The importance of good pedagogy when using Moodle – an interview with Brent Parkin, Moodle’s new Education Advisor

June 27, 2017

Moodle’s mission has and always will be to empower educators with flexible and powerful tools; tools that can enhance collaborative learning and improve educational outcomes.

Moodle has an abundance of features that can remove mundane tasks from an educator’s schedule and give them more time to focus on creating engaging courses and activities for their students.

Such an incredible collection of tools and features to be found in Moodle does sound grand, but to start with, how do educators access and use them easily in their Moodle or MoodleCloud sites?

How do these tools and features get developed so that they meet the specific needs of an educator?

And with so many powerful tools in Moodle plus thousands of plugins which ones should educators concentrate on to enhance the learning environment for their learners?

This is where Moodle’s new education advisor, Brent Parkin, comes in and gives us all the answers!

Well, maybe not all the answers…but he is certainly working to help educators get simpler and better access to the right tools and features in Moodle that will empower their important work in the world.

So, we took time out to talk to Brent recently to find out more about his background as an educator himself, what his role entails at Moodle and how his work will contribute to Moodle’s mission of empowering educators to improve the world.

Moodle HQ: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Brent. For all our readers who are curious to find out more about you, let’s start there. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Brent: Thank you. It’s an honour and a pleasure to speak with Moodlers, and the world, about the incredible opportunity that I have been offered here at Moodle.

My role is most specifically focused on K-12 teachers. I have been a classroom teacher, programme coordinator and mentor in schools for the last fifteen years. Before that, I was a researcher looking into cognition, learning and perception. I’ve had the good fortune to have lived in rural and urban settings, in Australia, Iraq and Thailand, which has provided me with plenty of experience with the diversity of learning needs facing students and teachers.

My particular interest in education has been the ability to offer a learning journey for my students that is both rooted in building knowledge, yet tailored to their needs and interests; embedded in that is to do all that I can to help them understand that I belong to them, that they own me as their teacher, and that I am there, literally, for them. It’s the importance of having that type of human connection, where each student feels honoured and that they matter, and what they do matters.

Moodle HQ: What attracted you to work with Moodle in the first place and how does that fit in with your role as education advisor with Moodle HQ?

Brent: Martin’s vision for a free, open-source learning platform has inspired me for years. To me, the Moodle mission is completely my mission; that it is through education that we can most effectively achieve any improvement that we seek – Jeffrey Sachs has demonstrated this superbly over the years.

As I mentioned above, I am totally focused on pedagogy as the means through which a teacher enacts their craft. What I adore about Moodle is the unswerving focus upon building a community, based on an instrument, that enhances pedagogical objectives and outcomes, which, as I have come to learn, supports the best learning and citizenship outcomes for students. I am only interested in tools, programmes or “training” that enhance my pedagogy, hence my engagement with Moodle.

So, one of my roles is to support teachers to support their students; to design and build interfaces, support tools and education authority aligned templates, using Moodle, that allow teachers to rapidly and easily create or adapt engaging learning pathways for their students, which are pedagogically potent.

Moodle HQ: Can you give us a little bit of an overview of how your work with Moodle will help to advance its mission to empower educators to improve the world? Are there some examples of what you have done so far for us to understand how your work is contributing to that mission?

Brent: In a nutshell, I am looking at the ways that we can ensure that when teachers use Moodle as an integrated aspect of their teaching repertoire they are comprehensively supported to execute best-practice pedagogy – and not simply using Moodle as a place to dump files for students to download.

A fundamentally important addition to that aspect is to develop tools and interfaces that will allow the many necessary but time-consuming administrative tasks to be dealt with automatically. It’s all about getting the machine to do the mechanical stuff, leaving much more time and energy available for teachers to focus on the most important and invigorating aspect of teaching – their connection with their students. After all, that is the great value of teachers, and the main reason that most teachers are teachers; when this crucial aspect of teaching is compromised, the teachers and students suffer.

The ability to check boxes for an audit trail that may never be looked at, regardless of its legal necessity, is a waste of a teacher’s valuable time, and a poor return on investment (in teachers) for their teaching organisation. Equally, trying to automate that very human element of connection and encouragement places the entire value of education at risk, and so I am completely focused on the blended-learning environment.

Right now, I’m asking for teachers to contact me about their experiences using Moodle with their classes – what has been great, what has been difficult or confusing for them, and what great ideas they might have to make Moodle even better. With this feedback we are designing interfaces, as well as self-paced training materials for teachers to step them through achieving their pedagogical goals, rather than becoming “masters of the tool”, and actually build the learning experiences for their students as they engage with the training. Obviously, getting input from as many teachers as possible is important. Any teachers who would help us out with this process can sign up here.

I am also involved in developing templates for specific purposes (such as exploring a topic through the use of the “expert groups” methodology), which may involve a collection of activities and settings. In this way, teachers will be able to simply add the content that they wish to have their students engage with, secure in the knowledge that their pedagogical goals are being met.

Moodle HQ: You are working closely with the MoodleCloud team especially for Moodle for School. What are some the objectives to be achieved in working in that space?

Obviously, there is a lot of overlap with what I described earlier; MoodleCloud is our cloud-hosted Moodle service, which allows teachers and students to use Moodle at any time, without having to concern themselves with setting up a Moodle server themselves. The teachers can focus on the building of their courses, confident that the underlying Moodle will be up to date and work properly.

Moodle for School is a tailored set of packages which feature plugins and other elements that support teachers specifically, such as Grade Book, Custom Certificate and Grouping. As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently looking to hear from teachers using Moodle for School, and the Moodle for Free service, to help tailor the packages and support to make the teaching and learning experience even better.

Moodle HQ: Here at Moodle we’ve always been very big on involving our users and the community to contribute and be part of our projects. How can users and the community get involved with your work as education advisor?

Brent: I would say that my role is to both help build awareness, but also to listen carefully to what the experience of teachers is. So, sharing experiences and ideas is a really great way to contribute. This may be directly with myself at HQ, or perhaps more usefully in the forums, where a broader exploration is possible, and the sharing of ideas helps the whole community immediately.

Another important area for development is the gathering of educational authority curricula from around the world and converting them into formats that suit Moodle’s Competencies; with these in place, the tailoring of courses to suit a teacher’s situation becomes particularly powerful. As teachers acquire these resources, they can place them into the Competency Frameworks section.

Thanks, Brent – we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about your role with Moodle.

There are exciting times ahead with so many projects underway – including Project Inspire, Moodle 3.3 major release, more MoodleMoots around the globe and a new MoodleCloud Starter plan – just to name a few.

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