Friday, 20 August 2010

Blogs, moodle and teaching

An interesting if slightly knotty problem:

A user wishes to teach a course using moodle and have students submit essays and gobbets (ie small text summaries on a topic) via a blog, whereby they can go into moodle, be captured and graded - and eventually archived as they form part of an (electronic) record of the students work.

Of course the blog has to be authenticated so we know that it is that student logged in and the posts have to be private to reduce the risk of one student cutting and pasting another student's work.

Moodle's internal blogging tool is not the best so we are looking at an external tool. The first and most obvious would be Wordpress as we (a) have a production instance running and (b) we can do LDAP authentication so we know who is writing the post. This actually starts becoming unwieldy as Wordpress has a linear stream of consciousness mode so each student would have to have a private blog per module, say one for gender studies, one for Persian, one for Middle East cultural history etc etc. And of course they would post the wrong gobbet to the wrong blog, and harvesting all the content into a single place would be a logistical nightmare.

So excellent as wordpress is, the answer's no.

Now if you think about what we're trying to accomplish here it's a lot like a wiki where the tutor can see everything, but individual creators can only maintain/create pages in their own tree.

So - a wiki ? Well, no. Wiki's have a learning curve, and even using wysiwyg editors people need to structure their data. And the structure has got to be predictable to be able to harvest the right content at the right time. And while templates ca go a long way to imposing structure wikis do require more work on the part of the student. And of course you have to teach distance students how to use it, so it's got to be intuitive - you can't just get them in a lab for a workshop session to teach them how to do it and submit some sample work.

Blogs have the advantage of linearity. You write one bit of text, then you write the second, and the second comes after the first, just as if they were diary entries written in an old fashioned paper notebook.

Now Sakai has a blogging tool that's reasonably ok, uses fsckEditor, that is close enough to to default tools in blogger and wordpress, live writer and google docs that anyone who can use these tools can use to create entries with little or no additional training.

Sakai also has the concept of a group blog - so the blog belongs to the gender studies 101 worksite not to and the students can be individual editors, and can make their posts private so they can only be seen by the tutor. And of course as Moodle and Sakai both have LDAP authentication we can (a) do single sign on (b) make sure that the person making the post is who they should be (ok has authenticated correctly).

The really nice thing is that Moodle can be a Basic LTI consumer and Sakai can export so the Sakai blogging tool can be used as if it was part of Moodle, and crucially part of the Moodle course site, and the content hauled off into Moodle for archiving and grading purposes. The only problem is that the ingest of work for grading is still fairly manual but we have students able to create and submit their work in a structured and fairly straightforward manner, reducing support time, and, in the case of distance students, turning content submission into an anytime/anywhere activity...

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