What is a course?
Reading Wikipedia like Britannica sucks. Reading Wikipedia like Wikipedia is mind-opening.
Cory Doctorow (http://www.edge.org/discourse/digital_maoism.html)
What is mind opening about reading Wikipedia? Click ‘Discussion’ on a popular or contentious Wikipedia entry and you’ll see. The history, variety of views, contributions, changes, updates, the links, the enormity of effort across even one entry will (probably?) ‘hit’ you. It’s free, intellectually brawling, universal, instantaneous and pretty damn accurate (I won’t elaborate on ‘truth’ of either – more on that some other time, blame the French 😉 ).
To borrow Doctorow’s quip – reading Moodle like a textbook sucks. Reading Moodle like Moodle is mind-opening. But how do you read Moodle? How do you know a good Moodle site or course when you see it (beyond a pretty theme …)? What set of skills and understanding do you need to read it? Create it?
These questions will be the focus of the next few posts, a series loosely called ‘What makes a great Moodle course?’ The aim is to flesh out a few core questions to help Moodle users not just create and participate in courses but to support and enhance sharing of courses through Moodle 2.0 ‘s new feature called Community Hub. And please, this is only a ‘thinkaloud’ …
The first post will explore a (not ‘the’) definition of a ‘course’ and invite you to ponder a particular view, long held by Martin Dougiamas, the creator and lead developer of Moodle. The next post or two in the series will explore the convergence of technological, content and pedagogical expertise in a great Moodle course, then imagine a great Moodle course as primarily a communication and creation tool. Finally, we will bring it all together and suggest some ‘point format’ guidelines for developing, nurturing and appraising Moodle courses.
Now, this may seem like an individual effort but I would hate it to be so. I would love to hear what YOU think makes a great Moodle course and share it in probably the easiest way possible by contributing to our SynchIn pad (a version of the old beloved Etherpad) or, of course, in the comments below. Because “we” know a lot more than “me” on this one 😉
So … what is a course?
When asked this question, most people would probably answer something like “a course is a structured body of content and activities that students enrol in, complete tasks and get graded by the teacher to see how well they have done at the end of it.” Yes? No?
But what if you see a course essentially as a community (Martin’s remark that has lingered with me since my first few days at Moodle HQ). What if you even replace the word ‘course’ with the word ‘community’? A few things change …
Whether online, blended or offline, communities, particularly the most successful ones in terms of participation and engagement, have a lot in common:
- They are not inert, linear, static, fully set and pre-determined things.
- Roles of members are defined but flexible enough to cater for changes should the circumstances require so.
- There are understood rules and consequences for breaching them in order for all to feel safe.
- In a community (unlike a network, more on that perhaps another time…), one cannot just ‘(un)friend’ or ‘(dis)connect’ but learn to deal with, work things out.
- Its members are responsible to each other in pursuing a common set of goals. Interdependence through contribution and participation is implicit and made explicit in its design.
- There are multiple channels of communication, not just top-down announcements.
- Participation and learning are active, done mostly through challenges, feedback and mastery not by passively going through the laid out material.
- Changes, adjustments, improvements are essential and welcome at different levels and different areas – everyone improves, not just one type of members at one thing.
Sound like qualities of a good Moodle course? Well, sounds a lot like a party too… as Lee Lefeever of the CommonCraft fame explains the thing about online communities in his usually succinct way:
A blank Moodle course (well, an entire site really…) is essentially an incredibly versatile wiki, hence the Wikipedia reference at the start. By design, a wiki is a platform for a community. If imagined this way, the question then becomes not whether a (your?) course is a community or not, but rather how does a (your?) community cater for its members and their needs, passions, welfare and interests by using Moodle.
And when you see it like THAT, the imagination and mindset matter more than the technical skills. And so they should.