The fellowship has been a wonderful learning experience for me–both in better understanding OER and in using Moodle more fully.

Thank you all for your very helpful and informative posts. And, Jen, thank you so much for all your helpful guidance through this process.

Screencast link:

Mid-Project Update

                This term I began teaching a fully online technical writing course on Moodle (still using a textbook, mind you), which has given me a much greater sense of just how much I can do on Moodle. As a result, I’ve added a number of resources to my Writing 115 OER shell, including discussion forums, video resources, external website links, and a slideshow Flash video.

                The shell for my OER course is now built for the most part, but I continue to add materials, activities, and more thorough descriptions of assignments. When I first began this process, I viewed Moodle as little more than a place to post .PDF handouts and the course syllabus, and a platform for taking attendance and entering grades. Now I’m beginning to see it as a far greater tool for learning than I’d previously thought. My approach to this OER fellowship has changed to where I’m now imagining the course as not only being textbook free but as also being classroom free/fully online. With that in mind, I’ve added hyperlinks to web resources, including lessons and videos, created discussion forums, embedded materials, and added assignments that students can upload directly to Moodle—assignments that I can then read, grade, comment upon, and return to students without ever having to use pen or paper. This is a pretty great discovery.

                In terms of challenges, some of the readings I’ve used in my face-to-face classes were not available for OER use, so I was forced to drop some of my original selections in favor of others that are more freely available (primarily older essays).  This has taken a bit of flexibility on my part, but in the end I feel it has been well worth it. I’m still in the process of adding and replacing some readings, but doing this has made me rethink my reading selections in general, especially around their availability.  

                Another challenge I faced was creating files that can be opened with free software, i.e., files not reliant on proprietary software. For example, I use a Powerpoint presentation to illustrate strategies for critically reading texts. I had originally posted this to the Moodle page as a Powerpoint file, not taking into consideration the possibility some student users might not have Powerpoint software (or any software capable of opening a Powerpoint file, for that matter). To remedy this, Jen suggested I use a website called Slideshare to convert the Powerpoint file; I used it and read up how to embed a slideshow into Moodle, but for some reason that I never figured out, I could not make the file appear. So I took a different approach and converted the slideshow into a Flash video (using free software called Ispring) and then simply adding it as a file rather than embedding it onto the page. This ultimately worked well, I think. And, despite my frustration at still not being able to embed the Slideshare slideshow, I read up on (and watched numerous YouTube instructional videos about) Moodle in general and ended up learning quite a lot about embedding videos and other resources using Moodle’s HTML editor. I’m now feeling much more confident about my Moodle knowledge and realizing just how vast Moodle’s capabilities are.       

OER Fellowship Introduction & Goals

I am a writing instructor who teaches several levels of writing, from Writing 115 (Introduction to College Writing) to Writing 227 (Technical Writing), and I have long been interested in making my course materials, such as handouts, videos, audio files, shared readings, etc., easier for students to access from a central host. I have used Moodle for years—mainly only for posting course syllabi, handouts, and assignment instructions—but I’m interested in learning ways to use this more thoroughly and effectively. I’m also bothered by (sometimes even appalled at) the ever-rising costs of textbooks. Each term this is a common complaint from my students, many of whom are not able to obtain their textbooks until the second or third week of the term when their financial aid becomes available, which can put them at an early disadvantage. To remedy this, I typically scan the first few textbook sections/chapters/readings and make them available on Moodle as PDF files. This has been a terrific help to my students and has prompted me to finally move forward in designing a Moodle Dev shell to centralize and make more readily-available my course information and materials.

Several years ago I taught a Writing 121 course at LCC without the usual required course readings text. Instead, I gathered readings from different sources and posted them on Moodle (I also made copies for students who requested them). There were a few issues for some of the students whose access to and experience with computers was at first limited, but allotting additional class time for basic Moodle instruction seemed to eventually remedy this for the most part. I thought the class was a success overall, and my students agreed, with many of them expressing gratitude at having saved money and not finished the term with a textbook they’d only opened a few times.

I have chosen to do this for Writing 115 because I have taught the course for years and am most familiar with its content and materials. I have also found that Writing 115 students, many of whom are just beginning their college careers, sometimes lack the resources (and occasionally the willingness) to purchase multiple textbooks, resulting in my settling on a single text for the term rather than have the freedom to cull materials from multiple sources. For similar reasons, however, I have some concerns about just how successful this will be for this population of students, many of whom tend to be new or nontraditional/returning students who have in the past proven to be somewhat less techno-savvy than my students in higher-level courses and may even fear a more technology-based classroom experience. For this reason, I wish to make this as simple and straightforward as possible. To this aim, I plan to use a Moodle Dev shell to set up the course, as I am fairly familiar with it and find that most of my Writing 115 students have at least some experience using it or are, at the very least, beginning to learn to use it for their other courses.

So far in my Writing 115 courses this term, in addition to posting basic course information on Moodle as I usually do, I have moved almost completely away from paper copies of in-class handouts in favor viewing these on screen during class, and I have instead posted them to Moodle for students to access or print outside of class.  And while I’m still using a traditional textbook for class readings, I have also posted a few supplemental OER readings for the term and plan to add more as the term moves forward.

I do have a few concerns about the availability and stability of web-hosted OER materials, especially with regard to newer publications, as well as some questions around copyright infringement. I’m also curious to see what problems, if any, I or my students might encounter in this transition and whether my students will truly benefit from it in the long run. I have come to love the classroom experience and have been at times reluctant to change what has so far worked well for me and my students. I now consider this an opportunity to enhance that experience rather than replace it. I’m also excited to have finally begun this process and look forward to better serving my students. 

Difficulties and Discoveries

Well, things did not exactly go as smoothly as I’d hoped in these last few weeks, but I think I’ve finally managed to resolve most of what was giving me trouble. Specifically, I had some difficulty finding reliable sites where I could link to the readings I typically use for Writing 115. Based on that, I decided (or was actually kind of forced) to take a different approach and change up some of my course readings to include selections that are free and more widely available. Once I let go of trying to keep the course exactly the same as I’ve been teaching it and allowed myself the freedom to play with it some, things suddenly became easier to manage.

I was also forced to make some changes to my approach to using and posting materials in general. To that end, I solicited comments from my current students on what they thought worked and what didn’t. Their feedback was helpful in informing some of my choices for the OER course shell. While a few students expressed some concerns around not having physical copies of readings and assignment handouts, most felt that having access to them on Moodle and being given the flexibility to either view them electronically or print them out themselves would work fine. I also found that students had more experience and confidence with this than I’d originally thought; in other words, I learned that I needed to give them more credit.

Doing the OER project this term has also gotten me thinking about new and different ways to use additional resources and readings to supplement the ones I usually use in the textbook. Based on this thinking, this term in my two 115 classes I’ve begun to rely on non-textbook readings a bit more, and instead of making and distributing physical copies, I’ve been viewing those selections with students on the classroom screen for discussion. So far I have mainly relied on short, one- to two-page selections (which many Writing 115 selections are anyway), it has been working well. It’s taken some adjustment on my part in how I approach discussing these readings, but the feedback I’ve received from students has been largely positive. A few students, however, have expressed wanting physical copies of the readings (mainly non-traditional students who have little experience thus far with textbook-free course materials), but after posting them on my current (non-OER) Moodle pages and spending some time in class going over how to access them, those students seem to have adjusted well. This has required making a few of my own adjustments in teaching strategies, but I think it’s been successful. At the very least, it has worked to enlarge my thinking around how I use teaching materials both in the classroom and out.

Another consistent suggestion from my students was that I add more video content and/or visual lessons. I do use video resources (we watch two films and I use a few video lessons to augment a few lessons), but they’re not something I’ve used regularly. In the past it has been my tendency to rely more on lectures, handouts, and physical readings. But based on student feedback, I’m now using more video/visual content, both for lessons and for topic-based discussions. Education-Portal has some decent video lessons on essay structuring, research, and using and documenting sources (MLA) that I’ve used  using in class and have also posted to my OER Moodle shell. Also, after reading over Sarah Lushia’s recent comments on TED Talks, I’ve been looking to those (as well as podcasts from the NPR show Radio Lab) as additional resources to include.

So while I hit a few bumps in the road (and this project has been taking a bit more time than I’d originally planned for), I’m feeling much better about the process and am excited at the prospect of going completely textbook free. It just so happens that I am scheduled to teach my first fully online course next term, and working on the OER project this term has made me feel much more prepared for this in general and a lot more comfortable with Moodle.