I had a chance to read this research paper recently submitted at Moodle.org and it was pretty interesting (the authors are Şule Taslis Pektas and Halime Demirka of Bilkent University in Turkey). The study gauged student thoughts on their Moodle (in several areas) experience for a course specifically using Moodle to help facilitate and manage a computer aided design project. The students used Moodle to help manage their team (groups of three setup using the Moodle groups feature) communicate, share and complete their end project (which was highlighted one member of the group’s individual project as well as a way to display all projects).
The findings were interesting, but I believe say a lot about both the project’s intended scope and the usability of Moodle (which is what specifically they were seeking to shed light on). The main goal of the research was measuring Perceived usefulness and Perceived Ease of Use (PUEU).
Overall the students found Moodle to be especially useful as a flexible communication tool. They were undecided on its value to enhance effectiveness and agreed slightly that it helped made design easier. The majority agreed or strongly agreed that it allowed them to work more quickly. As a tool students mostly agreed (Agree and Strongly Agree) that Moodle was easy to use, controllable, easy to learn and clear and understandable. The authors specifically noted that Moodle was chosen because of its help documents, helpful mouse-over text prompts and visual cues (via consistent icons).
To be clear, the goal of the assignment was to allow students to communicate, specifically using the file sharing and commenting tools available in group forums. The design had a limited scope which perhaps influenced the overall Agree/Disagree survey since students were not using the Peer Evaluation tool, were not assessed in any way through Moodle and did not engage any of the many other activities and resources (core or 3rd party) which are available. That said, it does show that Moodle, even at its basic levels of usage and implementation can be used/leveraged as an effective communications tool and to increase efficiency.
An additional insight was provided which was more qualitative near the end of the article which was the student’s perception of Moodle vs. their in class experience,
A close inspection of the answers to the open questions revealed that MOODLE was regarded as an advantageous tool in collaborative design. The advantages of MOODLE that were perceived by the students focused on the well-established characteristics of web-based education tools such as being free of limitations of physical boundaries and of strict time schedules, sharing projects and ideas easily, and saving time. On the other hand, the main criticism of MOODLE was based on its comparison to face-to-face design communication: some students complained that the design comments that they received through MOODLE might not be as expressive as those that they got through face-to-face communication.
Read the full article here: http://jfa.arch.metu.edu.tr/archive/0258-5316/2011/cilt28/sayi_2/227-241.pdf or find it in the Moodle Buzz article repository: http://moodle.org/mod/data/view.php?d=19&rid=5241.