Making Moodle boring

TL at Moodle HQ
Moodle Education Researcher Know this guy?

Since starting to work at Moodle HQ as Education Researcher, a number of people, including my family, have been curious about what is it like at Moodle HQ, what do I do in my role and so on. Well, here are the pictures, the rest are words…

In short, I borrow Martin’s words from the iMoot introduction, I am an “interface between educators and Moodle developers”. Moodle team does not want to build a static, shiny thing that nobody uses but a living, changing thing that people can use to achieve primarily pedagogical, not technological goals. And I am here to help them (ummm, us!) do just that.

While recognising the importance of the position, my role is NOT to be ‘the guru’ on everything educational but rather a highly collaborative and proactive creator and ‘curator’ of sound educational practices within and beyond the Moodle community.

I already have a full plate and I love it. I am currently working closely with Helen Foster, Moodle Community Manager, on redesigning the sections on teaching and pedagogy on Moodle.org and Moodle Docs, making it easier and clearer to access, understand, use and ‘get’ Moodle by ‘an average teacher’ (I know you are laughing at this label…me too ๐Ÿ™‚ย  ).ย  I also work on usability of tools and features, I chip in a teacher’s perspective in developers meeting, I am going through iMoot presentations mining ideas (yes, including our panel), then there is planning for a large worldwide survey of educational uses of Moodle, and more… But enough about me.

Even on the first day, I was struck by the enormity and complexity of Moodle project. There is a stunning volume of code, not to mention ideas, changes, fixes, meetings, bugs, checks, test etc behind what you see on Moodle screen every day. I won’t go in minute details but let me tell you that this is truly an amazing logistical and intellectual exercise.

The place looks like the United Nations. David and Petr drop in from Czech Republic in our working ‘chat’, Penny is live from New Zealand on big screen skyping with Martin and Andrew about something, Eloy is talking from Spain to Sam sitting next to me about some piece of code as if they were sitting next to each other, Anthony logs in from US during our regular meetings, Helen and I are looking forward to many of our meetings, me in Perth and her in Belgium… not to mention the active worldwide Moodle Partners network on top of that. All effortless, relaxed yet very focused on task at hand – listening to our community and making Moodle better.

The ethics of Open Source projects like Moodle is something to aspire towards in any school. We don’t make something ‘perfect’ then ‘lock it down’ and claim superiority. We put our best effort out there, constantly and publicly, then invite people to pull it apart and change and improve it to fit a range of contexts and uses. Constructive critique, not platitudes, is seen not as a threat but music to our ears (yes, of course we get a warm and fuzzy from kind words too ๐Ÿ™‚ , we are human after all and very much so). Transfer to school, when was the last time you met a teacher who invited you to genuinely ‘pull apart’ their professional practice (unless they were forced to), have a conversation about the underlying, possibly contentious philosophical (not just safe, technical) assumptions,ย  then change it together perhaps? You have? Great!!! I’d love to hear from you…

On a lighter note … I suck at foosball, love the coffee machine (you were right Tim ๐Ÿ™‚ ), know where to find good Vietnamese rolls for lunch around us,ย  and how to trigger a very noisy security alarm in the morning. I am learning ๐Ÿ™‚

What about that ‘making Moodle boring’ title? Everything I wrote so far is shiny and good…

It actually refers to a comment I posted today on Ira Socol’s excellent post titled ‘What is Technology?’. Ira looks at how advances in technology, both as an enabler and disabler, become normalised and become seen as unremarkable, even essential over time (ever though that a pencil, desk or book was once a bleeding-edge technology?). Here is my comment:

“Ah, the fallacy of exceptionalism just never fades does it? We, as in (still) larger body of teachers, admins, parents, politicians & pundits, react with either fear or awe (hence the exceptionalism label) when it comes to the digital technology afforded to us today. And that’s not doing us much good, on so many levels…

Only yesterday I was sitting with colleagues (all software developers, passionate & veeery good at what they do) at my new work at Moodle HQ and joked: “You guys are trying to make this thing [Moodle] exciting, shiny, new and powerful, my job is to make it boring and ‘normal’. ” I got a few confused looks…

I explained:”The sooner educators move beyond the point of fear & awe of Moodle [or any other tech] and see it as a tool just like a pen, desk, whiteboard, book etc. the sooner they will be used better and more frequently to reach the pedagogical goals (add social, economic, environmental etc). Let’s stop fetishising tech, work out what it’s good for and then use it do get where we want with the people we teach, work with.”

So there you have it – my goal! What’s yours?

PS Big thanks to all the people who have congratulated and wished me well on my new role through Twitter, email or comments. Much appreciated.

29 comments

  1. Mary

    Heyyyyy ๐Ÿ™‚ Great stuff ๐Ÿ™‚ I see what you mean about making it boring now! (Personally I like to think of Moodle ideally as being “a way of life”, which I guess is the same as your having it boring. I will watch your progress from afar -all the very best – and I trust you like living in Orange!

  2. Mary

    Heyyyyy ๐Ÿ™‚ Great stuff ๐Ÿ™‚ I see what you mean about making it boring now! (Personally I like to think of Moodle ideally as being “a way of life”, which I guess is the same as your having it boring. I will watch your progress from afar -all the very best – and I trust you like living in Orange!

  3. Bryn Jones

    A very nice post capturing the essence of your new job. You’re a good fit for the job.

    Note that you talk about average teachers but we haven’t got past 20% yet.

  4. Bryn Jones

    A very nice post capturing the essence of your new job. You’re a good fit for the job.

    Note that you talk about average teachers but we haven’t got past 20% yet.

  5. Tom Murdock

    Focusing on the fundamentals of teaching with Moodle is another way to get beyond the fear and awe. I keep thinking about Martin’s progression: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Pedagogy#Progression, and how those values need to rise to the top of everything we do… When I’m given a statistic about the # of schools using Moodle, I’m far less excited than a statistic about the # of teachers within a school using Moodle.

    I’m so glad to have your thinking and focus at the HQ. It gets better and better.

    all best,
    Tom

  6. Tom Murdock

    Focusing on the fundamentals of teaching with Moodle is another way to get beyond the fear and awe. I keep thinking about Martin’s progression: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Pedagogy#Progression, and how those values need to rise to the top of everything we do… When I’m given a statistic about the # of schools using Moodle, I’m far less excited than a statistic about the # of teachers within a school using Moodle.

    I’m so glad to have your thinking and focus at the HQ. It gets better and better.

    all best,
    Tom

  7. MariaMoodle

    Thank you for sharing this great post ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’m planning translate it to Spanish on weekend …

    I think Latin American teachers must meet your work

    Big Hugs from Mexico.

  8. MariaMoodle

    Thank you for sharing this great post ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’m planning translate it to Spanish on weekend …

    I think Latin American teachers must meet your work

    Big Hugs from Mexico.

  9. MariaMoodle

    By the way . . .

    this is a great narrative picture :p
    hope some Moodler draw it ๐Ÿ˜‰

    “The place looks like the United Nations. David and Petr drop in from Czech Republic in our working โ€˜chatโ€™, Penny is live from New Zealand on big screen skyping with Martin and Andrew about something, Eloy is talking from Spain to Sam sitting next to me about some piece of code as if they were sitting next to each other, Anthony logs in from US during our regular meetings, Helen and I are looking forward to many of our meetings, me in Perth and her in Belgiumโ€ฆ not to mention the active worldwide Moodle Partners network on top of that. All effortless, relaxed yet very focused on task at hand โ€“ listening to our community and making Moodle better.”

  10. MariaMoodle

    By the way . . .

    this is a great narrative picture :p
    hope some Moodler draw it ๐Ÿ˜‰

    “The place looks like the United Nations. David and Petr drop in from Czech Republic in our working โ€˜chatโ€™, Penny is live from New Zealand on big screen skyping with Martin and Andrew about something, Eloy is talking from Spain to Sam sitting next to me about some piece of code as if they were sitting next to each other, Anthony logs in from US during our regular meetings, Helen and I are looking forward to many of our meetings, me in Perth and her in Belgiumโ€ฆ not to mention the active worldwide Moodle Partners network on top of that. All effortless, relaxed yet very focused on task at hand โ€“ listening to our community and making Moodle better.”

  11. Maria

    Hi Tomaz,
    Thanks for sharing your “diary” with us. ๐Ÿ™‚ I was already waiting for this first post and hope you update it on a regular basis. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I see you as a Teachers’ Ambassador at the HQ and yes, it is important to work “… on redesigning the sections on teaching and pedagogy on Moodle.org and Moodle Docs, making it easier and clearer to access, understand, use and โ€˜getโ€™ Moodle by โ€˜an average teacher …”. It is important to know how to configure the different tools, but it is even more important to know how to use them in order to achieve (negotiated)objectives.
    Cheers from Portugal
    Maria

  12. Maria

    Hi Tomaz,
    Thanks for sharing your “diary” with us. ๐Ÿ™‚ I was already waiting for this first post and hope you update it on a regular basis. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I see you as a Teachers’ Ambassador at the HQ and yes, it is important to work “… on redesigning the sections on teaching and pedagogy on Moodle.org and Moodle Docs, making it easier and clearer to access, understand, use and โ€˜getโ€™ Moodle by โ€˜an average teacher …”. It is important to know how to configure the different tools, but it is even more important to know how to use them in order to achieve (negotiated)objectives.
    Cheers from Portugal
    Maria

  13. Olli

    Reading this post, I feel that you are really living the teacher (~user) centric attitude that I am so far mostly talking about in the community – a real โ€œinterface between educators and Moodle developersโ€. Really look forward to seeing your work and hopefully, working with you, too.

    Olli

  14. Olli

    Reading this post, I feel that you are really living the teacher (~user) centric attitude that I am so far mostly talking about in the community – a real โ€œinterface between educators and Moodle developersโ€. Really look forward to seeing your work and hopefully, working with you, too.

    Olli

  15. Mark Drechsler

    Hmm,

    Making Moodle boring just doesn’t sit right with me – how about making Moodle simple? Even better, making Moodle invisible – like the air we breathe, nobody thinks much about it, we just take it for granted and use it as a normal part of everyday life.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

    Mark.

  16. Mark Drechsler

    Hmm,

    Making Moodle boring just doesn’t sit right with me – how about making Moodle simple? Even better, making Moodle invisible – like the air we breathe, nobody thinks much about it, we just take it for granted and use it as a normal part of everyday life.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

    Mark.

  17. human

    Thanks for your comments, it looks we’re onto something hey?

    Just a note to Mark & Mary – you guys have the point (making Moodle invisible, nobody thimks much about it, ‘way of life’… ABSOLUTELY).

    I was just going for the ‘What the …?’
    Teachers make good stirrers ๐Ÿ™‚

    Cheers guys, now back to it…

  18. human

    Thanks for your comments, it looks we’re onto something hey?

    Just a note to Mark & Mary – you guys have the point (making Moodle invisible, nobody thimks much about it, ‘way of life’… ABSOLUTELY).

    I was just going for the ‘What the …?’
    Teachers make good stirrers ๐Ÿ™‚

    Cheers guys, now back to it…

  19. Silvia

    Hey!, you are really provoking! Anyway: I like your goal!
    I work at CV&A, Spanish Moodle Partner, my work is try to understand our clients (the users: teachers, managers, students, etc, and the organizational learning system) and help them to implement Moodle. Well, what I try to do very often is make moodle transparent, invisible, to help people focus in their goals and tasks on hand.
    Not sure if the mix transparent and boring has any sense, but I still like it!
    Cheers!

    @Silvia Thanks Silvia. Yeah, I am just stirring a bit with ‘boring’ ๐Ÿ™‚ Indeed, making it invisible is the goal, as Mary, Mark & Tom noted. Regards

  20. Silvia

    Hey!, you are really provoking! Anyway: I like your goal!
    I work at CV&A, Spanish Moodle Partner, my work is try to understand our clients (the users: teachers, managers, students, etc, and the organizational learning system) and help them to implement Moodle. Well, what I try to do very often is make moodle transparent, invisible, to help people focus in their goals and tasks on hand.
    Not sure if the mix transparent and boring has any sense, but I still like it!
    Cheers!

    @Silvia Thanks Silvia. Yeah, I am just stirring a bit with ‘boring’ ๐Ÿ™‚ Indeed, making it invisible is the goal, as Mary, Mark & Tom noted. Regards

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  23. Bob Irving

    Thanks for that teachers-eye view of Moodle HQ! Very refreshing.

    As a tech coordinator, I straddle both camps of tech and education. I have taught for over 20 years, so I sympathize with teachers.

    I see what you’re saying about making Moodle boring, and I agree with the importance of usability for teachers. However, let’s not forget the students! And they like shiny stuff, and not just shiny design but social networking features that they’re used to in facebook, twitter, etc. I only have to refer to the Facebook group called “Moodle Ruined My Life” with its many student members. My observation is that the gap between what teachers consider scary and students feel boring is widening. How to close that gap is a discussion for another time.

    Just my .02,
    Bob

  24. Bob Irving

    Thanks for that teachers-eye view of Moodle HQ! Very refreshing.

    As a tech coordinator, I straddle both camps of tech and education. I have taught for over 20 years, so I sympathize with teachers.

    I see what you’re saying about making Moodle boring, and I agree with the importance of usability for teachers. However, let’s not forget the students! And they like shiny stuff, and not just shiny design but social networking features that they’re used to in facebook, twitter, etc. I only have to refer to the Facebook group called “Moodle Ruined My Life” with its many student members. My observation is that the gap between what teachers consider scary and students feel boring is widening. How to close that gap is a discussion for another time.

    Just my .02,
    Bob

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