August 30, 2011
Any process that has the word “system” in it ought to offer one the sense of order, simplicity, efficiency, and organization. That’s what I thought when I set forth to learn our offered Course Management System, “Moodle,” at Ringling College of Art and Design. Typically, course management systems (and there are many) are platforms where one’s classroom is virtually housed with all of the online trimmings a professor needs to provide his/her students with a fabulous learning environment. Moodle states that it is “a Free web application that educators can use to create effective online learning sites.” While “Free” might be Moodle’s operative word - and Moodle capitalizes the word “Free” on its site, perhaps as a consumer psychological tool to attract buy-ins from higher learning institutions - I discovered that I need a lot more wizardly prowess than Hermione Granger’s wand might summon.
Right out of the gate, one has to have a doctoral-level tutorial on the myriad of acronyms that Moodle uses to define itself:
Moodle is an Open Source Course Management System (CMS), also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It has become very popular among educators around the world as a tool for creating online dynamic web sites for their students.CMS, LMS, VLE – so which is it? As a professor of Psychology, I am tempted to use Moodle as a case study when our class explores our unit on identity. What would Erik Erikson say?
Two weeks ago, before classes began, with all of the gumption I could muster and with the reverence I have for our Albus Dumbledore-like department chair who was offering me and my colleagues a “Muggle” workshop of Moodle, I set forth with an oxymoronic sense of determined trepidation. I asked my 17-year-old daughter to accompany me for “tech support” - for teenagers are wizards at this stuff – but really, I was secretly hoping her tech magic would rub off on me.
I had one moment of mindful magic when my department chair showed us how we could write HTML code and reduce the size of an uploaded image in HTML. First off, HTML stands for “here’s the magic lady.” (Just playing, here.) But because the words: “hypertext markup language” do not come up in MY everyday conversations, and HTML is not front of mind, it really does seem like a magical code that one has to be Hogwarts enrolled in order to grasp.
In all fairness to Moodle and other (I’ll just pick one to use here) VLEs, the concept is sound: we are creating a paperless community (saving trees), and offering one platform in which to have an enormous amount of information just a click away – or in my case, a “flick” away.
Virtual learning environments are sound and socially responsible. When I actually wrote a teensy bit of HTML code, I was unabashedly so proud of myself, only to be crestfallen in the next moment when I couldn’t figure out how to set my class assignment calendar to the accurate dates. (It took me over 20 minutes and I had to have help.)
While Mario-Cart-gold-token grabbing teens smirk at my inability to navigate what is so inherently basic to them, I am experiencing my own techno-identity crisis: “What kind of teacher ARE you, who cannot pull up the electronic assignment with the flick of her wand? Why must you take a bajillion hours to left click here, no, right click there, to remember these rudimentary things?”
I think I know the answer. I am simply not wired that way. If you ask me to remember a detail about someone I have met a few weeks ago, I will give you five. If you ask me to remember just ONE thing I learned in the Course Management System workshop … crickets. I don’t remember HOW I wrote the HTML code, only that I know magic was somehow involved.
The most magical thing that happened, however, was not writing code, nor setting up a good enough online classroom that works for me; it is/was the RELIEF that came from allowing myself the permission - and more importantly, the acceptance - to be just a plain old person who is good enough at some things, and not-so-good at others. I will take the face-to-face learning opportunity over the virtual one, any time.
And the best part? We have our own course management systems that have nothing to do with technology. Our assignment: go “in line” for the magic; it is not available online.