Why Moodle should be the next great OER Tool

In the State University of New York, a large spotlight has been shone on the potential of Open Educational Resources (OER). Open resources can be a variety of things, from a textbook, to lecture materials, to an adaptive learning system that your students can use.

SUNY is a loose federation of 64 community colleges, four-year comprehensives, and university centers. Some schools have their own board of trustees, union contracts, and systems while some schools are run by the state. Each school has a unique culture, operating norms, and makes technology and pedagogical decisions independently.

So it may seem odd to present Moodle as an OER tool when only a handful of schools within the SUNY system use Moodle. Currently, most OER is shared between SUNY schools using a WordPress based solution where each institution connects to the central hub through LTI. By building upon a widely used and stable open-source tool for website creation, the open community has customized certain features to meet their needs. Building upon WordPress’ framework has allowed the developers at Lumen Learning and Pressbooks to just worry about what is important to them:

  • A front-facing website to display content
  • The ability to export the content into multiple formats (PDF, EPUB, MOBI, HTML)
  • The ability to integrate into any Learning Management System through LTI (Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle)
  • The functionality to move entire textbooks from server to server without needing administrative access.
  • The ability to mark content with the creative commons licenses and share that content.
  • To meet the high accessibility standards.

WordPress based solutions have been excellent for the Open Community. Instead of having content locked behind login screens, the public nature of a website tool has allowed the material to be presented prominently and shared easily. But there are things WordPress can’t do well:

  • Embed microlearning into content. (note: The open community is enthusiastic about H5P, but H5P has limitations. We need reusable, taggable, secure solutions that can be reused. Assessments should easily span from formative and ungraded assessments all the way to summative assessments. Each should have item analysis and grades communicated to both students and instructor.)
  • Track evidence of learning between pages and modules.
  • Create question sets that can be easily reused within the same project or shared with other learning tools.
  • Collect analytics on performance that can be displayed to the student, to the instructor, and be harvested for continuous improvement.

Instead of trying to build those systems into WordPress based environments, the Open Community would be better served to modify an existing and maintained Open Source project than try to come up with completely new features. Moodle already has:

  • An existing quiz system with item analysis and reporting.
  • Moodle can serve as both an LTI provider and LTI consumer. One Moodle server can share content between multiple campuses that each have their own LMS through LTI.
  • Moodle has both descriptive and predictive analytics.
  • Moodle can import and export information in standard formats that can be understood by other LMS.
  • A large community of users, professional developers at Moodle HQ, and sustainable revenue streams through the Moodle Partners.

What new features would Moodle need to catch up to WordPress based OER tools?

  • An improved interface to export LTI links– Currently LTI links must be created one at a time. Premier LTI providers give instructors the ability to create an LTI for every single assignment at once, and package all of those LTI links in one Common Cartridge zip file that can be loaded into any LMS.
  • A theme that would deactivate navigation elements if shown within an iframe– If Moodle content was shown within another LMS, the header and footer should be hidden so that the student would use their LMS’ controls to navigate through the open text and content.
  • An import plugin that would allow Moodle to import from commonly-used OER platforms– When Pressbooks are copied from server to server, all of the H5P interactives are copied and migrated. Moodle can already do H5P better than WordPress because we can use the grade book and logs. There is already a plugin that can convert H5P Question Banks into Moodle Question Banks so that the questions can be reused.

Just doing those few tweaks would bring Moodle on par to the WordPress based tools that are common in OER.

What new features would Moodle need to be the best openly licensed OER tool?

  • Tagging of questions and questions sets with learning objectives or competencies– Many OER developers have prescribed to the idea of tagging all content- pages, formative assessments, summative assessments with learning objectives. This helps run analytics to guide continual improvement of shared resources.
  • Better Question Bank management so that shared question banks can be used, reused, copied and added to. See this conversation started by Tim Hunt on Moodle.org.
  • Dashboards using Moodle’s descriptive and predictive analytics connected to interaction- Moodle already has customizable analytics built into the system. With the proposed Teacher Dashboard to be integrated in Moodle 4.0, Moodle should look at some of the dashboards used by Lumen Learning or Carnegie Mellon with their OER content. Lumen Learning does an excellent job of connecting analytics to actions with both completely automated emails and suggested emails.

The Waymaker system prefills messages with some content and some specifics. In the example above, a student just did poorly on an Ancient Greece Quiz. When the instructor hits the call to action button, they have the option of modifying the existing language or sending it as is. The instructor can also make new templates for communication that are local and reusable just for them.

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