The most awaited talk on the most awaited Moodle event of the year has happened. The creator of Moodle, Martin Dougiamas, presented his talk, named Building Fires. He presented it to begin the second day of MoodleMoot Australia 2016 in Perth.
Dougiamas did not hide his excitement. It was the first time his hometown was hosting a Moot.
«We knew it would be a smaller one, but I think it was worth it at least just once.»
The majority of the crowd was involved in higher education, followed by K-12 and corporate learning, and a host of individuals with wider scopes of expertise.
A few remarks about his childhood served to establish the nature of his relationship with distance education. “For an area the size of Spain, there was one classroom“. A vast and empty desert gave him two scenarios for childhood learning: shortwave radio, and fireplaces. The latter image served as the underlying metaphor for the remaining of his talk.
«When you make a fire, you have to start with kindling. You have to start small (…) And then you add bigger pieces as it starts to catch and get a life of its own (…)
Once the fire gets to a certain point, you can throw wet wood on that thing (…) It gets to a point where the fire is reburning its own smoke (…) It’s hard to stop a fire once it starts growing.»
Dangerous imaginary fire hazards aside, he stresses the “feedback loop” that comes when students have the tools to interact and collaborate. To the point that the role of the teacher recedes. “You only have to throw a log every now and then.”
This loop also takes the form of the exponential rate of growth of user adoption.
«I just got back from Brazil, where 90% of all education is using Moodle.»
Brazil is the third largest Moodle country. The US is first, followed by Spain. Australia is number 7, below Germany and above Colombia.
The learning technology ecosystem is complex, and politics do not help. Dougiamas claims that because Moodle is free, this affects its perception in large institutions. How does an Open Source LMS fit in the landscape?
«Moodle begins with a Core Learning Platform. It is not an environment or an LMS. It is actually a tool with which you make one. You take Moodle and make a learning management system with it.»
He listed the blocks that make the core of Moodle:
- Competencies (Since Moodle 3.1)
Attached to the core are plugins. External plugins were the gateway to integrate Moodle into more sophisticated services and players in the ecosystem. This helped to differentiate the Core from the display technologies. Today mobile is the next frontier, but Moodle is ready to be implemented into the next generation.
«Virtual reality, augmented reality. Screens are disappearing, we are talking more and more to computers, and they are talking back to us.»
Dougiamas argued that its “true Open Source” nature has allowed Moodle to stay relevant.
«Moodle is driven by a mission, not money. If we get more money, we use it to pay more developers and keep growing (…)
Some software is trying to get rid of teachers. It’s trying to automate things to the point where you don’t need teachers. I don’t like that world view. We love teachers. We empower teachers to to a better job.»
Openness also gives Moodle an edge in privacy and transparency. Moodlers own their data. Moodle is also flexible and scalable.
Next he moved on to how Moodle is a platform for science. He believes Moodle could become a good friend of neuroscience, as it would allow to gather learning behavior data from around the world, and become a place to prove theories.
«But we have to get more focused on proving our assertions.»
This is a way for Dougiamas to open towards the bigger picture. Moodle advocates should not focus on whether the system is winning the war against email. The real battles, as outlined by Dougiamas, are:
«Implementation is ninety-nine percent of the problem (…)
You are not going to get good at online teaching at an university unless you value teaching at a policy level.»
He referred back to a conversation he held in Moscow, during EdCrunch, with Helsinki’s K-12 education coordinator. She explained to him how the process began “back in the 60s, and thanks to motivated individuals“. Now teachers are compensated and rewarded, and they don’t want to do anything else. This decades long anecdote serves him to highlight the role of policy and economics, and above that, of activism.
He listed the new features expected for Moodle 3.2, to be released in November. Competencies will be promoted more prominently, to expand integration and data collection about learning performance. He expressed his excitement about new features, the new Boost theme, and the LTI standard in particular, which opens up a world of options about connectivity.
He announced the increasing functionality of Moodle Mobile. Many plugins are gaining compatibility on the Moodle app, and many more are currently in development. Offline capabilities is another big bet.
«I’m fairly sure that by the end of this year the mobile feature set is going to be good enough so eighty percent of students do not need to go to the website, and use just the app.»
It was also the time to announce the Branded Moodle App.
Research and interoperability require a investment in analytics, which Dougiamas is ready to tackle.
«There is a discussion right now (…) The fire is burning»
«Always when a new technology comes along, we think: ‘it’s going to revolutionize education’. And then what happens is that it becomes another tools of learning. We still talk, we still use whiteboards. I am excited about VR, but it’s not going to ‘revolutionize’ and replace everything. (…) We still have a hippocampus. (…) Many things will not change. The Moodle Core will not change (…)
Were you at the AU Moot? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!