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Open source in education? Now that’s using your Moodle.

by Julie Bryce

Video by Brad Boll and Jim Haverkamp
Produced by Julie Bryce

Ever heard of Blackboard? Or if you’re young enough, remember online assignments using WebAssign or Maple? Moodle is a content management system with similar capabilities, but it’s open source and completely free. Free as in beer. (They do gratefully accept donations.)

The line between learning in the classroom and learning independently has been forever blurred. Thanks to the resources of the web, kids as young as nine can learn the way college students do. Completing online assignments at home, reviewing lessons from the previous day at their own pace, and communicating with instructors and peers without picking up a phone.

This is the story of Durham Academy and the school’s pioneering use of Moodle in middle school science classrooms. But the lessons learned and the results acheived apply to kids everywhere. Scalable because it’s free, usable because the code is open, Moodle lets teachers maximize their limited classroom hours. They spend more time teaching, less time grading, and offer students a “walled garden” glimpse of the resources available on the wild, wild web. And the students? They learn accountability, time management, independence, and the value of collaboration. Could they be the next generation of open source advocates?

11 responses to “Open source in education? Now that’s using your Moodle.”

  1. Gaber says:

    In a world of diminishing budgets, this is the kind of thing that can vastly improve our educational system. Kudos to DA!

  2. Alex Grogan says:

    Bear in mind the one thing that you cannot budget for is the amount of time wasted trying to piece together an open source solution – who do you call? How many message boards must you read to find out why something isn’t working? etc.

    “vastly improve our educational system”
    Technology will NEVER do that by itself – it’s still the job of the educator, but having better tools to do that job certainly helps.

  3. Brian says:

    Bear in mind the one thing that you cannot budget for is the amount of time wasted trying to piece together an open source solution – who do you call?

    How many hours of your life have you wasted talking to tech support ?
    Trust me, reading a man page, browsing a mailing list archive or forum is a lot less stressful, usually faster, and more likely to get me a decent answer. And I know exactly what my time costs my employer….

  4. Brendan says:

    Open Source solutions that are supported by a company (like RedHat, Ubuntu, etc) or a strong following (Moodle, the GIMP, etc) actually have very responsive and effective support. The programs are no more complex or buggy (often less buggy, since anyone can fix bugs!) than commercial offerings, and you can buy traditional support at low cost from companies like RedHat, or post problems on forums or mailing lists and expect a thorough and quick reply from an enthusiast. So, the “it takes extra time to piece together an open source solution” complaint is mostly hot air, based largely on FUD by M$ and the like.

    The initial setup time for *any* new system can be large, just because of the switchover cost . . . but people only seem to complain about the open source ones – a strong perception bias going in, because they think open source must be complicated. >.

  5. Brendan says:

    (And even if it *did* take more time, a lot of tech and support hours can be bought with the money saved, especially in larger schools – the savings scale up linearly with size because commercial software requires licences!)

    Full disclosure: I’m a faculty member at DA.

    (huh, it’d be a good idea to have this textarea cut off at the post character limit . . . if I hadn’t copied my post before submitting, I would have been very annoyed that half of it disappeared . . .

  6. Brendan says:

    (Also, as a GPL’d Open Source project, Moodle qualifies as both “free as in beer” and the more important “free as in speech” . . . shouldn’t RedHat know this? Tsk tsk.)

  7. Robby says:

    Hahah yay, go Brendan.. I have to admit I’m not shocked it’s you who is posting here.. Way to represent Connections!

  8. John says:

    Why is open source the way to go ? Well there are a number of reasons. We have a situation where all the big guys are talking about software as a service. Who is better position to adopt this model quickly and efficiently if it is not open source ?

    Community, Community, Community. Social Networks, Social Contructivism people have knowledge and knowledge is power. Who better to leverage that knowledge and Community than Open Source ? Moodle has worldwide community build by teachers and educators for teachers and educators. There is no “hardware abstraction” layer you have to go through. The people who are programming this thing are teachers and educators for the most part.

    Frankly what you have here is the revenge of the “right brainers”. The day is pretty much gone where you have dominant “left brained” people dictating to the rest of us “right brainers” how it has to be done on a computer.

    It’s a great day. The next billionare will be less like Bill Gates and more like Dostoevsky or Abai or Vincent Van Gogh.

  9. José Luis Granda says:

    Hola desde Ecuador, moodle representa la posibilidad de apoyar los procesos educativos con TIC’s. Para latinoamerica, el código abierto representa una posibilidad para reducir la brecha digital.

  10. Martha Mendez says:

    As a language teacher in Colombia,I have used several virtual sources for integrating technology into my classes.I have found in Moodle a lot of possibilities to carry out some of my projects to support my students learning process.The fact of being an open free source opens a lot of opportunities to inmerse teachers,students, and in general other professionals in a kind of Technology Literacy to compete in this globalized world as a latinamerican citizen.
    Martha M.

  11. PK says:

    I have experience in administrating Moodle for 2+ years and i like hearing about new, fresh users which are trying to use new system everytime ;). I must agree, that this is not easy sometimes, but definitely worthy.
    And i think, that the Moodle has some of the most supportive communities and developers you can find and many success stories agree with me.
    It’s about persistence, time and work, but what worthy is about something different?