The Blackboard killer? Moodle & U, Part 1

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By Joshua Ostrer

Where would the wayward students, lost without their homework assignment, be without the wonder that is Blackboard?

Lost, of course, unless they are one of the lucky few using Moodle instead.

Despite its problems, Blackboard has basically been the standard Course Management System for Union, and many other colleges, for ages.

However, Union has begun testing a replacement for Blackboard, called Moodle, and several hundred students are currently using it for their classes.

What is Moodle? Like Blackboard, Moodle is a Course Management System designed to enable online course work, collaboration and teaching. Unlike bigger systems such as Blackboard, Moodle was designed to be more flexible, leading to its original name, “Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment.” “Moodle” apparently sounded better.

Moodle’s mission statement defines it as “a software package for producing internet-based courses and web sites. It is a global development project designed to support a social constructionist framework of education.”

Moodle first came to the public eye in a program resembling a Blackboard 1.0, on Aug. 23, 2002. Originally used within universities, Moodle now services numerous schools: public, private, high school, primary, and even companies, both non-profit and private.

Moodle’s belief is that through their software, teachers can adapt to a more influential role, where they are not only a source of knowledge but a collaborative part of the student learning community, allowing students to come away from courses with a much more comprehensive knowledge of the subject-matter.

However, at the same time, Moodle emphasizes that the software is not restricted to this goal, and can be adopted for many different uses.

Moodle’s software package contains many different modules, including overview, course reports, assignments,  chat, choice, forum, glossary, lesson, quiz, resource, survey, wiki, and workshop modules.

Few of you who have used Moodle have probably ever used all these modules, but this sort of flexibility and power is what sets Moodle apart from competitors.

In great contrast to systems like Blackboard, Moodle is fully open source. Moodle is copyrighted; however, users “are allowed to copy, use and modify Moodle provided that [they] agree to: provide the source to others, not modify or remove the original license and copyrights, and apply this same license to any derivative work.”

As a result of using Open Source software, Moodle embraces an open source philosophy. Moodle ensures its users that, regardless of the ownership of the company, the software will remain to be free to the public, for use and modification.

Aside from simply being free to use, Moodle’s open source nature means that it has a dedicated developer community around the world who continuously improve the platform.

The people at Moodle currently know of almost 50,000  Moodle sites, serving almost 37 million people across the world. However, they have not allowed their growth to hinder their closeness to the user.

The developers of Moodle emphasize Moodle.org as one of the most important aspects of their project, stating that it “provides a central point for information, discussion and collaboration among Moodle users.”

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