Saturday, April 4, 2009

Heartland Curriculum Network 4/3 - Norwalk's Moodle

We experimented with a new format at yesterday's curriculum network meeting for our area's schools, allowing more breakout sessions. I facilitated the session that featured Norwalk Community School District highlighting their innovative use of Moodle.

Mark Crady (8-9 principal and curriculum director) led the discussion, and was joined by the district technology director Tim Geyer, as well as Jodi Irlmeier and Greg Gardner, two lead teachers for their initiative. Norwalk is in their first year of full implementation at the 6th thru 9th grade level, and next year the high school will be implementing as well. Each teacher uses the Moodle platform to, at a minimum, post course syllabi, worksheets, and other handouts, and maintain a calendar of events that students and parents can check. However, both Greg and Jodi showed several other applications of Moodle into the classroom, including a demonstration of the online quiz module Moodle offers.

Some of the highlights from their presenation:

  • It was mentioned several times they have already seen student achievement gains. Some of that is better grades, which can result from better organization for students via Moodle. However, the sense from the Norwalk team was that their standardized test data are beginning to reflect the benefits Moodle brings to their curriculum.
  • Mark became an advocate when he "first saw the power to change instruction." Moodle was optimal for them because it promotes a constructivist pedagogy. They liked the flexibility it offers students; students were able to log-in and work with groups during separate study hall times and at home without losing productivity time.
  • The plan for year one of implementation was to have teachers use Moodle as a repository. Year two's plan is to use Moodle to deliver content, using the lesson and workshop modules.
  • Norwalk has been very deliberate about the roll-out process. They initially supported teachers with a tech cadre to get the early adopters started on it the previous year, and then have continued the support with "Moodle Mondays", where those lead teachers serve as support for other teachers in Moodle development. Each member of the team mentioned "Moodle Mondays" was critical to their success.
  • They further supported teachers with purchasing the book Using Moodle by Jason Cole. (Tim seemed a bit distressed when I mentioned that the book was now available as a free download... I too am out the money).
  • They have tied the Moodle directory into their Active Directory and Open Directory (their authentication systems to get onto their computer network), allowing for a simple system.
  • They would like to tie their Infinite Campus directory into Moodle so that a parent's login information can be used in Moodle as well, but this is not as easy. For the meantime, parents can login and check assignments and handouts in the Moodle course, but will log in separately to check grade in Infinite Campus.
  • On that note, the gradebooks are not tied together either. Most teachers do not use the Moodle gradebook since parents cannot check it, but rather take the scores gathered from assignments and manually enter them into Infinite Campus.
  • Mark mentioned they have had great parental buy-in. Parents love the communication and the online access to retrieve files, as well as the ability to assure that students are working on and turning in homework (they can watch over the student's shoulder if need be).
  • One key factor for Norwalk, they found that 92% of their families had internet use at home. While they have made access available at school and the public library for those who don't, that small percentage of students without access has definitely helped deployment.
  • Just like all technology, there are pros and cons they have found. They are very excited about the free plug-in Hot Potatoes, which offers a more robust quiz program. Greg gave us a demonstration of a quiz that he gives, arguing that it allows student the ability to check their work, re-take any number of times that he sets, and get immediate feedback. Students don't "throw their quiz away immediately like a paper quiz."
  • They did not like the gradebook or the survey tool ("absolute garbage" Tim mentioned). And, they immediately turned off the chatting feature. Dialogue is better served in the courses' forums.

Norwalk has been helped immensely by Pella Community School District (which has been implementing Moodle as a supplement for their curriculum for several years) and their technology advisor Eric Pingel. In addition to Pella and Norwalk, several other districts locally are either using Moodle (West Des Moines, Ankeny) or actively looking into it (Waukee, Johnston, Gilbert).

One suggestion made by Tim that has gained some inital interest is to develop a local Moodle users group, one that could share ideas, resources, even possible curriculum that would involve local schools that are interested. Contact me if you are interested in taking part in a potential users group.

No comments: