Thursday, March 26, 2009

New Moodle Presentation

It's been almost two years since I created a brief video presentation of Moodle, and now I finally took the time to update it with a new version. Initially, I just wanted to update the usage statistics, but I ended up doing a redesign, and I also added some information, so it's slightly longer than the previous version. In addition to that, the video is now available in better quality and in widescreen format. And now, without further ado, I present you the new, improved Moodle Presentation:

You can view the video presentation on YouTube, Vimeo, and I created the presentation in Apple's Keynote, so you can also view the slides that I used on SlideShare.

I hope you enjoy this presentation; and feel free to use it to spread the word about Moodle!

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day

If you haven't heard it yet, today is Ada Lovelace Day, "an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology". I must confess I haven't heard much about Ada before today, but I have of course heard much more about Charles Babbage, the inventor of the computer she was programming on. And that's a good indicator of how history often forgets to mention women's contributions. Let's all take a moment to remember who Ada was:
"She is mainly known for having written a description of Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. She is today appreciated as the "first programmer" since she was writing programs—that is, manipulating symbols according to rules—for a machine that Babbage had not yet built. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities." (Wikipedia)
Luckily, times are changing, but women in technology (and many other fields) are still a minority, and that's why I, as a woman in tech myself, can relate to the idea of Ada Lovelace Day. For me, today is about thanking the women in our lives, who have the power to inspire us all in unique ways.

And I'm glad that it's with the help of technology that I came in touch with several women, who use technology in inspiring ways. Today, I'd especially like to thank Angela Thomas, a researcher with a unique approach to digital media, Alanagh Recreant, who is using technology to promote sustainable development, Aliza Sherman, an unstoppable web pioneer, Chris Collins, a passionate educator and community builder, and Grace McDunnough, an innovative musician and explorer of new worlds.

And, last but not least, I'd also like to thank my mom. She showed me that it's ok for women to know about technology, and she brought computers and the internet into our home at a time when these things were still considered irrelevant by most people. It was thanks to her that I practically grew up with computers and that I saw the great potential of technology from an early age.

Thank you all, and keep up with the good work!

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Interested in Moodle? Find a MoodleMoot to attend!

Moodle is a great open source and freely available online learning management system, but what really makes it special is the large community of teachers and administrators that are using it in many different and innovative ways. And that is why Moodle conferences called MoodleMoots (gatherings of wise Moodle users) are always great events to attend for anyone already using Moodle or trying to learn more about it. They are a great opportunity for people to share best practices and to find new connections and even friendships.

And it is with great pleasure that I'm now helping organize the 3rd International Slovenian MoodleMoot, which will take place on May 22nd in the lovely and sunny coastal city of Koper, Slovenia (my birth place!). I would like to invite you all to attend our Moot and present your experience with Moodle; and if you can't make the trip to Koper, you can even present remotely via Skype. If you'd like to learn more about our MoodleMoot, see the official Call for International Presentations.

In case the timing of our conference isn't right for you, I'd also like to encourage you to take a look at the list of other MoodleMoots that are being organized all over the world. So far I was only able to attend the Austrian Moot once, but I sure hope I get the chance to visit others as well! Moodlers are usually a really great crowd, and I'm already looking forward to seeing some great practical uses of Moodle and related tools at our Moot. I hope to see you there too! :)

P.S.: Speaking of great conferences... don't miss The Virtual World Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference this weekend (March 27-29) - it's a free conference taking place in the virtual world of Second Life.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Improving student engagement with game mechanics and a smart progress bar

Keeping students motivated and interested can often be challenging; even more so when you're dealing with distance learning. There are of course several pedagogical approaches that we can use to keep students motivated, but lately I've been thinking about how we could make the tools that we already use in education more student friendly, more engaging and fun to use. And here's an idea I've been playing with in my mind lately: the integration of smart progress bars into a LMS (Learning Management System) to increase student engagement.

Progress bars on the web - nothing new

I've noticed that several websites are using progress bars to encourage users to fill out their profiles. You've probably seen this on LinkedIn or SlideShare and even in various tutorials. Another thing I've noticed is that these progress bars really work on me! Every time I see one of these I try to increase the level of completeness; I admit that it even convinced me to give out my e-mail address to a Facebook app! What is great about these progress bars is that they usually suggest the next step you should take to increase the completeness. "Want more? Add this box to your profile!" It's simple, easy to follow, and you get something new to do each time.
LinkedIn profile completeness
It's also common to show some kind of progress bars in learning activities such as online lessons. You've probably seen this too: "You've completed 80% of this lesson". Unfortunately, these progress indicators are often way too impersonal too provide anything else than plain information. And this can be quite boring. You know in advance that all you have to do is keep clicking the Next button and you'll eventually get to the end.

Integrating progress bars with smart suggestions into a LMS

Now, what if we would try to integrate the interesting type of progress bars in e-learning courses? I'm thinking about some sort of course-wide (and even site-wide) progress indicators. Let me explain what I mean.

You have an online course, and you're using a LMS; let's say Moodle (the LMS I'm most familiar with). And you have a set of activities students have to complete. Your LMS allows you to group these activities by weeks or topics. Now you also have a tool that allows you to set the connections between activities. For example, a student should first read the introductory article, then discuss it on the forums, and at the end of the week write a blog post about the subject or make a podcast about it. And let's also say that you could define a set of activities that have to be completed to unlock the next section.

Now, imagine a block that would show each student how much of the activities have been completed or how many points the student has accumulated in the current week/topic. At the bottom of the block there is a link that says: "Well done Lucy, you've completed 80% of this week activities! Click here to find out what else you can do this week." or "Great job Lucy, you've earned 80% of the available points for this topic! Click here to find what you can do next to get that perfect score!"

A sample Moodle block with a progress bar
After clicking the link, our student, Lucy, gets a list of activities that she hasn't completed yet or that she can improve. It's not necessary to show all activities; the LMS only shows activities that make sense for Lucy at that time. Just a few of activities that Lucy can do next. If we want to get really smart, we could even suggest activities that best suit Lucy's learning style. Let's say we know that Lucy likes doing podcasts, but hates writing. In this case, the LMS would just suggest Lucy to do a podcast, and leave the option of blogging out (Lucy could of course change her preferences at any time and choose from a full set of activities).

At any time in the course, Lucy can also get the info about how successful she was in previous weeks/topics and have a look at the course overall progress bar. To make things more interesting for Lucy, we focus on the overall course goal, and reward her each time she completes one with activity with another activity that bring her closer to achieving the overall goal. Lucy is also getting curious about what kind of activities she'll get to do after she completes the current section. She knows her teacher always find interesting things to read and do. And you know what? I also think Lucy has been a good student so far, so she certainly deserves a special reward each time she completes a section of activities. We can display another star next to her name, and this week she also made it on our list of top students! Hurray Lucy! You're so close to becoming the master of the course and save the princess!

Ah yes, these are all well known game mechanics, but we're currently not doing a very good job at implementing them in education, so why don't we try do engage Lucy by giving her a clear sense of achievement in each course she's taking? And if Lucy is doing really well, we might even give her the option to tell her Facebook friends about how good she is by allowing her to export some of this info into her Facebook stream.

The same principle could also be implemented site-wide. For example, upon login in her school's LMS, Lucy can see how much of the activities she completed in the current semester/year/program and receive suggestions on what activities she should do next - across different courses. If we want to get really, really smart, we can let Lucy tell us how much time she has available and suggest an activity that she can do in that amount of time or let's try to guess which subject would most suit Lucy on a Monday morning! And again, we can also take into account her learning style preferences or even what we know about her past behaviors.

Should we do it?

Showing students exactly where they are and what their next steps can/should be is very important. And I think that progress bars and smart suggestions could provide an interesting motivational tool and a powerful way to help students organize their study and follow the progress of their study or a course.

Technically speaking, integrating the progress bar in a LMS course or site shouldn't be too difficult. It might get a bit more tricky to develop a really smart suggestion system, so I don't expect to see that one soon. Right now, I'd really be happy just with a smart and personalized progress bar :)

Now, I've seen a lot of individual online activities that provide some sort of progress bar and feedback (for instance, the Moodle Lesson module), but I haven't yet come across any LMS that would provide this for the entire course or site and that would allow teachers to easily and precisely define the flow of different types of course activities. And I also haven't seen any smart suggestion systems for learning activities. Am I missing something or is this something that hasn't been done yet? Is anyone up to the challenge of implementing the described game mechanics into our courses? Let me know!

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A little attention goes a long way

I recently celebrated my birthday, and one of the most memorable greetings came from quite an unexpected source: the business social networking site Xing. I received an e-mail informing me that they are giving me 10 days of Premium Membership. That in itself is a nice touch, but what really brought a smile to my face was the picture of a Xing cake with my name on it that was attached to the message.
My own virtual cake! Yummy! :)
Technologically speaking, it was nothing special; it's quite simple to program a piece of software that does this for every member's birthday. But still; Xing took the time to think of a special way to wish their members a happy birthday, and it certainly worked for me. I confess that I don't even use Xing regularly, but this simple gestures has increased my appreciation for the site. An unexpected and original display of affection can certainly go a long way. Can you remember when was the last time you tried to do something different, unexpected, something personal for your customers/students/friends?

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.