LMS Schools

Do you have an LMS problem?

How is the take up of the LMS in your organisation?  Is it:

  • Virtually defunct – the virtual spindleweed rolling through the deserted courses?
  • Used for content storage – just in case someone might want it.
  • Vibrant and healthy – students go there every day and find something new?

Somewhere in between perhaps. Maybe it is time to re-invigorate.  Here is one idea that was implemented at The Southport School using a small grant from the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program, supervised by Independent Schools Queensland.

We held an Elearning Leaders Professional Learning Day at a local resort (total cost less than AUD 1000 plus need for cover): The proposed outcomes of the eLearning Leaders project as funded by ISQ/AGQTP: “Teachers are now capable and confident in the processes involved in making resources available online.  The focus this year on pedagogy will remind them that online content, while useful, is not the full story. The planned activities will lead to wider use of the LMS to promote pedagogical change in the classroom, the development in students and teachers of, what have been labelled, 21st century skills.  By this, we mean the Higher Order Skills (Bloom) of creativity, evaluation and analysis. These are the skills that students need to succeed in both the Queensland Core Skills Test, in tertiary study and the modern workplace. The issue of devices in years 9 and 12 is an important part of this program.”

The purposes of the Big Day Out are:

  • Sharing of classroom activities and practices and some preliminary evaluation
  • Defining the functions and priorities of eLearning leaders in their departments
  • Careful consideration of the implications that the introduction of mobile technology into the classroom brings for the personal and professional development plans of teachers.

Participants Where possible, participants should:

  • Have entered some brief account of what they have researched or tried to the LMS wiki (or Google Doc, whatever).
  • Be prepared to discuss and/or present something about the above.
  • Bring a wireless device of some kind – laptop or iPad – a projector will be provided.
  • Bring a recording device if you have one handy and take plenty of photos and videos to share 

Proposed  activities (sample program)

Time Activity
08:15 – 08:45 Tea and coffee
08:45 – 09:00 Welcome and general announcements
09:00 – 09:15 Ideas in a box – what is an eLearning leader – what do they do?
09:15 – 09:40 Turnitin and Moodle
09:40 – 10:00 Research at TSS
10:00 – 10:15 Morning tea
10:15 – 10:25 A developmental model for PL – the personal development cycle.
10:25 – 12:00 Share key points from Term 1 activities.  Review the “ideas box” – define the purpose of the team.
12:00 – 12:45 Lunch
12:45 – 13:20 Activity: Plan a school visit, what questions will you ask.  Pairs then combined groups until we have 5 essential questions – or so.
13:20 – 14:40 Priority setting activity – Term 2 – might be as for Term 1 – this is for your faculty.  Solo or group-based as appropriate.
14:40 -15:00 Lightning Presentation on priorities.
15:00 – 15:15 Afternoon tea

The opportunity to get teachers out of the school for the day was priceless in some respects.  In this case we were not able to offer money (less than ideal as a motivator anyway) or extra time (the ideal solution) for the leaders but having the chance to think, reflect and share practice was great.

I believe also that the making of a “special” day in a very pleasant location (The Radisson Resort on the Gold Coast was 15 minutes from the school) made all the difference. Some results of our LMS and BYOD program:

eLearning Perspectives LMS Schools

Moodle Course Design

In her book Learner-Centred Teaching [1], Maryellen Weimer discusses five key changes to teacher practice that can lead to improved outcomes for learners. We consider each of these in turn and their possible relationship to the implementation of an LMS such as Moodle or indeed a number of related tools, such as Google Apps.

The Balance of Power

Teacher-centred classrooms are power-based classrooms. This conflicts with the notion of empowering the students, giving then some autonomy, as a means of motivation. Providing resources on Moodle and then requiring students to take the responsibility of studying, commenting, re-working and discussing them with peers will help shift the power base.

Of course, these activities can be carried out in the classroom in the presence of the teacher – as is often pointed out – but this kind of activity has a very different flavour when done autonomously under student control. A specific example might be using a Glossary. In a teacher-centred classroom we might see the teacher give out a list of terms or words for students to study. Another way to handle this is to have the students find definitions for the terms and create their own glossary entries. These can be commented on by other students and the teacher.

Careful intervention and facilitation by the teacher will achieve the original objective but the students will feel more “ownership” of the result. As with many activities this not does absolutely need to be carried out online – it could be done with paper and pencil. However, the ubiquity of web access means that students are free to take a look at a time convenient to them.

The on-demand vs the broadcast tv model at work.

The Function of Content

This is problematic because, in schools, the content to be covered is generally out of our control. It is set by external bodies such as examination boards and national curricula. In today’s narrow view typically this is also controlled by national and international standardized assessments.

The need to cover content and to recall it under examination conditions can work directly against the development of creativity and higher order thinking. Importantly, in his book Teaching for Tomorrow [2], Ted McCain describes methods for delivering content together with problem-solving skills, improved engagement and active learning strategies. All aimed at giving students “real-world” skills.

Adapting this process from an active classroom to a Moodle course is a real challenge – especially if Moodle is used merely as a content repository and later chapters will discuss some strategies that can be used. One simple example of McCain’s method might make use of a Moodle forum.

The teacher takes on the role of an international consultant and sets up a scenario in which the students pose as members of a globally-distributed problem-solving team. Using the forum they discuss strategies for dealing with pollution in a lake, say. Such an activity would ideally require students to research the background issues (using the required curriculum content) as they work together to solve the given problem.

The Role of the Teacher

As well as maintaining the power balance, the teacher also makes many other decisions in the classroom to the point where most students may well accept that the teacher knows everything that the student needs to know (to pass an examination for example) and the learning process is one of simple transmission.

Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown [3] write that the education system “has been built on the assumption that teaching is necessary for learning” and they argue that an “environmental view” is need rather than a mechanistic one. In this view, our Course Management System is a garden where learning is nurtured rather than a factory where learners are processed or battery reared. Students tend not to question the strategies that a teacher may use, even when the teacher’s style doesn’t correspond well to their own preferred learning style.

A course management system can provide for different resource types (readings, videos, interactive games) and different activities (group-based, individual, self-paced, guided), so that the students have more ways of accessing and working with the content. Students who have never been given this freedom may well find the change difficult to grasp even threatening or unnerving and teachers need to be prepared for this. As an example, merely adding a resource such as a forum to a course will not, of itself, produce peer interaction between students. Once again active teacher intervention will be required.

The questions set up by the teacher in the forum are vital – particularly at the start – they must be easily accessible to students, not set initially at a high cognitive level for example. Once students enter and contribute, the teacher’s role is to thread and connect the ideas as they develop – where errors of fact or grammatical errors do occur, these will quite likely be corrected by other contributors avoiding having the teacher take on that traditional role but allowing them to support those who take care to be correct.

The Responsibility for Learning

The responsibility for learning has traditionally been that of the teacher – indeed teachers are often harshly criticised by parents, politicians and news media as being “bad teachers” – one rarely hears of the student’s responsibility to learn.

The use of Moodle to provide resources and activities that may be carried out independently of the teacher can shift the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student. For teachers, a very important, but perhaps often overlooked, point is that the teachers do indeed retain important responsibilities and providing motivation and engagement is high among them.

A course in which there is reading after reading, a couple of images, a YouTube video and then a quiz is not very exciting either online or in the classroom. A quick Poll (or Moodle Choice) can be used, not only to gauge retention of “facts” taught in the classroom but also as a tool to promote reflection, perhaps by asking questions to which there is no single correct response. Having asked a question such as: Which is the most effective way to secure a house?

  • Locking the door
  • Closing all the windows
  • Leaving a pair of boots on the doorstep
  • Emptying the post box every day

When a new topic is introduced will give students time to think through concepts and ideas associated with a subject before any content is presented.

This also encourages students to make active contributions to an online course and begin to get them involved. In other words it provides the opportunity to develop a “community of practice” where students begin to take ownership through individual and collective contributions.

The Purpose and Processes of Evaluation

Weimer mentions three assumptions that are commonly made about grades: They “measure learning precisely”, “objectively” and they “promote learning”. In the current system, grades are generally awarded by the teachers of a course, there is little in the way of peer assessment or self-assessment – at least in terms of grades that “count”. That is, grades which get students into tertiary education or meaningful employment. Peer and self-assessment promote learning and higher order thinking skills.

Focus on grades which come from external assessment leads to a focus on content, recall of facts, recall of procedures, rote memorization of solutions to problems and other low-order activities. These types of knowledge tend not to be retained long after the examination.

Weimer is far from the only observer to have noted the disparity between the organisation of many schools and the requirements of education for the Information Age. Writing about the “creative workforce”, Erica McWilliam [4] characterises schools as “a top-down hierarchy of command and control” where teachers work as “content authorities” and “students may well be living in a parallel universe”.

One of the dangers pointed out by McWilliam is that the dominant commercial learning management systems (Blackboard and Web CT at that time) were being “repurposed for old ‘transmission’ teaching”. Moodle can be misused in the same way and one of the central ideas of this post is that it should not be. Moodle supplies tools such as the workshop, rubrics, marking schemes which allow for more complex and more meaningful means of evaluation and assessment and which promote the higher order thinking skills that our students will need to succeed in a rapidly changing world.


1: Learner-Centred Teaching, Maryellen Weimer, Jossey-Bass, 2002. ISBN 0-7879-5646-5.

2: Teaching for Tomorrow, Ted McCain, Corwin press, 2005. ISBN 978-1412913843

3: A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, 2011, Self-published, ISBN: 976-1456458881

4: Erica McWilliam, The Creative Workforce, UNSW Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1921410222

eLearning Perspectives LMS Schools

Essential Principles of Blended Learning

This article encapsulated out philosophy at The Southport School very nicely: How does it relate to corporate training, if at all?

1. EVERY SCHOOL NEEDS A VISION. Yes, every organisation needs a vision and what was said about schools here, strong leadership, give room to try and fail and empowering learners in the workforce should apply within a corporate environment also. However, it seems to me that in many organisations this vision may be token at best. Even those with a relatively flat structure do seem to see top-down instruction as the way forward. That is leadership, but not the only kind there is. Something to ponder.

2. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL. With a wide variety of job functions and a wide variety of learning styles this is also true – however there is more to this than technology and software choices. It is vital to find out what the learning goals are for the task at hand. Isn’t this a bit obvious? Yes it is, but is it always done? There’s a lot of dump and pump out there.

3. DON’T LET SOFTWARE DICTATE LEARNING GOALS. We buy an LMS and put it to work. We have standard Office Tools and adapt them to disparate needs. Of course, it does make more sense to try to figure out what the goals are and then locate the appropriate technology – but there is a strong dependence on what we already have, inevitably. So do we end up making training that’s easy to do?

4. SUPPORT TEACHERS AND INCLUDE THEM IN DECISION-MAKING PROCESS. The situation in an organisation is a little different but still the education/training Team do need to have influence as they are the experts in this area. It makes sense to give your education team a strong say in the strategic vision for training within the company.

Analytics LMS Schools

Moodle’s “hidden feature”

Many people seem to think of Google Docs and Apps as a great replacement for an LMS and this may be true in many respects.

However, one place a good LMS scores is in giving access to useful data about student activity.

In my last engagement, I regularly spoke of Course Reports as one of Moodle’s “hidden” features because teachers did not seem to grasp their significance readily.  Perhaps because, in a normal classroom situation you develop a “feel” for the way things are going – although there is research to show that in larger classes, teachers might not be as aware of all the inter-actions as they believe themselves to be.

In a blended or fully online situation, these reports are very useful data for tracking each student’s progress and for evaluating the course as a whole. Those charged with Q&A of courses will also find these resources valuable.

The reports can all be accessed from the Course Administration Menu under the heading Reports.  The different reports are:

  • Logs
  • Activity report
  • Course participation
  • Activity completion
  • Statistics

Some of these depend on the appropriate course settings (eg completion criteria) having been set up in the course settings.

You can select by group and activity or show all the relevant activities on a given day.  This can be used to look at the activities of groups or participants and get a general feel for the level of activity. In the event that something untoward happens in your course, a certain amount of tracking can be done – including the apparent location of the activity via the IP address.

Activity Report
With this report, you get a count of views of each activity or resource in the course giving you an indication of those most heavily used.  This information can be useful in review and for planning feedback.  You might ask students why a particular resource was not seen as useful.

Course participation
This one works for a given course activity and looks back over a specified time period.  For example, the last 4 weeks. Here you can see exactly who has accessed a resource or activity in the course and who has not. This could be useful information when dealing with a student demonstrating a lack of engagement. The report includes checkboxes which, when selected, allow you to send a message via Moodle’s IM system to one or more students.  Perhaps a timely reminder about viewing resources or participating in activities.

Activity completion
You won’t see this unless you have enabled Completion tracking in the Course settings. If you do switch it on, then you can get an activity completion report which shows, for every student on the course, a row of checkboxes indicating which activities have been completed. This can be very useful for tracking student diligence. Some of the boxes can be ticked by students themselves (self-completion) or by the system when grades are given, documents are viewed, quizzes graded and so on).  This can be set by you on an activity by activity basis. This also enables a new section on the course menu called
Completion tracking which allows you to fine tune the process. If course completion is set up correctly the student can also view reports of their own activity.
The course statistics allow you to look at a graph showing for each role, the number of views one or more course activities/resources has received.  As well as the graph a table is provided with links to the corresponding logs. If you set this for all activities and the student role, you can get a good overview of the “rhythm” of the course.

Books LMS Schools

Book Review: Moodle Multimedia Cookbook.

The book:

This is the second edition of the book by Silvina P. Hillar and published by Packt ( The book surveys a wide range of techniques for using images, audio and video in Moodle courses. It also covers the use of cloud storage and cloud apps like Dropbox,, Google Drive and Apps, YouTube and Office 365 among others.

I was impressed by the huge range of mainly free tools and websites that were not only covered in the book but also put to good use in Moodle courses. You won’t be short of ideas for the classroom after dipping into this collection.

The target audience would seem to be mainly Middle and High School, judging from the examples but many could be adapted for both younger and older students. There is an excellent account of file types (eg vectors and bitmaps) and optimising images for web presentation which will be very useful to those who only have a limited understanding of these issues.

It is good to see open source software such as Gimp and Inkscape getting mentions if not, given the size and range of the book, thorough coverage. There is certainly enough to get those unfamiliar with these packages started.

Finally the book is, if not exactly rounded out, concluded with a brief account of enabling the most commonly encountered repositories so that files can be accessed in Moodle directly from the file picker. All in all this is as the title says a recipe book with many useful hints, tips and suggestions for teachers to work with, apply and extend. Teachers who intend to use the book should be familiar with navigation and basic course editing techniques in a Moodle installation.

eLearning Perspectives Portfolio Schools

Using Mahara for Social learning

Mahara is an ePortfolio in which the default for all stored information is private.  It makes a great “walled garden” for introducing students to the concepts of social and mobile networking as well as being a great learning tool for individuals and groups. The tool is seen by teachers and students alike as intuitive and easy to use.

1     Introduce via “social presence”

One of the first things to do is to show students the profile fields (on the Content tab of the home page).  Here teachers can stress such things as persistence of social data, appropriate choices when making descriptions and selecting screen names. Clicking your name at the top right of the screen will bring up the profile screen where students can request friendship with other students and write comments on their wall.

2     Make use of the Journal

A point to remember is that Journal entries don’t have to be like private diaries and they don’t have to be long entries.  You could even use the Journal as a Twitter styler blog – 140 characters reflections on the day’s work.  Journal entries can be tagged and they can be placed on a personal page or a group page. Taking 5 or 10 minutes every day to write these entries will instil good habits and consolidate learning.  Looking back over a period of work will enable students to see their progress.

3     Use Mobile uploads

There are photo upload apps for both iOS and Android devices.  These allow students to record their work, store photos in their files area which they can then use on pages.  Students can also record videos with their mobile devices and this can provide another way to promote reflection. A video, made by students following completion of a topic, can help them reflect on progress and reinforce collaboration and teamwork.

4     Create web pages

Once a page has been created, other students can be allowed to comment, at the discretion of the page owner.  The student may moderate comments before they are posted which leaves them in control.  Pages can be tagged and can include external sources, such as RSS feeds, Google Docs and Open Badges.  These are in addition to student created artefacts like text files, image galleries and profile fields.

5     Encourage teamwork

The teacher can set up a class group easily in Mahara.  The software also includes Collections – or groups of pages that are linked.  One use of Mahara with small groups is to create Group Collections which have a main page and individual pages linked together.  Each student has their own working space (which may be used for assessment if required) but collaborate on the Group Page.  The teacher can also see what individuals have produced as well as the group.  Students can plan their pages offline using large sheets of paper, for example. Mahara has proved itself to be a user-friendly and versatile tool to encourage engagement in the classroom and to teach 21st century skills.


Richard would like to thank colleagues at The Southport School ion particular Dr Jill Margerison for providing screenshots and information on the use of Mahara in English teaching. Richard Jones is a consultant living and working in New Zealand.

LMS Schools

When BYOD is a mistake.

At a recent conference I was intrigued by the title of a Panel Discussion which purported to discuss BYOD and its ramifications for schools.

Imagine my disappointment to find a Microsoft representative there and two heads of schools who were running 1 to 1 device programs.

This was described as BYOD – with designated device.  The idea being the the school designates the device and students have to go out and by it. In what sense is this the student “own device”?

The Microsoft representative predictably used his stock phrase BYOD = Bring Your Own Disaster.  Well Microsoft should know about disaster judging by the reception of Windows 8 and associated tablets.  I can only say that at The Southport School BYOD has been an unqualified success.

BYOT (Bring Your Own Tech) is probably then a better term if BYOD is going to be routinely hijacked by vendors and schools running 1 to 1 device programs.  These programs may well move schools along the path towards the use of technology to change the pedagogy in the classroom.  However, only when we lose the focus on a technology or piece of software will we finally direct our attention fully to the processes taking place in the classroom rather than the technology in use there.

In the meantime, as we watch the online web-based tools for creating content get better and better it is only a matter of time before everyone is simply asked to Bring A Browser of their own choice whatever the hardware used to support it.

End of rant.