#Moodle as PLC Frame

Image Source: Moodle Uses for Professional Development

A colleague recently wrote asking the following:

Do you have any resources on:
  • educators working collaboratively in a virtual workspace
  • best activities or resources in Moodle to use that might help promote a PLC environment
  • sample Moodle sites that are PLC's

Disclaimer: I had some fun exploring ideas and learning about this. I would love your feedback, suggestions, etc. on the topic of facilitating online professional learning communities.

Hmm...as I was reflecting on this question, it occurred to me that I don't formally know as much about Professional Learning Communities as I need to, much less using Moodle to build one. That is to say, I haven't taken any classes or workshops on the subject.

So, for fun, let's start with what a PLC is:

A professional learning community (PLC) is an extended learning opportunity to foster collaborative learning among colleagues within a particular work environment or field. It is often used in schools as a way to organize teachers into working groups.

Key tenets of professional learning communities include the following according to DuFour:
  • Focus on Learning, not just Teaching - The professional learning community model flows from the assumption that the core mission of formal education is not simply to ensure that students are taught but to ensure that they learn.This means being aware of how you respond--as a team of teachers--to these 3 questions:
    1. What do we want each student to learn?
    2. How will we know when each student has learned it?
    3. How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?
  • Create Collaborative Learning Structure - This structure facilitates conversations about key areas - goals, strategies, materials, pacing, questions, concerns, and results
  • Avoid DRIP (Data Rich/Information Poor) Environments 
A question comes to mind--to me, the answer is obvious--will Moodle work for a PLC? Might there not be something else? The answer is a definite YES. There are tons of Read/Write Web tools that can be used to get the job done. However, Moodle is available and LOTS of folks are using it for that. And, this interesting piece of information popped up for college use of Moodle for a PLC:
After the practical research for about one year long time, it is illustrated that this [Moodle] platform can effectively facilitate the information communication and sharing, the information literary development of teachers and students and the building of network courses.
So, is it safe to say that Moodle can be used to "undergird" or scaffold a professional learning community? Yes, probably so.

Since it's a way to extend learning opportunities, the question is, "How do we want to extend those learning opportunities?" One way might be to include videos. Another might be to provide a creative commons area that enables people at the building or district level to come together and participate in joint learning opportunities. This could include providing spaces where discussion is had about content shared in a webinar, live or archived for viewing, a book discussion, a pre/during/post-meeting "location" for a face to face workshop. It can also be used in the following way, as San Diego Unified Schools describes it:
Moodle is designed around a professional learning community, it allows teachers to act as facilitators of learning and to provide a framework for face-to-face and online interaction that may take place both in and out of the classroom. Through this framework, the students and teachers will be able to experience collaborative online interaction where ideas can be shared and a consensus to understanding can be constructed in online activities, discussions, and interactions. 
Moodle also provides teachers with a means to create differentiated learning opportunities for students, where online discussion and collaboration can go on apart from other groups as needed, thereby allowing for a more individualized approach to student learning. 

Moodle can also be used to facilitate communication and collaboration at the building or district level. For example, a committed campus--such as Whittier Campus' Moodle instance might be seen as a professional learning community--that collaborates on student learning projects online -  http://intouch.saisd.net/campus/whittier

How else might Moodle be used to facilitate a PLC? For that, we'd have to take a look at DuFour's big ideas.

How can Moodle facilitate delivery of a lesson, assessment of student learning? The answer is obvious. Every activity in Moodle can be assessed, including collaborative learning activities by students. This "instant assessment gratification" makes it possible for teachers to respond to the questions of how will we know when students have learned what we have to teach them, and how we are going to go about doing something--or helping them do something--when they don't.

How can Moodle facilitate collaborative learning conversations? This is a fun topic to consider because it depends on how ready teachers are on a campus to share their ideas with one another. Being able to discuss key areas--goals, strategies, materials, pacing, questions, concerns, and results--within the context of an online course foster reflection on teaching and learning practices, which is valuable in itself. Teachers are not caught up alone, trying to manage the framework, but instead can work together like a team of surgeons separating conjoined twins (for fun, you could say one twin is ignorance, the other possibility). This is really driven home, as Bill Ferriter (cited in this blog entry) points out:
One of the struggles I have is that I just don't have the time--as a classroom teacher---to collaborate. They want us to collaborate---and we'd do a GREAT job---but between planning, grading, parent conferences, there's nothing left. I think many people beyond the classroom forget the crush of tasks that we have to do beyond collaborating with them!"
The blogger (Evan Abbey) at at Changing Iowa suggests the following:
Online learning allows you to converse when you have time and energy, because with forums and wikis, you can have an ongoing asynchronous conversation with your colleagues. Moodle can provide you a space for your group to focus on improving student learning, and in that space, you can hold conversation, resources, a calendar, and more.

I love this acronym from DuFour, and wonder that Moodle would facilitate not only the sharing of data, but discussion around how that data could be useful. We often can't have these conversations at school because our time doesn't allow for it. . .the conversations usually happen at a workshop or faculty meeting. Online, there is time to reflect and meditate on the data, to offer suggestions to team-mates about what it all means.

I'm not sure if this gets at the question(s) asked, but it's a stab in that direction. Do I think Moodle can provide the framework for a professional learning community online? Yes, definitely. But there is so much more to this than providing the framework...it means a shifts in how we approach collegiality, teaching, and, yes, learning as professionals.

Sample Moodle Sites that Serve as PLCs

Other interesting resources

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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