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January 30, 2008 / Ben Chun

Moodle Pain

Sometimes, life on the bleeding edge makes you bleed. For example, today: this is the first time I’m using Moodle with groups. Basically this is just a feature of the software that allows you to have one course and separate the users into different groups within the course so that they can’t see stuff from other groups. This makes perfect sense if, like me, you have three sections of a course and you’re giving them the all same assignments at the same time. No reason to have third period reading what second period wrote. The problem is that it’s broken and I found that out by subjecting students to a bunch of error messages this period. So for now I’ve turned off groups and I’ll have to figure out what to do about it tonight.

It’s really painful to run into a bug that I can see how to fix, and not be able to do anything about it. My ability to hack PHP or understand the database or whatever is going to have no bearing on the functionality of the code I’m using for the class, because it’s deployed on a server that I don’t control. And for most teachers, that’s the right thing. To me, it feels like being locked up. But thinking beyond myself, teachers really just need something that works. I don’t actually have time to hack server code during class to make things work. I fear that our classrooms are going to be sucked into the “perpetual beta” that plagues web applications. A bunch of other people have been writing about this recently, but I can’t recall at the moment who.



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  1. Ben Chun / Jan 31 2008 6:33 pm

    Ah yes, Richard Kassissieh was writing about “unwilling beta testers” — not exactly the same take, but that was the thing stuck in my memory.

  2. andbrooke / Jan 31 2008 11:37 pm

    Perpetual beta. Yep.

    Do you also have issues with students messaging each other? I found a hack on the moodle wiki, but of course I can’t actually do anything with it (it’s been passed on to the district guys). Is there another solution you’ve found?

    Thoughts? Feelings?

  3. Ben Chun / Jan 31 2008 11:51 pm

    The students do message each other, but I also have iTALC running so they know I can look over their shoulder any time. It’s much more effective than walking around. It also gets conversations started about expectations of privacy, students speech and privacy rights in schools, and so on. These are great topics.

    Anyway, to answer your question, I look at it this way: students always have and always will pass notes in class. Now the notes are digital. Our job isn’t to police everything, but rather to create a classroom environment and activities compelling enough to compete with the intrigue of passing notes.

    I like to mix that general approach with the occasional well-timed public bust.

  4. patrickD / Feb 6 2008 6:48 pm

    Me to a T: “And for most teachers, that’s the right thing… teachers really just need something that works. I don’t actually [know how or] have time to hack server code during class to make things work.” But! – it is possible to use an imperfect, not completely understood app to teach IF there is someone nearby who can appreciate the impossible situation of a classroom teacher AND explain in simple English what is possible. Bryan Bell did that for us at BAWP for about 3 years. Now you’re doing it at Gal, within the constraints of your teaching load. I still wonder if it would be possible to have such a “tech coach” available through the district. Bryan and you and those like you move on or over or out, and then the help disappears. I know, I know, central offices tend to push energy up to where it disconnects from classroom value. But still, a regular classroom teacher just wants something that works – like the lights, the heat, the book room, the library. Why can’t a district fund a 1.0 FTE online tech coach?

  5. Ben Chun / Feb 6 2008 8:17 pm

    As far as I can tell, it’s more tricky than getting funding for coach. The really hard part is finding the right person to be that coach. I’m sure there are plenty of people that would jump at such a job, and most of them aren’t going to deliver the value you want. (Not because of any malice on their part, but helping teachers is maybe harder than managing programmers, both of which rank far above herding cats, as the proverb goes.)

    Right now, I’m happy to help out with things to the extent that I can because I’m also able to get the rewards that come with teaching and working with students. I’m suspicious of anyone who gives that up to be a “coach”. I think it’s hard to be in that role without pushing some kind of agenda, and from where I sit, an agenda is exactly what gets in the way of helping teachers how they need to be (or can possibly be) helped to embrace technology.

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