Virtual learning Environment, Moodle, Using Moodle, WebCT

One of the projects I am involved in is working with the University’s Faculty of Science and Technology to create a blended or online foundation degree. Much of what we do with this is going to be informed by the BA Learning Technology Research degree we are developing in the Ultraversity project, but of particular interest to me is the use of an alternative VLE to the university flavour.

Currently, Anglia Ruskin use WebCT for this kind of online delivery. Many departments across the faculties use the software, and the university has invested heavily in it. However, there are some key issues surrounding it and how it is used/perceived and these have meant I have had to find an alternative to WebCT.

Having looked at many, and indeed spent the best part of a day with the computing department team who are to use the VLE, we settled on Moodle. A year or so ago Moodle wasn’t really the right kind of environment – it lacked certain features and made it difficult to see how it could be used. However, a year or so on and the open source community have done wonders – Moodle is now at v1.5 with 1.6 due out soon. It is a very different beast these days and actually offers a great deal more than most. Particular interest is in the integration with other VLEs, but I note WebCT isn’t on the list of those (yet!).

A key concern for us is how we would deal with the registration of students and integrate this with the University’s registration procedures… and this is going to form the basis of the research we are going to undertake. Additional elements of that research will be to investigate the way Moodle encourages a social constructivist approach to learning rather than the more didactic or top-down approach which WebCT seems to offer. I think that the days of filling ’empty vessels’ with knowledge are long gone – but I see little to persuade me that WebCT is moving on from that. I have had a brief look at ‘Vista’ (we are currently using ‘Campus’ edition) and this does seem to offer more, but I can’t get away from the notion that the WebCT approach does not move people towards the more powerful learning opportunities available.

What is going to be interesting is to see how Moodle does this. I know that it will be a bit of a struggle to get people to universally abandon any ingrained teaching methodologies, or to move inherently away from simply putting content and resources on line without offering dialogue too. My early impressions of Moodle are that it *can* operate in this way, but the emphasis is overwhelmingly on *not* doing so!

With luck, the research findings will be used by the university in any evaluation of their online learning provision. There are far too many bottlenecks in the way the administrative tools of WebCT are centralised and moved out of the reach of individuals in the faculties -probably for very good reasons – but what we need now is for the university to take a very much more open minded approach to online learning environments, and consider for a moment whether an open source solution which is in good stages of development can offer anything more than their investment (thousands of pounds worth) in WebCT.

2 thoughts on “Virtual learning Environment, Moodle, Using Moodle, WebCT

  • 7 March, 2006 at 1:38 am

    Ah, perceptions – I reckon that at Ultralab we can bend many tools/VLEs to suit our approach better. I don’t know why WebCT is perceived as top-down, but then I didn’t read the manual before setting up a module entirely along the BA Learning, Technology, Research approach. I’m sure you will have every success with Moodle, and those who have been working with Plone also claim success. With Vista to evaluate, I won’t have time for other platforms for a while – but would like to develop when there’s a chance.

  • 7 March, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    WebCT and ‘Top Down’ is probably brought about from my experiences with the way WebCT is deployed and, on the whole, used within many departments. It seems to be a container for content which students need to download as an additive to their f2f courses… I see *very* little evidence of it being used to stimulate debate in any meaningful way – but then I am not privvy to all that is going on around the university WebCT courses… so yes, just a perception. It is, somewhat, confirmed by my discussions with the staff from different faculties who look at it day to day and try to subvert the way it forces things to be done.

    I read a very interesting review here:

    Check the date of that… !

    I don’t see Plone in the same way as Moodle. Plone is potentially a far more powerful CMS, but it requires three technologies to work, each are difficult to learn. I understand even the Plone developers don’t recommend plone as anything other than for an Intranet, but that is a viscious rumour 🙂 Moodle is a lot ‘lighter’ to use and easier to get in to adapt (despite there being a raft of style sheets) than Plone, but both give you a lot more flexibility than WebCT, I would say. Again, a lot of this is probably because of the way WebCT is deployed within the university, but ultimately it is the nature of the deployment which will govern the way it gets used, and thus the continuing propogation of the perception that it is a very much ‘top down’ approach to learning.

    One thing is cery clear to me – there needs to be a radical shake up in the way online learning is used. Moodle (and Plone) offer a very effective alternative to the vastly more expensive WebCT. This will no doubt be one of the key ramparts of the action enquiry we will undertake… although no conclusions are yet arrived at and all options are open still.

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