Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book Review: Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Moodle, the free Open Source Learning Management System (LMS) introduced in 2002, has already been the subject of quite a few books, articles, websites and tutorials. Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques is a good addition to these resources.
The book under review stands out because it is a collaboration between an experienced designer, developer and administrator of online courses, Susan Smith Nash, and a software training professional who previously authored several books on Moodle, William Rice.
What makes this book different from other publications is that the focus moves beyond the description of Moodle tools to predominantly concentrate on how Moodle serves current principles of virtual learning and effective online teaching. To this end, the authors share their views and considerable experience with implementing Moodle pedagogy.
I liked that the authors first lay out the framework of Moodle course design based upon principles of how people learn and the theoretical underpinnings of effective virtual learning and teaching. This explanation is given in a user/reader-friendly manner and can be easily understood by a Moodle user who has no educational background. The words flow easily and the reader becomes immersed in current concepts of the digital world, visualizing the benefits of social, emulated, and experiential learning, the importance of communities of intelligence and of social practice. This description of the theoretical framework then organically flows into the course-building components in Moodle, how the tools and features of Moodle fit today’s learning/teaching requirements and how Moodle meets such needs of digital learners as accessibility, a user-friendly setting, a positive learning environment, a collaborative nature and a fast learning curve.
Screen shots are used instead of lengthy verbal descriptions to succinctly explain how to use Moodle tools in creating engaging and effective course components. The successive chapters go beyond introduction of Moodle tools to provide guidance for making online courses engaging for the students while meeting the pedagogical demands of instructors.

While the book provides a good general overview of learning theories applicable to Moodle coursework, a notable omission is the failure to include one of the most prominent and powerful theories behind current digital education, George Siemens’ work on connectivism or connected learning. Siemen’s work allows us to appreciate the power of Moodle as a platform for connecting people globally, providing an environment for uniting learners and teachers across diverse cultures. While the notion of connected learning is used implicitly between the lines, the authors should have underscored its significance as a key theoretical foundation for online learning and teaching.
The work thus falls short of demonstrating the mutual synergy of theory and application, embodied in Moodle, where programming not only applies the latest educational theory but itself becomes a force for further theoretical innovation in pedagogy. Such Web 2.0 platforms create pedagogical contexts never previously existent or even imaginable. And this new unitary context therefore offers a rich opportunity for both new theory and application at the level of social meta-learning not previously attainable.
Of the volumes available to date on this topic, Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques: Creative ways to build powerful and effective online courses stands out as a platform for experimenting with Moodle course design and discovering the enjoyment of engaged, collaborative, participatory culture successfully provided by Moodle and its Web 2.0 genre. It is a step toward the kinds of new learning that Moodle enables.