The Blackboard killer? Moodle & U, Part 2

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By Joshua Ostrer

Moodle, a new and inventive course-management system, has flourished in many different environments. But how is it faring here at Union?

Moodle is in its pilot-stage here at Union. Thus far, over 30 faculty members have taken advantage of the opportunity to try out Moodle.

To see how professors and administrators are adapting to Moodle, we found a representative sample of the disciplines using Moodle: Computer Science, Philosophy, and ITS, who makes Moodle work.

Two teachers were reached for comment on their experiences with Moodle in the classroom: Assistant Professor of Computer Science Kristina Striegnitz and Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Mark Wunderlich.

To comment more generally on the adoption and use of Moodle, we spoke to Mary Parlett-Sweeney, Associate Director of Academic Computing.

While both Parlett and Striegnitz began the pilot in fall term, along with six other faculty, involving 254 students. The pilot has continued this winter term, expanding the program to 24 more faculty members; however, the number of students involved is unknown. Wunderlich has been testing out Moodle even before term with the Ethics Bowl team.

When asked how they thought Moodle was faring in their classes, the response was fairly unified. Creativity is good. “Moodle has more structural modification options…it’s just easier to set up.” said Striegnitz.

“[Moodle] allows faculty to be more creative.” said Parlett-Sweeney.

Addressing the problem of quick-posting, Wunderlich stated that “you can just slab stuff on the front page.”

Moodle offers a unique feature, its modules. Modules cover everything from an overview module to a quiz module.

“The wiki module is useful and has been great. The central data storage has been great.” said Wunderlich.

Aside from the wiki, however, the module aspect of Moodle is clearly an unexplored aspect here at Union, as many teachers do not use them.

For now, their impact remains unknown.

Then came the moment of truth: how does Moodle compare to Blackboard? The answer is simple. Moodle takes Blackboard to the cleaners.

“Blackboard’s interface can be clunky.” said Striegnitz.

Parlett-Sweeney and Wunderlich agreed.

“[Moodle] is much more flexible than Blackboard. How easy it is to use, allows me to do more with it,” said Wunderlich.

“[Moodle] is easier to use, especially for everyday usage.” said Striegnitz.

Finally, teachers were asked where they thought the future of Moodle lies.

“I would definitely use Moodle again.” said Striegnitz, after using Moodle for just one term.

Parlett-Sweeney, one of the members of the faculty supervising the pilot, stated that “the pilot will at least continue into next term.”

“Absolutely lots of institutions have done well with Moodle, Union Grad School is using Moodle,” said Wunderlich.

The dilemma associated with Moodle seems to be a fearful one. Change is scary.

“It does mean a change, which means something scary for some… If there were to be a change, though, we’d run Moodle alongside Blackboard at first,” said Parlett-Sweeney.

For those of you dreaming of the day Moodle completely replaces Blackboard, you’ll have to wait a while. Blackboard is just too embedded into parts of the curriculum.

Faculty who have used Moodle feel more strongly about it. After more than six months of use, Professor Wunderlich has made his decision.

“It’s worth the cost of switching gears,” he said.

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