Saturday, January 16, 2010

Getting Students Hands On With Technology, No Matter What! (#moodle)

The following is an article written by Molly Valdez, a San Antonio ISD Technology Integration Facilitator in the Office of Instructional Technology & Learning Services (ITLS). In the interests of full disclosure, we serve on the same team and I am proud of the hard work that inspired this article. Congratulations to Molly for the publication of the following article in TCEA's TechEdge magazine!

Getting Students Hands On With Technology, No Matter What!

By Molly Valdez (

This past summer, the technology assessment snuck up and smacked us in the face with a low score for our eighth graders. It was really low. Our problem boiled down to a simple but potentially devastating cause: practically no student interaction with technology outside of school, and very little exposure in school. Our students were capable of passing the test, but they rarely had their hands on computers. Without the ability to wave a magic wand and change the economic status of our district and put a computer in every home, what could we do to increase our students’ interaction with technology?

We decided to maximize hands-on technology time in the classroom by taking the Technology Applications course itself online, regardless of the aging computers, regardless of the teacher grumbles. During July, our technology facilitators transformed our Technology Applications curriculum into a blended, online class available to our students through a Moodle. In August, we wrestled 2 full days of staff development away from the administrative teams and super-saturated a surprised and very cautious group of middle school tech apps teachers on the wonder of a blended curriculum.

Our Successes, Our Stumbles

At ten weeks into the school year, we’ve had a surprisingly smooth start. Fourteen middle school Technology Applications teachers were thrust into the Moodle world, and we’d say that ten of them are now running at full steam. They are using the online tools and curriculum delivery of Moodle, and they are taking the always-scary step of modifying, tweaking, and sequencing the activities to meet their students’, campus, and personal learning styles. We’ve asked our teachers to spend 60% or more of their academic time in the online. While that was initially a stretch, we’d say that they are easily meeting or exceeding this goal now.

The teachers meet once a month after school to share their progress, discuss the challenges, and learn “just a little more” about how to make a blended classroom work. A few of our teachers are clinging to the “old ways”, dodging around the online environment, but we are confident that we’ll win them over before long.

The top result or success so far of moving to the blended classroom is that our teachers report back a dramatic decrease in off-task behaviors. Once students understood the how-when-why-what next? design of the Moodle, stronger students have been independently progressing to the next activity. Our teachers say that they are able to spend more individual and small-group instruction time with the students who really need more help. Part of this positive outcome is due to the teachers, too; once their confidence in their control of the delivery through Moodle was established, they were able to give the students room to move, too.

Teachers also report “more time to teach” after they started using the automatic grading features of the quiz, which eases their paperwork load, just a bit. On the student side, this exposes them to online testing environments more, which we like.

Our stumbles have mainly been on the technical side. We inadvertently allowed email and instant messaging privileges on the student accounts on the initial rollout. The students discovered it before we did, and they self-taught messaging… instantly. We also held our breath on the server capacity, but so far our system is handling 2,000 student accounts without blinking.

Looking back, we wish we had more time to familiarize and train our teachers on blended instructional techniques. However, they are troopers, and they are freely sharing their experiences with each other, which is always a plus. Evan Lieberman, one of the blended classroom teachers, said “It’s an amazing change from last year. The online Moodle is great for teaching. Everything the kids need is right there for them. Kids can work at their own pace and aren’t slowed down by others. Others that need more direction-those kids, we can work with them slowly, to make sure they really get the material. This online class is great – as we are assessing the kids’ work, we can tailor the class specifically to what they really need, what they like to do. I’m doing the same amount of work as last year, but it is much more meaningful and related to teaching, not just paperwork.” Carmen Garzes likes the resources and structure. “It’s so much easier now for students when their absent. They can easily review where they left off and where they need to be to catch up. There’s very little lost work or time now for them.”

Students like the blended course, too. Some of the students have said “It’s better than last year. Last year was paper. I like it because we get to use the computer all the time.”

“It’s easier and fun. We can look back and review whatever we want to.”

An eighth grader said, “I wasn’t really into this technology before, but now I can do projects, make videos, and things, and I really like it now.”

“I like working on the computer because it helps me for college and jobs and stuff, and I really learn. I create things.”

“It’s better than textbooks; those bore me. The computer let’s me look for information and helps me.”

“It’s fun. I can see my grades. I can find things.”

“It’s easier for me than when we use textbooks in class; I can see this in the library and other places, too.”

Looking ahead, we will need to continue to stretch our Moodle beginning teachers skills and experience into the cooperative learning tools and portfolio builder inside the program. The activities are there now, but new Moodle facilitators tend to be hesitant to use them.

We are also facing the forever-present need for repairing and replacing the basic computer systems in the labs and getting peripherals into the hands of students. There is a huge lack of cameras, microphones, headphones, scanners, and printers in the computer labs. We are looking at traditional ways and new ways to get these essential tools into the labs for students to use.

We are field-testing our students in about six weeks. We hope the results will bear out with the reflections and opinions we’ve gathered so far. No matter what, we’ve got our students engaged with the technology now.

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Molly is one of the Technology Integration Facilitators for San Antonio ISD in Texas. She is a lifetime learner in her 19th year career in education. Molly holds a bachelor's degree in English, a master's in Curriculum & Instruction, and an additional certificate in Instructional Technology. She is happily married, a mother of 4 scampering children, a cancer survivor, loves all the crafty arts, and dreams of traveling slowly to the scenic parts of the world with her paints, camera, sewing machine, and family in tow.

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1 comment:

pbhanney said...

I LOVE using Moodle in my classroom. I actually have more students handing in work than on paper and they are excited to turn it in. It also helps me to organize the information that I want students to hand in.

I have also found several modules that I've been able to download and install. I've used a questionnaire to help my student to self-evaulate themselves on the content they need to learn in my class. I also use the wiki to not only introduce wikis, but to also have students help each other out on different subjects. The bookmarks module lets me introduce social bookmarking and make a list of approved websites my students can go to when they have free time.

All of these help me to create a "walled garden" for my students so we can introduce 21st Century skills while still protecting them from unwanted outsiders.

You can access some of my moodle pages by accessing my page at:

Genuine Leadership #4: Gratitude