Open education with Moodle and Wikiversity

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Open education with
Moodle and Wikiversity

Moodleposium, #mpos10
16:20, Thu 7th October, 2010
Australian National University
20-25 minute presentation with ~ 10 minute discussion
Stream: Tools of Teaching and Learning

James Neill
University of Canberra

Speaker profile: James Neill is an Asst Prof @ UC who is passionate about open education. James is a Moodle Mentor at UC and a custodian and bureaucrat on English Wikiversity. James teaches survey research methods and motivation and emotion. His research interests include educational psychology, experiential learning, program evaluation, and educational technology. Follow jtneill on twitter.
Completion status: this resource is considered to be complete.

Overview[edit | edit source]

This presentation discusses how Moodle, an open source learning management system, can be used in conjunction with Wikiversity as a platform for open education. Five principles of open academia are described, with consideration of Moodle's challenges, opportunities, pros and cons. Demonstration of hybrid Moodle-Wikiversity sites.

Open academia[edit | edit source]

Five pillars[edit | edit source]

Stick your neck out - try going open!

I've previously described open academia as scholarly work conducted in the spirit of free culture, emphasising openness and freedom of information, knowledge, and education. I've also suggested five key aspects of open academic practice[1][2] which are similar to those used, for example, by Open University Report Cards.

Processes Description
Open access Materials are open and accessible to the public with no to minimal barrier.
Open formats Materials are available as digital files which use open standards.
Open licensing Materials are freely re-usable, e.g., use Creative Commons licensing
Free software Materials are developed using software with freely available code. What is free sofware?
Open management /

Open governance

Scholarly activities are governed openly and transparently.

These open academic principles provide a practical framework with which to approach providing open education through Moodle, an open source learning management system (LMS).

Moodle for open education: Pros and cons[edit | edit source]

Moodle can better provide for open education than most LMSs in large part because it is free and open source software. However, there are several important design limitations, local implementation limitations and a somewhat conservative academic culture with regard to pursuing open education.

So, let's consider some pros and cons about using Moodle for open education. Note that the cons offer opportunities for innovation and change.

Open Academia Principle



Open access

  1. Moodle sites can be made open access. (To open a Moodle site to public access: Admin > Settings > Availability > Allow guest access without the key)[1].
  1. Institutions usually make sites closed by default e.g., UC, ANU
  2. It is difficult to search, find and browse open access sites. UC, ANU
  3. Moodle only allows for a whole site to be open or closed. Option: OpenShare module
  4. Guests only have read-only access
  5. UC Moodle doesn't allow search bots, so content isn't listed in SERPs.
  6. UC Moodle doesn't easily allow non-institutional Moodle account creation.

Open formats

  1. Moodle allows use of open file formats
  1. Most teachers use closed formats (e.g., .doc., .ppt etc.)
  2. Scalable Vector Graphic (svg) images are not rendered

Open licensing

  1. Content within Moodle can be openly licensed.
  1. There is no in-built licensing method within Moodle - licensing needs to be done manually e.g., through an html sidebox.[2]

Free software

  1. Moodle is free and open source software[3]
  1. Teachers and students have limited control over layout and permissions

Open management

  1. Discussion forms and the feedback tool can be used to provide open management
  2. forums are helpful but they are not open!
  3. Moodle documentation wiki is openly editable
  4. Moodle tracker
  1. Moodle software administrative management is hierarchical and tends to limit the extent of customisation of Moodle sites by lecturer/teacher or site. Therefore, good local relationships are needed between Moodle administrators and users e.g., see Moodle Matters at UC.

Open education with Moodle - Recommendations[edit | edit source]

Open education with Moodle can be approached on at least three inter-related fronts - Moodle's core design, local implementation, policies and practices, and Teachers' values, pedagogy, and know-how.

In order to foster and facilitate the use of Moodle for open education, the following are recommendations are made.

Moodle[edit | edit source]

  1. Allow access permissions for each part of a Moodle site (e.g., to be designated as open or closed) - i.e., bring the OpenShare module functionality into core code.
  2. Improve search bot functionality and usability - Moodle site content currently does very poorly in SERPs if it appears at all.
  3. Provide more usable ways to find and browse open Moodle content - /course is very primitive.

Educational institutions[edit | edit source]

  1. Support and facilitate willing teaching staff to provide open Moodle sites (public access with open licensing).
  2. Allow search bots into those Moodle sites so that content can be crawled and listed in Search Engine Reports.
  3. Feature open Moodle content e.g., in Marketing
  4. Review and revise local intellectual property policy to allow open licensing of teaching materials e.g., UC Proposed IP policy

Teachers[edit | edit source]

Teachers, why not make your teaching materials accessible to the world?
  1. Apply open licensing and open access to teaching materials unless otherwise restricted
  2. Explain open education principles to students e.g., warn them about privacy implications (e.g., anything they post that has their name attached could be reused at some point by someone else - this is always a possibility regardless of whether sites are open or closed).
  3. Place as much content as possible into openly accessible and readily searchable sites, such as Wikiversity, then link to this content or embed the content in Moodle. Moodle is used as a class management tool and to point to relevant content on the open web.
  4. Use Moodle for its core functionality - horses for courses - basically, integration with institution student record system for managing marks and grades. However, for non-unique functionality use other purpose-built platforms (e.g., Wikiversity, Youtube, Blogger etc.) to develop, host and disseminate content.

Open education models with Moodle[edit | edit source]

Work within Moodle to make content as open as possible[edit | edit source]

This is a default option, but one which is limited by Moodle design and implementation issues as discussed.

Use the open web and point to this from Moodle[edit | edit source]

Develop and host generic educational content on an open education wiki (such as Wikiversity). Moodle is used for pointing out to open content and for unit-specific, time-specific, student-specific confidential content (such as marks and grades).

Set and forget Moodle with RSS[edit | edit source]

Basically, set up Moodle with incoming RSS feeds, then forget it and continue working in the open web. Example: [4] by Leigh Blackall (not an active teaching unit, but with a few added things like more prescribed assignments and activities, it could be a teaching model).

Wikiversity and Moodle[edit | edit source]

What is Wikiversity for?[edit | edit source]

Separate learning content from administrative content. Put learning content (e.g., lectures tutorials, readings) in an open space and put administrative content with privacy concerns (e.g., marks and grades) in a local class management system.
  1. Wikiversity is an openly-editable educational wiki hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation. It is a sister project of Wikipedia. Wikiversity hosts learning materials which are free to use, modify and adapt. Wikiversity can be edited by staff, students and the public - everyone is on a level playing field :).
  2. Openly editable sites are ideal for educational materials such as lecture and tutorial notes. Sharing educational materials openly maximises opportunity for ongoing collaborative development, feedback and review and minimises the need for exporting/importing content from one learning management system (LMS) class site to another and then to another institution, etc.
  3. Horses for courses - Learning management systems are class management systems, i.e., Time-specific and course-specific information, such as a semester timetable, student grades and marks etc., can be stored in a local LMS, such as a semester-specific Moodle site. Generic content can be hosted and developed in an open knowledge-base.

Flow between Wikiversity and Moodle[edit | edit source]

  1. Autolinks to external content can be set up within Moodle.[5] Then when the link name is used in text, an auto-hyperlink is created. Judiciously used, auto-linking can facilitate movement between Moodle and Wikiversity.
  2. Html side-box: Add one with a "Back to Wikiversity" hyperlink in the top-right of a Moodle site. Similarly, a template can be used on Wikiversity pages to link back to a relevant Moodle site (e.g., [6])

Demonstration sites[edit | edit source]

These teaching sites demonstrate combined use of Moodle and Wikiversity:

Survey research and design in psychology Moodle Wikiversity
Motivation and emotion Moodle Wikiversity
Psychology 102 Moodle Wikiversity
Social psychology WebCT Wikiversity

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Open education is quite possible with Moodle; it is more possible with Moodle than is typical with commercial LMSs. However, there are limitations of Moodle for open education at three levels - Moodle design and core functionality, Institutional implementation including academic culture, practice and IP policy, and Teacher-level pedagogy, values, and know-how. Thus, Moodle-hybrid open education models were proposed, such as having generic learning content on an open educational wiki (such as Wikiversity) and private content on an institutional LMS (such as Moodle). The recent uptake of Moodle in Australian universities offers an open educators to highlight and advocate for further developments of Moodle to support open educational practices.

Discussion[edit | edit source]

The following points of discussion were raised:

How open to embedding multimedia materials is Wikiversity?

Very open, but capacity for doing so is somewhat limited because:

  1. Only open format multimedia can be uploaded i.e., .ogg, .ogv files are fine, but most people don't work with these - .mp3, mp4, wmv etc. are not open formats
  2. MediaWiki software can embed from youtube etc. but this isn't permitted on Wikimedia Foundation wikis because it's not open format (basically, its flash).

So, it's possible, but it's a bit cumbersome and awkward especially if you're not working with open file formats, however you can do some converting, then upload and embed.

Are you assessing student contributions and participation?

I've tried a few different ways. This semester I have students writing a chapter each for an open textbook. I've moved away from assessing the "process" (e.g., "participation" by "posting five times to a forum" etc.) and am now more interested in students working on "products" or deliverables in an open environment. The social communication, sharing etc. is then part of getting to these concrete goals. External reinforcement of "participation" can actually undermine intrinsic motivation to participate.

So, my approach is give us a good product at the end. If you crowd-source your chapter, as long as you are the primary intellectual designer and editor of the content, then I don't particularly mind how you got there. References and support should be acknowledged of course, as per normal academic integrity expectations, and the history of editing and by whom is reviewable (on a wiki).

Have you ever had student objections to having their work out in the open?

Surprisingly little objection. Maybe because if you just have the chutzpah to tell them it's happening, why it's happening, and how it's going to happen and providing support (e.g., to learn necessary skills), then there's surprisingly little pushback.

It also helps that I'm reasonably confident on Wikiversity, so I can solve their problems pretty quickly and I find the respect grows pretty fast if you can help and support students around their objectives in getting their assessment done and learning, then they seem to come on board pretty quickly.

I haven't really had notably negative feedback; some resistance early on, but I'm put in more training early on, such as Lecture 2 is entirely about how to do this stuff (explaining and demonstrating unfamiliar skills and processes) and then I put help snippets in tutorials to help give them the skills.

Is there any blending between the public and the private students?

The reality is that for a time-specific course, most participants are those who are formally enrolled, but what I've found is that once the stuff is up there for months and then years, various people cycle in and find it, but often they don't come through the front page - most people are searching for something very specific as a member of the public and they hit Lecture 6 Slide 72 and that's exactly the information they want and then they might favourite it on slideshare or comment and I get an email letting me know.

I think that's one of the things about open education - people don't necessarily want to come in and do your 150 hour, 12-lecture course but they might be very interested in your explanation of the Krebs cycle or something like that. And so, it's quite organic the way that the public come in.

Do you ever have students ask why they are paying for something that's freely available?

I've never had students raise this, but some staff raise it as an issue they think that students might have.

What if there is already material developed but you want the students to experience the process of creating?

I would rather see us point to pre-existing resources if they exist than recreate them. I also try to avoid redundant student assessment tasks (e.g., 100 essays on a set topic).

What if students come across information that they don't want to share?

That's OK - it would depend on what the particular assessment task is; there's generally no compulsion to share everything. I give them quite specific tasks to do - they like to know what they are doing with clear expectations and transparent marking criteria rather than a global "participate" expectation. In Motivation and emotion students need to create an open textbook chapter, a 5 min. multimedia recording of the chapter, and keep an open learning journal about their engagement with the course.

Do you find in subsequent courses that there's more work for you?

(i.e., in the old model students cohorts would each go through the same journey, but in this approach, once a resource is done, a new student wouldn't go back and recreate it.)

For example, for the Motivation and emotion open textbook exercise I have a long list of chapters which were not selected by students this year, and these will be on offer next year. And if there are chapters this year which aren't of an acceptable standard or which could really do with improvement, then these can be reassigned next year for improvement. I guess I see this is as a happy problem - if we actually run out of unique problems to solve, then a minor miracle will have occurred.

Is there any way to map an institutional identity to an avatar identity?

(i.e., rather than manually handling that)

I do do this manually - I just keep a spreadsheet with institutional ID and name and public space avatar name. Students share this with me directly via email and it provides a useful point of initial contact.

If there way a way, though, yeah, this would be helpful e.g., in the Moodle profile or as an assignment which linked through to the gradebook and could be downloadable, this could be useful. On the other hand, students might actually like the ideas that their avatar name is not attached to any part of the central university system.

Interestingly, I thought a lot of students would sign up with avatars, but 2/3 of students end up using their real name, especially once they experience Wikiversity and grow more comfortable with it and see the value of it. I sometimes get students wanting their accounts renamed, usually to their real name.

Is there a connection between those students who do well and those who use their real name?

I could check that out - my gut feeling is that there probably is a little bit. There's something just a little more authentic about attaching your identity and using your own name. Maybe people are a bit less cheeky or just nicer to people - most of the nasty stuff comes from avatars wanting to poke a stick at something.

Recordings[edit | edit source]

Audio and video recordings of this presentation were made by the host institution (Australian National University). I have requested permission to release the recordings under a CC-by-A license.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Neill, J. T. (2010). Going naked – Openism and freedom in academia. A Hothouse presentation, 5th March, 2010, University of Canberra, ACT, Australia.
  2. Neill, J. T. (2010). Open academia: A philosophy of open practice. Presentation to the University of Canberra Intellectual Property (UC-IP) Mini-conference, 11th June, 2010.

See also[edit | edit source]

  1. PDF of this presentation
  2. Proposal for this presentation

External links[edit | edit source]

  1. Wikiversity and Moodle (Outreach Wiki Newsletter, April, 2013)