Faculty and students continue to experience problems with Moodle
Since Moodle is a new learning management system for many students and faculty, it may be oodles of frustration for some, but everyone will have to adapt.
Dr. Allen Gathman, associate dean for online learning, said there have been two problems this semester involving Moodle. The Information Technology Committee encountered issues with the enrollment integration between Banner and Moodle, which led to other problems, and Moodle experienced some downtime on Sept. 3 and 4.
"A lot of the problems with Moodle is figuring out how exactly to use it," Gathman said. "Instructors have specific ways on how they want to use Moodle, and our staff are constantly trying to find the best way to do that with Moodle."
Gathman said Moodle is an open-source platform, meaning it is not owned by anyone. Different companies can provide Moodle services. Whenever Southeast Missouri State University hires a new service, it is required by law to go through a formal process.
Southeast put out a request for proposals, which is publicly advertised and sent directly to likely service providers. The RFP provides a list of specific features Southeast is looking for in a vendor -- in the case of the Learning Management System, it specified what features Southeast wanted in detail -- things like forums, dropbox, grades, ability to integrate with Banner, etc. Southeast had 10 proposals and narrowed it down to the top five candidates.
"We had all five candidates come to the university, two of those were Moodle," Gathman said. "We had Moodlerooms here and Remote-Learner, which is also a Moodle provider. Eventually, we wound up going with Moodle Remote-Learner. So, our site learning.semo.edu went live in May."
Gathman said the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning offered training workshops for faculty so they could have a better understanding of how to use Moodle for the summer semester in April. CSTL had short workshops in May as part of the CSTL Summer Institute, followed by a week-long training in June for faculty who were going to use Moodle in the fall. There were 70 faculty who volunteered to attend the training in June to run about 200 sections of courses that are running in Moodle this fall.
"What happened was, although we trained 70 faculty to do fall Moodle courses, about 170 are actually now using Moodle this fall," Gathman said. "We have about 500 sections that are using Moodle to some degree. We're very pleased with the faculty's willingness to try out the new software and sort of jump in."
Dr. Karie Hollerbach, professor in the Department of Mass Media, is one of the faculty members who attended the five-day workshop on Moodle that was held for faculty in June.
"I had already made the decision to migrate to Moodle for the fall 2012 semester and wanted to get up to speed on all of the key aspects of the [Learning Management System] at one time, rather than try to fit in multiple workshops on it once the fall semester had already begun," Hollerbach said.
Hollerbach said she decided to attend the training for Moodle in June because the training she received when Southeast's Online Instructor Suite was launched in 2002 was outstanding. However, the Moodle training was not what she expected.
"I left the training disappointed with many of my expectations unmet," Hollerbach said. "But, I resolved to make Moodle work for me for the fall semester and, so far, it has."
According to Gathman, Banner is the student information system at Southeast, and is the system that recognizes students when they log into the Southeast portal. It also handles everything from grades and enrollment to finances. Banner was integrated with Moodle so that all courses that are in Banner for the fall have a shell Moodle site, Gathman said. One of the issues that CSTL had was getting the enrollment integration between Banner and Moodle to synchronize.
"The changes in enrollment during the first week of classes were not being sent out to Moodle so that students could drop and add classes," Gathman said. "So, faculty had to manually enroll students who added or dropped classes in that time period."
Gathman said the issue has been resolved and now Banner is sending out updates within minutes to Moodle when a student adds or drops a class.
Moodle also unexpectedly shut down for a few hours on Sept. 3 and 4.
"Something went wrong at Remote-Learner," Gathman said. "We then put in a service ticket and I was on the phone to a vice president there, and they responded by changing the way our instance of Moodle is installed."
According to Hollerbach, the only technical difficulties she has experienced have been the slow access times to Moodle as well as some slow upload times for course materials and files.
"This is to be expected considering that Moodle is hosted remotely, but that does not make it any less aggravating," Hollerbach said. "I have just learned to plan my time accordingly for class preparations."
Hollerbach said her students are still getting used to the look of Moodle and how to navigate it.
"Several of them did not have their homework completed for my classes a few weeks ago when Moodle was down and would not allow them to access course website," Hollerbach said.
Katherine Fahland, a junior at Southeast, is using Moodle for one of her classes. She said Moodle has behaved unpredictably, such as dates changing on assignments.
"I noticed that the dates in drop box would change, and I couldn't turn in my homework," Fahland said. "Other students in my class had the same problem. We all told the professor in class, and he opened it up again so we could turn in our assignment."
Gathman said he was not aware of any issues involving Moodle behaving unpredictably, such as drop box closing unexpectedly.
"Those are glitches that I have not heard of," Gathman said. "I encourage faculty to call or email us because we need to know if there are issues like that."
Gathman said since Sept. 5 Moodle has been responding faster, and at the moment, appears to be much improved. He hopes that the faculty and students at Southeast will bear with CSTL while they try to figure out all of the glitches, especially with the integration between Banner and Moodle.
"One thing I would say, certainly to faculty, is that this is a pilot semester," Gathman said. "You have to expect that there are going to be some issues we work through. On the students' side, I hope they will bear with us. I know students didn't volunteer to be guinea pigs."
According to Gathman, Moodle is a stable and well-tested platform. The issue that needs to be worked out is not in Moodle itself, but in the Banner integration with Moodle.
"The way that Banner communicates with Moodle is what we are working through," Gathman said. "At the moment, we don't have it set up to send grades from Moodle to Banner and by next semester we want to have that set up as well. That's another integration problem that has to be worked, though."
Hollerbach said that she thinks Moodle does offer some advantages to faculty from a curricular design aspect, and faculty will have to dedicate extra time to figure out exactly how to use Moodle.
"Faculty will have to invest what I call extended 'chair-to-keyboard interface time' in order to fully understand and execute the many types of things that Moodle can do for a course," Hollerbach said.
Instructional videos on different aspects of Moodle for Southeast students and faculty members can be found at online.semo.edu/lms.