Visvanath Ratnaweera has served as an engineer and academic for many years, focusing on computing subjects. His very first lessons in computing go back to the mid 1970s, as a student at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. He has extensive experience in both Unix and Linux. Visvanath is also a long-standing community Moodler, holder of many Moodle badges and maintainer of the Sinhala language pack. He recently met with Lucy Sherwood, digital marketing specialist from Moodle HQ to discuss the project and how Moodle has been such a big part of his career and life for almost two decades. Now retired from active teaching, he, along with senior academics and some fellow system admins, created EduNET.LK, a charity that helps Sri Lankan school teachers set up and use Moodle to support their teaching.
The EduNET.LK Project supports Sri Lankan teachers in hybrid learning
When speaking about EduNET.LK, Visvanath says “It is all charity. What we all put into this project is our own time, a lot of it. It’s mostly on autopilot now, but still requires support from the team of volunteers.”
Visvanath considers it a great privilege to be able to give to others: “I have so much time to spend on this project now that I am retired. To me, it’s about doing good things and having a positive influence while also doing something I enjoy.”
The EduNET.LK initiative facilitates school teachers in Sri Lanka to conduct online classes conveniently and efficiently. One of the key reasons for them to use Moodle specifically is the flexibility of Moodle LMS, which can be easily adapted to hybrid situations.
The EduNET.LK mission is that schools participating in the programme benefit from Moodle LMS hosting, training and the flexibility of a fully fledged learning management system. Not only do they provide training for teachers, but they also host the Moodle sites on their servers.
Visvanath explained: “Over the last 10 or so years, I would return to Sri Lanka almost every year and I would speak to people in the ministry and university administrators. We spoke about how they should put more effort into online teaching. Of course then, there was no real big need for online teaching. So nothing very much happened or came from these discussions. But then, ultimately, after Covid-19 broke and the series of crisis that followed in Sri Lanka, they realized why I always say, “practise swimming before you fall from the ship”.
Moodle and the Moodle Community
When asked about how he connected with Moodle initially, he shared: “In 2000 I went to Switzerland to continue teaching, and in 2004, the university introduced Moodle. I was also teaching operating systems and so system administration was also interesting for me. Eventually… people asked me to host Moodle privately. So I started hosting and managed Moodle instances.”
Spending significant time as Moodler himself, Visvanath knows the Moodle community very well and defines it as a “unique friendship”. “We get to know each other. A lot of us are part of the first generation of the free software movement. People generally tend to be passionate about freedom, software and otherwise,” shares Visvanath.
The future of free and open source software
With Moodle and other open source platforms, Visvanath says that part of the joy of Open Educational Technology is “getting something, working on it and running it yourself”. He continues: “I have children, so I know their generation. Over time, they give up the work of tuning these things”. To him, “Software is software, to the younger generations, software is a service. I think that is why a lot of people just think: ‘why would you maintain this?’ To me, investigating how the platform runs is part of the fun of it”.
Visvanath’s support of the Moodle community isn’t just specific to admins in the moodle.org forums, but he also frequently supports people in the entire community with answering their queries. We also highly appreciate his help in personally maintaining the Sinhala language pack to make Moodle more accessible.
For several years Visvanath participated in the Learn Moodle Basics Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) run by Moodle HQ for teachers, and is an active attendee of the regular Moodle Academy webinars. Due to his continued contribution, he has been awarded a “Particularly Helpful Moodler” badge every year for the past 10 years.
Active Moodlers like Visvanath, along with his charity, are what make our mission possible: “Empowering educators to improve our world.”
Visit EduNET.LK and read more about their mission: https://edunet.lk