Moodlers Monday: Moodling in schools with Chris Kenniburg

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Moodlers, it’s another Monday which means another opportunity to learn more about a member of our global Moodle community!

Today we are taking a closer look at our US Moodlers, with a focus on long time Moodler Chris Kenniburg.

Let’s jump right in to learn more:

Moodle HQ: Thanks for talking to us about your Moodling Chris! Would you be able to please let us know a little bit about yourself?

How did you come across Moodle, why you choose to be a Moodler and how are you using Moodle in your professional life?

Chris: Hello, I’m currently a web administrator for Dearborn Public Schools in Michigan. We are a diverse district with over 20,000 students K-12. I’ve been using and administering Moodle since version 1.4 for over a decade now.

When I am not camping or fishing, I spend my days tinkering with code and helping teachers.

I am very passionate about open source and the freedom it provides in designing a custom learning experience. I love the vision and mission of Moodle as laid out by Martin Dougiamas.

It speaks to the universal need of education and it is exciting to be a part of something bigger than the job at my desk. We chose Moodle because of it’s amazing toolset for teachers and learning.

Moodle HQ: What has been some of the most important things you have experienced and learnt by being part of Moodle’s open source project?

Chris: Being involved in the Moodle community has shown me that people are amazingly innovative and utilize Moodle in ways you never imagined. There is such a wealth of information in the forums from tech support to teaching support.

My own involvement is centered around plugins we developed and share with the community. We get feedback and suggestions from the community to help make our plugins better. This ultimately benefits our own teachers and students.

It also presents me with new challenges that help sharpen skills to solve issues. The biggest reward of being involved in the Moodle community is being able to help others find success.
I am very hopeful I will be able to attend an upcoming Moodle Moot this year in the US in Denver (! Fingers crossed. It would be so nice to meet some of the wonderful people you solve problems with from the forums.

Moodle HQ: What are you and your school doing to innovate online learning with Moodle or in general?

Chris: I don’t know if you would call it innovative but we have spent a lot of time thinking about what we want for a user experience and how a user navigates our site. So I’d like to share three things we are doing in this space:

Our Director of Technology, Troy Patterson, has spent a lot of time laying out a vision for how we need to move forward with use of Moodle. Once we had a plan we realized we needed to enhance Moodle to make it all happen. So we built plugins.

The way we approach implementation of Moodle is focused on how to go from login to learning as quickly as possible… with the least amount of distractions as possible. We do this by applying our custom built theme (Fordson) and a custom enrollment plugin (Easy Enrollment) that have been designed and refined to facilitate our goals. By making both plugins available at we also get invaluable insights from the community which further helps us improve our own site.

We also realize that no matter how good the LMS is you still need training. We have two outstanding tech coaches that are laser-focused on showing teachers best practices and training teachers in the classroom to be more effective with Moodle. Some organizations allow each teacher to pick and choose from any of the thousands of free tools for everything from an LMS to a classroom website. We do not do this. We are focused on using common tools to build common skill sets with teachers and students so that we can attempt to go deeper than surface level learning.

System integration
Beyond all that can be accomplished in Moodle, we also wanted a complete and robust online learning platform. We setup and integrated classroom blogs with WordPress for every teacher (over 2,000 sites and counting). Being able to curate and reflect on learning is done in Mahara portfolios at every grade level. Internal classroom protected communications are available through BigBlueButton. We even expose students to web authoring in a safe and private environment using WordPress for them as well. We do and provide all of this with no restrictions beyond having a district login to gain access and begin using any of the tools we provide. All of this helps form our learning platform with incredible opportunity for students and teachers.

Moodle HQ:What do you think are some of the challenges that schools face in terms of online learning today and into the future that Moodle can be on the forefront of?

Chris: While there are many smart people developing ways to keep Moodle at the forefront of the latest technology, at the K-12 level there will always be these core issues: funding, usage, and training.

We struggle with availability of technology, teacher proficiency with the tools, and even the validity or perception of what online learning entails. Understanding this is key to gaining adoption in K-12 schools when the LMS is seen as an option and not a mandate.

Benefit and value challenge
Often times a LMS is seen as something those tech-savvy teachers use. Sadly, it isn’t seen as a core teaching tool like a pencil and nor is it supported by administration as such for teachers in most cases. I hope this changes but this is the current K-12 reality. So with this reality in mind, an LMS must provide a benefit and value outside of what teachers are currently doing. One benefit we provide is the ability to transfer grades from Moodle to our student information system. This saves teachers lots of time and is generally the driving force behind adoption of a LMS. Finding and providing these types of benefits for teachers is very important.

How to use technology challenge
Another major challenge at the K-12 level is not so much the underlying technology as much as how it is used. For instance a K-12 teacher may only use a course for 2 weeks on projects related to peer review and only use the Workshop module for the entire course. A teacher can feel success and become very proficient in using Moodle for a single task but they may not be ready to put all activities and information online. This is why having time and dedicated support to develop meaningful usage of the LMS is critical as well. When funding is tight and usage is low there is a value deficiency that presents itself. I’ve seen a district that invested in the self-proclaimed “easy to use” LMS only to find out that it wasn’t so easy to get staff on board in a way that would indicate value for the cost.

Engaging your learners challenge
Another major K-12 challenge is getting 30 students who are 6 years old to all login and enroll in a course! You can expect a college aged student to know where to go and be able to click around. Not true of a 6 year old. This cannot be overstated or underestimated – In K-12 you must provide a distraction-free and well-thought out plan for how a user will navigate and discover the learning material/courses.

The issue is compounded when the frontpage is loaded up with good-intentioned but meaningless blocks and information. Each and every item on the homepage that doesn’t take the student to their intended goal of the teacher’s course is a distraction. Student and teachers can quickly become overwhelmed by all the items they could click on to achieve their goal. That’s why the Fordson theme and Easy Enrollment exists and why setup and configuration of Moodle is critical for K-12. We designed the theme to help direct students to learning in the quickest and easiest way possible.

Moodle HQ: Lastly, for schools who are thinking of using Moodle for their LMS for the first time ever, what advice have you got for them? Tips and tricks to get them started successfully?

Chris: Put a plan in place. A recipe for success would include the following:

  • Make login easier by integrating with school accounts (LDAP, Google Accounts)
  • Save teachers time by exporting grades to student information system such as Powerschool. Look for other benefits of teaching with an LMS
  • Focus on how a student will go from login to learning. How do they get there?
  • Make it look pretty. First impressions matter. Design and refine with purposeful intent.
  • Professional hosting / Knowledgeable Moodle Administration
  • Support and on-demand training/professional development

Thanks fair taking the time to talk with us today Chris!

Are you or do you know of a Moodler who is doing remarkable things in the world of edtech? If so contact Moodle HQ today.

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