In 2016, Stephen Grono traveled to Paro, a town west of Bhutan’s capital. Australia’s University of New England, Grono’s lifelong alma mater, sent a School of Education team he was part of on a project to co-develop an Early Childhood Education online course. As part of the agreement, UNE would provide Paro’s College of Education, part of the Royal University of Bhutan, new competencies on learning technologies, including instructional design and course management, all based on Moodle.
Grono discovered that his foreign colleagues were very acquainted with the open source LMS, their systems running the latest version at the time. Now the project would not be about teaching people how to use Moodle, but how to address actual challenges faced by students, through Moodle.
The country of just over 800,000 people became the perfect testing ground for an idea Grono had toyed with before. In only a few years, Bhutanese teens in the more urban areas started to join the internet, with mobile phones and WhatsApp (and jeans) gaining fast adoption. But as the learning population was starting to become comfortable with digital interfaces, the connectivity poised insurmountable obstacles for learning solutions that required constant internet connection. This was exactly the issue that had been roaming around Grono’s mind for a while.
Australia’s vastly desertic geography has been an inspiration, among other things, for many distance education initiatives. It even has a role in shaping the vision for Moodle early on. In Grono’s view, EdTech is long overdue in offering more self-sufficient and reliable solutions. It’s not uncommon for tech companies to have incorrect assumptions about the resources at the disposal of underserved and overlooked learners. But after some brainstorming, he realized the modularity of the Moodle made it surprisingly easy to package a full LMS experience into one USB stick, making him closer to create his own self-empowering solution.
Grono, an Education Bachelor and MEd (Master of Education with focus on eLearning) never had a programming background or professional experience with coding. “Everything I needed to know I googled it.” As is turns out, modifying the core files so Moodle looked to the storage location dynamically rather than relying on a fixed location for access to the database was about the hardest technical challenge he had to face. Even though Grono’s duties in Bhutan were originally focused on supporting academic staff through course development, incorporating this concept allowed for him to directly support student access to learning. So off he went to spend some time building his “Moodle on a stick idea.” This is the origin of “Spoodle” or Shared Portable Moodle.
Spoodle provides a one-click solution that takes the learner directly to their home page. All it takes to add a course to a pendrive-hosted Moodle site is the MBZ package of the course stored on the same drive. It is so simple to build and maintain (you can even watch him build it from scratch) that Grono feels uneasy to think about his commercial possibilities. He diverts the conversation back to its potential in terms of the learning audience that could benefit. I’m not sure these are different conversations.
Spoodle has always been a solo operation. Other than the occasional help of a friendly instructional designer, he has kept the solution up-to-code all by himself. It helps that UNE has suported his idea, among other means by making use of the device for their own remote students. One of the largest Education schools in Australia, UNE encourages interesting EdTech ideas, which Grono works at the behest of teachers at the other schools and faculties. His current research interests include Augmented & Virtual Reality, and the potential of these and other immersive technologies in the classroom.
Whether these can be somehow baked into Spoodle, it is not a question that concerns Grono. Rather, he believes “the flexibility of running a completely independent Moodle server for the learner allows the targeted inclusion of many of the already-existing plugins developed by the wider Moodle community.” This could be in the form of adaptation for accessibility, language and localization; or gamification and student engagement strategies. In this sense, Spoodle’s potential for better experiences expands with Moodle, if it’s not itself a driver for said expansion. Beyond the open LMS space, a more business-oriented entrepreneurial spirit could take advantage of the vast potential in self-packaged learning that still exist. While Spoodle’s purpose never has mixed with market interests, Grono is fine with his invention being used to facilitate them.
For the time being, he continues to receive greetings and letters of appreciation from military outposts, remote and disconnected locations; both globally and from within Australia.
Grono has just released a Spoodle based on the latest, Moodle 3.6.2 version. Visit Spoodle at steve.moodlecloud.com.
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