We recently met with Dr. Rick Jerz, community Moodler, and educator of 35 years, to discuss his use of Moodle as a teacher. We discussed how he views an LMS from a teaching perspective, and why he believes that online education can improve learning. We also found out how he implemented online education for his students long before it became a standard practice and why he thinks that “eventually, we will have education on demand.”
Moodle HQ: Can you introduce yourself and give us a summary of what you do?
Dr Rick Jerz: I am an engineer by education and was fortunate to work for John Deere as an engineer for 15 years and loved it.
I changed companies and eventually got a job teaching at St. Ambrose University. First, I taught engineering courses and then business courses. I taught for nearly 30 years at St. Ambrose. While at St. Ambrose, I began teaching part time at the University of Iowa. A big 10 US university. In 2016, I left St. Ambrose and began teaching full time at the University of Iowa.
I have been teaching for over 35 years. Last year I separated from the University of Iowa and I’m currently unattached; some would say unemployed, but I prefer to describe it as on sabbatical. I plan to teach courses at other schools when I finish my sabbatical.
Moodle HQ: When did you first use Moodle?
Dr Rick Jerz: The first course I taught using Moodle was during the summer of 2008. Earlier that spring, I got Moodle 1.9 running on my hosted server and learned enough to have the courage to use it for the summer course, somewhat experimentally. Moodle worked for this course and I have used it ever since.
Here’s how this first course looked on Moodle 1.9 which I can still run in my map environment!
Moodle HQ: I understand the institutions you have worked for have used different LMS, but you prefer Moodle. Why is this?
Dr Rick Jerz: When I began using Moodle, I was working full time at St. Ambrose and part-time at the University of Iowa. St. Ambrose purchased Blackboard, which became the first LMS that I used.
I discovered that Blackboard had three major problems. Discussion forums were problematic; students posts would intermittently fail to show up. The quiz engine would break in the middle of quizzes. The Blackboard platform also went down a lot.
The University of Iowa also had Blackboard then, but eventually switched to Desire To Learn (D2L). I used it in a few courses but found Moodle had more robust features, so I decided to use Moodle. I view an LMS from a teaching and pedagogical perspective and I find Moodle to be the best.
Moodle HQ: You run your own Moodle site for your learners and have previously presented on that topic. What tips would you give to educators who want to have their own Moodle site either for individual tuition or because their institution or organisation doesn’t use Moodle?
Dr Rick Jerz: Running your own Moodle LMS is possible, but if you decide to do this, accept the learning curve. If you enjoy technology and the challenge of installing an operating system on your computer and applications, and then troubleshooting things when things go wrong, you can successfully run your own Moodle. I love it.
Moodle HQ: And for those who haven’t got the technical know-how, Moodle of course has a network of Certified Partners and Service Providers who can assist. What are some of the current challenges facing educators? How do you see that evolving and changing?
Dr Rick Jerz: The move to online education is challenging; the pandemic caused many instructors to use LMSs, forcing them to embrace technology when they might have avoided doing so previously. Not everyone enjoyed this nor believed in it. However, I believe that online education and eLearning tools can improve learning.
Many of us have learned to do things by watching videos on YouTube. Video remains the most powerful educational resource, but they must be done well. My favourite educational philosophy involves time-warping education, which means reducing the time it takes people to learn.
I have always believed that people learn best when their minds (brains) are most ready to learn. Technology provides this timing. A video played in real-time over the internet is an excellent example of modern educational technology.
Moodle HQ: You’ve been awarded the particularly helpful Moodler badge on moodle.org for the last 10 years. What do you get out of advising people on moodle.org? Do you notice any common patterns and the types of problems people come for help with?
Dr Rick Jerz: To be a good instructor, you must be a good learner. I interact on moodle.org to share my ideas and learn from others, moodle.org is not only about learning Moodle it is about improving instructional pedagogy. Moodle.org is a place where I can interact virtually with friends and real people with a common interest in improving education. Moodle forums are excellent.
Moodle HQ: Do you prefer in person, hybrid or online teaching? Do you think they’ll all have a place in the future?
Dr Rick Jerz: They all have a place based on the subject. I decided to teach only online, because I believe it is the best. I can be more precise about my message, engage students better and I can make students study time more effective. Online is more powerful. Eventually, I think we will have education on demand.
Moodle HQ: Education on demand is a concept that allows students to learn at a pace, location and time suitable for them. On your own Moodle site with your students, which particular Moodle tools (standard and contributed) do you like to use? Do you have any tricks you use to improve the display of your materials?
Dr Rick Jerz: I currently use the standard Moodle in the standard Boost Theme. I modify its appearance with CSS. My favourite tools include: URLS/Text and media, pages, discussion forums, quizzes and assignments. The Moodle gradebook is great from my engineering perspective. Assignment form and quiz modules are used for assessment, whereas page URL and text are used for course delivery and organisation.
Moodle HQ: What improvements would you like to see in the Moodle software in future years? Do you have any constructive suggestions?
Dr Rick Jerz: I currently have around a dozen open items in the Moodle tracker system. I love the improvements to Moodle LMS 4.0 for the quiz engine will probably always be a component with many opportunities for improvement. It is currently the best but people always want more. Likewise, forums can still be enhanced, particularly with ways to move in copy posts to proper places easily. My suggestion is for the Moodle developers to continue listening to users. The Moodle tracker system is without a doubt the best, the leaders behind Moodle are very sincerely interested in improvement.
Moodle HQ: And, of course, we now have Moodle Research Labs, where people can contribute to research and design projects at Moodle. Tell us more about your transition from in person to online education. You presented on this at Mountain Moot.
Dr Rick Jerz: Back in 2002, I suggested to my MBA students that we try one or two electronic weeks where neither they nor I would have to drive to class. Then, the words online and hybrid were not yet used. Students not only loved my electronic weeks, but they also demanded more. So this began my transition to hybrid courses. Eventually, my school asked if I could design completely online courses, which I agreed to.
Moodle HQ: Do you have a favourite topic you have presented that you can share?
Dr Rick Jerz: I probably have two favourite topics involving customising Moodle with CSS and installing Moodle into experimental environments. But I love sharing topics involving the use of technology in education.
Moodle HQ: What do you find beneficial about attending Moots?
Dr Rick Jerz: Learning from others, meeting people in person who I have followed on Moodle.org or talking to Martin Dougiamas, and other Moodlers. It is an opportunity to share ideas, travel and understand other cultures.
Moodle HQ: I hope we see you at Moodle Moot Global this year! Is there anything else you’d like to share with Moodlers?
Dr Rick Jerz: I’m passionate about teaching and about using technology to improve human lives. I believe that Moodle is currently the best LMS. It is the most flexible and it is improved the most frequently.
Think about having a local copy of Moodle on your computer so you can experiment. Ask questions in the moodle.org forums whenever you encounter problems and also use the Moodle tracker system. Give back something to the community and be creative. There are many ways to do things. Don’t expect the LMS to do it all.
You can access a full video recording of this interview here. Please note, the written portion of this interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.