Learn about the Future of E-Learning

Wednesday 8 November 2006


  • Martin Harmer, York College of FE
  • Gustav Delius, University of York
  • Marcus Green


This talk attracted such a good turn out that York College kindly arranged a larger room at short notice. Our thanks go to the college.

Martin Harmer, the first speaker, started the evening by explaining the use of e-learning at York College, giving a short demonstration of Blackboard as used at the college and finished by outlining future plans for e-learning.

The key e-learning elements in use at the college are:

  • Blackboard VLE - which is intuitive for staff and students
  • Interactive whiteboards - good for use in classrooms
  • Video streaming
  • E-portfolios - are being trialled at the moment
  • Tablet pcs & wireless projectors - training tutors in their use

Blackboard looks familiar to users with “Tools, My Announcements and My Courses”. The college started by putting Word and PowerPoint documents on it but it wasn’t used much. Now they have links to other sites and content which is more interactive and usage has increased.

  • Course overview giving learning materials, questions to be answered, exam questions & model answers - material which help people go further or catch up if missed something
  • Course work - tasks for each week which can be sent in via a “drop box”
  • More social things such as group discussion boards

The college will be upgrading to the Academic / Enterprise edition of Blackboard which will allow, amongst other things, adaptive release of material. This means that the students could be “taken through” the course and release of the next stage will depend upon results. The plans are to make the content even more interactive, giving prompt feedback, increasing motivation e.g. simulations of task based things.

Gustav Delius, a theoretical particle physicist, went on to explain what has been done with Moodle in the Mathematics Department at York University and connected via the web so that we could see examples. Each lecturer has a list of modules that he / she is teaching whilst each student has a list of modules to be studied.

There isn’t much course content but there is a news forum (lecturer to student). The discussion forums have really taken off and there is lots of input from students. They have the photos of the people involved (which helps as the memory of the photo prompts the lecturer when he next sees the student).

Moodle is being used as another channel of communications; it is being used by everyone, not just the tutors, which is vital.

Other uses are:

  • Forum per student group
  • New students tell lecturers what they found fun to learn about at school (so the lecturer gets to know something about the student)
  • Save time marking - if the answer is a maths formula (there is a theory of typesetting formulae). Another advantage of this is that it gives instant feedback and the students can try again, optionally persisting until they find their own mistakes.
  • Participants’ list - see who the other students are & can email them from here so being used as a social tool.

Moodle has drawn Gustav in. He explained that he wanted to do extra things so he looked at the code (it is open source software) and added them. One can post ideas on the web and someone else writes the code (e.g. students doing peer marking - the work is anonymously given to another student, marked then sent to tutor) - there is a good community.

Marcus Green, a former lecturer at the College, is now in commerce. He has used both Blackboard and Moodle and talked about the Moodle community. Moodle VLE - delivering learning material through the web.

Martin Dougiamas (Mr Moodle) is trying to use trademark to support open software development. He has trademarked Moodle so it can be used but any revenue goes back into product development avoiding “freeload” i.e. people making a profit from open software.

Moodle has socio-constructivism at its heart i.e. students interacting with each other and learning from each other. They can be directly engaged through announcements, discussion forums and quizzes.

The Moodle community is a very friendly environment and the forums are a great source of help and advice.
Looking at commerce v. gratis aspects of open source development:

  • Moodle is “free” and is gnu public licence (GPL) but is taking advantage of trademark protection (words, logos, designs) and the trademarks are being enforced.
  • There are Moodle partners (strict criteria) who can do consultancy for newcomers; Martin Dougiamas gets the royalties which go back into development.
  • Individuals can e.g. run a course on Moodle but can’t use the name to promote themselves.

A discussion and debate then took place, ending at 8:40pm. Thanks to all three speakers for a stimulating evening.