Managing courses or projects
The next interview took place at June 27, 2006 with Camillo Villa from HIVOS.
“At HIVOS we use D-groups very intensively, as well as Skype. I also use Moodle in the workshops I provide. This has nothing to do with HIVOS though.” Can you tell me something about Moodle first? “I needed an e-learning programme, so I started searching different applications to see what my options were. Then I ran into Moodle and found it worked very well. I use it at workshops and the application is ideal to shape the content of the course. It is a very easy to use e-learning platform and doesn’t require high bandwidth, since it is very basic. You can upload documents and keep a schedule. This way you can keep all the information together and the information is accessible to all course participants. Multiple courses can be simultaneously stored and the number of participants is not limited. There is also a forum area, which has the option to redirect all posts to your e-mail in case you don’t want to keep checking online.” Is Moodle hard to work with, or hard to get started with? “No, all options are self-explanatory. To start working with Moodle you have to install a server application on a server, although there are websites that offer you the opportunity to work with Moodle on someone else’s server. You can then create your course there. If you want to try out Moodle, you can do this very easily on their website, where they run a demo version. You have access to all the options an administrator would have, so you can make and change a course or add participants plus all the other Moodle options.”
Moodle and partners
You use Moodle outside HIVOS. Do you also see possibilities for using it at HIVOS? “Absolutely. We often have different projects going on with partners. They all have different timeframes and different themes. Moodle would be a good place to store all these projects. Especially when writing a report together or going over a proposal. At the moment people use e-mail to do that, but that means that documents are being sent, commented on and returned. This goes back and forth and the result of this process is lots of documents in e-mail boxes. If they could use Moodle for this process, all steps from the initial to the final document would be kept in one place. This is particularly convenient if a colleague is being replaced. The replacement is then able to trace the process and see what decisions have been made. Besides that, it can also be a place where presentations or photographs of the launch of a project can be kept. In that way the online environment can also strengthen the team spirit. If the information is private you can close off the entire area, but you can also make it public, depending on what you want.
“At HIVOS we use D-groups a lot, but that is not surprising since we are one of the founders of D-groups. We have two different ways of using the groups. One is internal at HIVOS. Every department has its own D-group, where for example announcements are posted. We also have separate D-groups for the coordination of teams or for specific tasks like writing a business plan, for example. Besides the in-house groups, we have D-groups with different themes and groups for our partners.” For what purposes are D-groups usually employed? “The idea behind D-groups was to create a low-bandwidth working space, where people could share knowledge and work together. What D-groups are ultimately used for is mostly not known. The most that we can see is the number of messages sent, but the knowledge exchanged and created within the group remains inside the group. For instance, in all the thematic groups there are hundreds of questions and answers that have been posted. This information is usually only used by the individual who asked the question and maybe some other people inside that group, but it doesn’t go out of the group. I think that a tool should be developed to enable search options through these groups and make this knowledge publicly available; this could be done in combination with wikis or blogs. It is a shame that all the information gets lost inside the group.”
They are aware of the systems, but don’t know how to use them
How do you think that e-collaboration can contribute to the work of Dutch NGOs? “I think working together gets easier and more information can be shared. The problem is that lots of people talk about new technologies, but don’t have any idea how to use them. That’s why we’re planning to offer our colleagues an introduction to the new tools, so that they can become more familiar with the tools available. People shouldn’t see new tools as replacements for the older ones; in some cases they are complementary. I don’t think that a tool should combine all possible features available, like communities, chat functions, sharing spaces, etc. Different tools can be used to help you get all the functions you want, but they don’t necessarily have to be implemented in the same system."
Applications are designed for a certain purpose. There are applications for talking (Skype, Teamspeak), applications to share documents, applications to create documents together (wikis) etcetera. This does not necessarily mean though, that the applications need to be used for this purpose only. Off course they are best suitable for what they are designed for, but most of the time you can use them any way you like. Camillo has named another purpose for the use of Moodle. Originally, Moodle is an e-learning tool, so its purpose from design perspective is to shape online courses. Camillo sees an opportunity here for projects. There is a calendar, multiple users can be added and there can be added a time span to the course. These are all aspects of project and course needs. I myself once used an MSN community in a course at university to share documents, discuss roles and tasks and announce deadlines. An MSN community is not designed for courses, but why not use it for one? From my point of view this blog was not intended as a normal blog. I just saw it as a way to publish my research in a nice format, as an alternative to a website. I did not really see the need to keep it going and up-to-date like with a normal blog. What I saw was an easy way to share the interviews, where people could leave comments. As excited as I am about the idea that people are willing to keep it going, I still don’t believe that people will no longer read a blogpost if it is outdated. Of course my research will be dated very soon and it is important that people who read it know when it took place. Especially in a field like e-collaboration that is evolving so quickly.