - getting the learner to create content. (in next video Steve also highlights personalising learning and providing a voice for every learner.)
In the learner's feedback (section 1) students highlight some of the features from which they have benefitted. They also offer some suggestions about what improvements they would like to see.

Find more videos like this on Classroom 2.0

ash1.jpgAsh - more feedback
from all tutors.

dario1.jpgDario - more feedback
from tutors. Social
network features, own
profile for cross-course

craig1.jpgCraig - own profile page,
with media uploads.

rhi1.jpgRhi - own profile page
with media uploads.

fab1.jpgFabien -

mike1.jpgMike - time-out

stew1.jpgStew - regularly clean
out old postings.

The students' comments offer a real insight, based on regular, practical experience of the VLE. What they don't mention is an interesting as what they do mention! Hand-outs and assignment briefs for download and print - no comments; online practice and revision exercises for music language - no comment; links to other resources - no comment. All their positive experiences refer to what they have done themselves - predominantly in organising their learning by writing online and reviewing the recordings of their creative work. And for improvements - they mention more feedback from all tutors (this is informal, interim feedback) and more personalisation of the space with profile pages - just like the social networks they are accustomed to using.

5 What are the challenges in bringing about change?

We need to look holistically at the change - not just bolt on elearning like some sort of optional extra. The JISC report What is Web 2.0? [] concludes
'Assessment and grading in a Web 2.0 world, in which collaboration, knowledge sharing and more constructivist approaches are more common, will need further review. Is, for example, a data mash-up created by a student in some ways equivalent to an essay? Web 2.0 will pose new challenges to the issue of plagiarism and these need to be explored. '
Every aspect of course delivery needs to be reviewed if we are to make best advantage of the new tools - how we deliver and instigate learning, how we gather evidence, what constitutes and essay, what activities can be best used to assess learning, as pushing pieces of paper backwards and forwards start to look like a very unimaginative process in comparison with elearning tools.
But before change can take place, teachers need to be convinced the change is worthwhile. Edubloggers suggest that it is not enough for teachers to recommend these tools, they have to be using them in their own learning and development in order to experience their value. Only then will they be in a position to re-evaluate their own teaching programmes in a meaningful way.

Steve Butler responds to this question.

MOVIE - missing
[I do not have permission to publish this movie on the net - please see '' on the CD]

Steve Butler's key comments: we are a large institution across several sites, staff development - we need a new model for this. pedagogical skills to integrate the social constructivist theory into t&l, equipment and resources, 1/4 million pounds investment in a variety of tools,

6] What does the future hold?

The Horizons report on developments in educational technology
[] predicts that 'user-generated content and social networking' will be substantially adopted in the short-term. Mid-term (3 years) prediction is to see mobile phones, virtual worlds (like 2nd Life) becoming tools in learning and the 5-year prediction is to see 'new forms of scholarship and publication and massively multiplayer education games'.

FutureLab's Social Software and learning report [] concludes that 'social software allows users to communicate, collaborate and publish in a number of ways, in a variety of media, and it also helps learners act together to build knowledge bases that fit their specific needs'.

Steve Butler responds to this question.

MOVIE - missing
[I do not have permission to publish this movie on the net - please see '' on the CD]

Steve Butler's key comments: staff to see the benefits, find appropriate uses that will enhance teaching and learning. support the fun of learning, achieve improved retention and achievement.

7] How can teachers be encouraged to embrace elearning?

Becta's 'ICT and e-learning in FE survey 2006' repots that 'the combination of adequate staff skills with enthusiasm for e-learning is seen as a key element in embedding ICT and e-learning in any area of the curriculum'.

Will Richardson writes []
' 1. "We don't have the technology." Talk about and model the uses of these technologies in your own practice as much as you can. Start a conversation about the ways in which you can bring free and open hardware and software to your schools.
2. "My supervisor (principal, superintendent, etc.) won't let me do this." Be a beacon for these changes in your own practice, ask for small opportunities to implement.
3. "My parents don't want their kids 'out there.'" Teach them why it's important for their students to be using these tools, that they are using them already, that they are not going away, and that they need to understand how to use them safely, effectively and ethically.
4. "I have to make sure my kids do well on the test." Make the case that this is not either/or, that the ends can be met through these means and at the same time, the "standards" can be met.
5. "I don't have the time." At the end of the day, as an educator, you don't have much choice. You need to make the time, You need to understand these changes for yourselves.
6. "I'm scared." You should be. On some level we all are.'

Steve Butler responds to this question.

MOVIE - missing
[I do not have permission to publish this movie on the net - please see '' on the CD]

Steve Butler's key comments: there needs to be a change in working practices / SOWs, demonstrating elearning can streamline teaching, not add to workload,

In my experience of introducing colleagues to the benefits of elearning i have met some opposition but most agree that web technologies offer awesome tools for teaching and learning, yet the uptake is slow.
There are 2 secific reasons I encounter for this;
Techno-fear is the first. Yet the technology is not complex. It is a myth that you need to be a geek to get it to work, though you certainly need to invest time in learning the tools.
Time is the second. The paradigm shift that is needed to embrace the tools require a teacher to look again at what learning is in the context of the connected world, where we can all write as well as read the web. This can be overcome in 3 ways - funding for all teaching staff who sign up to change, contractual obligation or funding for support workers to bring about change in collaboration with teachers.
In general, full time teachers don't have spare time, even if the hours are funded, contractual obligation will not be popular, so support workers to collaborate in the classroom and in preparation with teachers would seem to be the most likely to succeed. See Moodle 07/08 planning page.

JISC report into Web 2.0 technology

Horizons report on developments in educational technology

Best practice models for elearning at University of Stafford

Becta's report on ICT and elearning in FE

FutureLab - Social Software and learning

Moodle Stories - practical stories from users

Ferl - why have a VLE?

Niall Sclater podcast mp3 about OU using Moodle.

Moodle Moot 06 - vast collection of research in use of Moodle

Future of education online conference

Futurelab's Future of learning - 2020

Interview's with CCM head of elearning - Steve Butler

Classroom 2.0 community

Will Richardson

Assumption University Australia