Wednesday, October 24, 2007

VSO’s experiences in setting up Moodle

By Leonie Meijerink, VSO

It can be challenging for VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) volunteers to access adequate learning support once they are in their placements. Conditions in the field are constantly changing and volunteers need support that is flexible, adaptable, and timely. To maximise our support in the field, VSO’s International Training Team has been working on a strategy called CLIC (Continuous Learning in Country). The strategy is a combination of building an online learning environment and a face to face implementation strategy.

Distance modules and e-courses are part of a repertoire of blended learning methods designed to let volunteers access information at their own pace, and to maximize the distribution of shared learning. VSO has selected Moodle as our online learning environment. Moodle was selected because it supports low bandwidth and has a lot of social and interactive features. At the same time we will be making Moodle available offline on USB sticks so that volunteers who do not have easy access to Internet can still benefit from it.

In November 2007 we will launch Moodle to our volunteers. Moodle will contain online modules that feature information exchange forums and home-grown "wikis". We will also experiment the use of wikis to find other volunteers with similar expertise areas, and to share videos via YouTube links. We will launch Moodle as a ‘baby’ that will need to be fed by the contributions of volunteers.

A bit of History
After exploring different open source tools, and getting acquainted with Moodle in the January e-collaboration meeting, we decided to choose Moodle as our new online learning environment. We created a test Moodle environment on a Dutch server in February 2007 and since then we have been training staff in competency-based learning and how to develop distance modules. In the period July to now we have contracted an e-learning designer who has been adding e-learning modules to Moodle. We copied the test version to a hosted environment in September. We are working on the final touches of the web design (with the help of our partners in India), and have started to do functionality and usability testing.

E-collaboration meeting
In the e-collaboration meeting of October 12th we have conducted a usability test of VSO’s Moodle. This gave the members a chance to see how we have set up the Moodle environment for our volunteers. It gave me the great opportunity of testing our Moodle site with some experts in the field of e-collaboration. A grasp from some of the conclusions from the testing:

- Participants tended to get lost between Moodle sites and internal links. Changing the colour of the Moodle site, and opening other sites in pop-up windows can prevent this.

- There’s many different ways in which participants explored the environment, which is good fun to observe. For example, not everyone scrolls down automatically. This meant some testers didn’t find the editing functions in the wikis.

- Moodle offers a ‘search courses’ function. It’s easy to mistake this for an automatic search the site function. It’s quite a disappointment for participants if they can’t use the function as they expect to.

- Is the environment too course oriented? Do I need to focus more on the interactive functions?

Furthermore it was extremely useful to have experts around to give me some creative suggestions. For example: connecting to maps so participants can spot where everyone is located, discussions on building in security tools. Or how about using a package that can build a module in Moodle offline, and who knows… pod casting may be an interesting new project to explore, next to our YouTubeWiki.

Of course I hope this has also been useful for the testers. For those of you who haven’t been able to attend the testing, and would like to find out more about how Moodle is used in VSO, or about our tests, please send me an email:

Meeting a Moodle expert of Ned-Moove, Pieter van der Hijden
Now that we have our own Moodle environment, I felt it was time to get in touch with more experts in the world of Moodle. The Dutch Moodle union was the right place for me to connect to. Pieter van der Hijden talked about this group of 80 members who are all using Moodle, varying from administrators, to teachers, and aid workers. They organise at least one big event annually. This means easy access to a lot of Moodle experts. You never know when that might be needed! Individual membership costs € 25,- a year. More information can be found on their site or moodlemoot.

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