Moodle is a free and very useful course management system that facilitates the teaching of online classes to all age groups--elementary, middle, high school, and college--as well as organizations and corporations. A few years ago, Gina Russell Stevens, one of the founders of Moodlerooms, a Moodle service provider, told me that Moodle is so powerful it can be used as a general community organizing tool. Upon hearing that comment, I set up a Google Alert for Moodle and have been monitoring the ways in which Moodle is used beyond the teaching of classes.
I recently came across an exemplary use by Cub Scout Pack 3387 in Richfield, Ohio. I asked Webmaster Stephen Morris some questions on how this cub scout pack chose Moodle for their Web site. Morris shared the following answers:
How did decide on Moodle for your Cub Scout pack's online Web site?
When I was working on my graduate degree in Adult Learning (MA in Education), I discovered Moodle as part of a research project comparing multiple online learning management systems (LMS). As part of my capstone project I actually deployed a working LMS running on Moodle (www.MorrisLearning.com/moodle). Last year, when I agreed to take on the Webmaster responsibility for Cub Scout Pack 3387, I chose to migrate the site to Moodle, mostly because of my familiarity with the system. I already knew it was a great content management system, and it was free.
Do you use any of Moodle's course management features with your pack members (i.e., the quizzes, etc.)?
Right now we are mostly using Moodle as a content management system for the Cub Scout Pack, capturing many years of knowledge built up within the pack. The Leaders area is a wonderful repository of hundreds of past documents we have used to run pack meetings, campfires, weekend campouts, and ceremonies -– access to this content saves everyone a lot of time because nothing is created from scratch. If I need a winter camping checklist to send out to the kids, I go out to the Web site and download it. We do not use some of the LMS features like quizzes, but we are using the “Assignment” feature to track our adult leaders’ progress in completing mandatory training as prescribed by the Boy Scouts of America. This training from BSA is critical to the smooth operation of our Pack, and each year new adults take on leader positions as new kids join the pack and older kids move on to Boy Scouts.
How difficult was it to set up your Moodle site?
The installation of Moodle is very easy, and there are excellent instructions on the www.Moodle.org community Web site. The Moodle installation scripts do all of the work for you once you upload and extract the installation files. It was a little more difficult to figure out the configuration settings for the cron.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for others wanting to do the same?
Carefully consider your site hosting partner. Products like Moodle have great features like online chat and subscribing to discussion threads. However, these features can trigger a lot of e-mail alerts, which are frequently cut off by hosting providers that want to avoid becoming an e-mail spam server. We ran into this issue where not everyone was receiving the alerts because too many e-mails were being sent out.
Is your Moodle site managed by more than one person?
I manage all upgrades and maintenance on the site. But the content of the site is managed by about a half dozen adult leaders that run our pack on a day-to-day basis such as Den Leaders and Pack Committee Leads. Pete Shepker is our fearless Cubmaster, and he is the most active content provider for the site, posting very informative weekly updates to parents. But everyone contributes to the knowledge contained on the site, which we have carefully organized into a folder taxonomy that makes it easy to find content.
Do you have any anecdotes of how Moodle has served your pack well?
Our adult leaders churn every year as the older kids move on to Boy Scouts. With that churn we have historically suffered a huge loss of knowledge, some of which was contained on the hard drives of our leaders’ computers. Now some of that knowledge can live on indefinitely as we capture it electronically and organize it on our Web site. Our leaders are all volunteers with busy work schedules, so everyone appreciates the capability and convenience to quickly re-use content from the past when planning upcoming activities and events.
Has use of Moodle by your pack sparked an interest in pack members having a stronger interest in the use of other online learning systems?
I have received many compliments on the Web site from adult leaders and parents. But for most people involved in the Pack, they don’t even know what Moodle is, and certainly do not think of it as a LMS. They merely think of it as a source of information for our Pack.
Is Moodle missing any features that would be useful to your pack?
First, I’d like Moodle to have a configuration setting that throttles outbound e-mail so that I can avoid being cut off by the hosting providers. Second, I’d like to have more flexibility with the layout of the site, especially the blocks on the left and right sides of the site, without becoming a master of HTML and CSS and creating my own themes.
What trainings have you done to get pack members more comfortable using Moodle?
Our training was limited to a demo during our Pack Committee Meeting, and some instructions to register on the site that I sent via e-mail. Overall, I think the site is very user-friendly, and most people pick it up on their own.
What other Web tools did you consider for your pack before you settled on Moodle?
I didn’t consider anything else. I know how to set up and manage a Moodle site. I know it is a fantastic system with a very active community and a rapidly growing installation base. It was a no-brainer decision to use Moodle for this.
(The blogger works as the public geek at the Takoma Park Maryland Library and is an adjunct professor of education at American University. He takes an interest in technology uses that create a more inclusive society. firstname.lastname@example.org)
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