We are in the process of switching to Moodle 2.1 from Moodle 1.9. We’ve been planning this switch for a year but, like many tech projects, it doesn’t matter how much planning and testing you do, the real test happens when users start rolling in.
We’re at that point right now. People are starting to use the system. The most painful point. The transition.
I won’t get into details about the inner workings of Moodle, but those who know the 2.x version compared to the 1.9 version know that there has been a major overhaul of how the file system works. Gone is the file storage area – the place where people dumped all their course files. Instead we have a new file repository system.
From the reading I have done and the people I have talked to, this change has been one of the most contentious changes in Moodle, and we are struggling with how to support it as it means a big shift in how people organize their stuff. It forces people to make a conceptual shift in that their content is now somewhat disaggregated from their course. Dispersed, distributed and decentralized. Not contained within neat little folders. Not easily accessible in a single place. Living….somewhere?
It is forcing people to think about their content in a different way, and it is changing their workflow at the most basic level.
How do I organize my stuff?
How do I delete my stuff?
Where is my stuff? WHERE IS MY STUFF?
It makes sense to me why Moodle is moving to the new repository system, but I can see the technical reasons. That (usually) doesn’t fly with users, and the new system is stressing people out.
One thing I never considered until I read Mark Dreschler’s post, however, is that the pedagogical framework of social constructivism that underpins Moodle means having a powerful file management system could be a rather low priority for Moodle developers because social constructivism moves the focus of a learning experience away from content as the cornerstone and refocuses the experience on the construction of knowledge among participants.
I never really thought about this until Martin’s discussion with the group yesterday, but, and I’ll say it loud and clear now – Moodle is not meant to be a file repository. When I look back at Martin’s original pedagogical drivers of social constructionism then it makes perfect sense that storing files should be low on the list of priorities. Learning in a social constructionist world isn’t about downloading and reading files, its about collaboratively constructing them with others – a critical distinction.
Learning in a social constructionist world isn’t about downloading and reading files, its about collaboratively constructing them with others
In this specific case, the pedagogical model drives the technological development.
Now, that is all wonderful IF you use it in a homogenous environment where all users are on board and working from the same pedagogical model. Great. However, stray from that model and you find yourself working against the technology; fighting, wrestling and wringing it into submission to do what you want to do with it. Or, you are forced to alter your own pedagogical model to make it fit with the technology.
In this case, it’s hard to argue that the instructivist “here are my notes and PowerPoint slides” model is superior to the social constructivism Moodle model, but still; it’s a pedagogical choice being enforced on a user by technology. People don’t like that. They fight back and get defensive when a machine forces them to do something they don’t want to do. It’s technology driving pedagogy.
And this is the inherent problem (feature?) of ANY LMS. It is not neutral. It WILL impose its way on you.
In the case of Moodle, the pedagogy is explicit. Indeed, I think this is one of the reasons why Moodle is a popular choice – it is built around an explicit pedagogy, which appeals to many educators. The foundation is educational, not technological. But, just because it is explicit (and, let’s face it, a pretty good model) doesn’t mean the pain of fitting into that model is any less.
Right now, I am not sure how we are going to deal with the Moodle file issue. Secretly, deep down, part of me smiles just a little to think that the system is actually making it more difficult to stuff a course full of Word and PDF documents; that using the LMS as a content repository is just a little bit tougher to do. But that fades quickly when I realize that this is causing stress and friction for the people I support.
It is also difficult to use moments like this as leverage into a conversation about whether uploading a whack of files into an LMS is the best way to encourage learning when faculty have students breathing down their neck for the latest PowerPoint presentation. But we’ll try. And it won’t be the last time we make choices on how we do things in order to fit the pedagogy imposed on us by our technology.
As Neil Postman says in Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology:
Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and-that.
This is the moment I am living right now.