This Moodlers Monday we visit the UK to talk to longtime Moodler Richard Oelmann

February 26, 2018

Have you heard of ‘Moodlers Monday’, our weekly interviews with important members of the global Moodle community?

This Monday we are (virtually) jetting off to the United Kingdom to speak longtime Moodler Richard Oelmann.

Let’s find out about his Moodle journey so far and what Moodle developments he’s looking forward to in the future.

Moodle HQ: Hi Richard, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Can we kick things off with you telling us a bit about yourself?

Richard: Hi, I’m Richard and I’m currently the Senior Systems Developer for Learning Teaching and Research at the University of Gloucestershire. It sounds like a complicated title, but essentially it means I get to spend my time messing about in the backend of Moodle and several of our other systems and developing ways to integrate Moodle with student records, other learning and teaching components and external tools like social media.

My background though isn’t as a Developer, I spent 20 years as a Primary School teacher, Advisory Teacher and Deputy Head and came into development, and Moodle development, through that and then through a subsequent move into Higher Education in Wales.

Moodle HQ: When did you first start using Moodle and how does Moodle play a role in your life?

Richard: I first started using Moodle as an Advisory Teacher – going around helping all the schools in Cardiff teaching using IT – and started using it both in that role to bring some of my resources together, but also as part of a county wide roll out where we gave every Primary school in Cardiff their own Moodle site.

When I went back to a new school as a Deputy Head it seemed natural to use Moodle for our school website and VLE and it was that which then got me into the development side as I had to learn how to create a new theme for the new school.

I guess I got hooked on the openness and community aspects and got more and more
involved in that community until it got to the point where I was offered a move into HE to do staff training and site development on what was then University of Wales, Newport’s Moodle installation. It was easy to say yes to an offer of being paid a salary to work on what had become my hobby.

Moodle HQ: You are an active member in the community forums. What do you think is the best thing about the forums and why do you use them?

Richard: Oh, same answer to both parts of that question – its the community itself. One of Moodle’s huge strengths is that community and the people in it. The depth of expertise and the approach to sharing and helping others is stronger than I’ve found in many other projects, even within the Open Source community.

My early days with learning about html, css, php and development for Moodle were entirely supported by people in the community until I found I was actually answering questions for other new users as much as I was asking them!

Moodle is such a powerful piece of software there is no way that one person can know everything about how it works, or the code, but the community forums – whether you are a developer looking at the code, an administrator searching for advice on settings, a teacher looking for pedagogy tips and best practice – are a massive resource.

And I think, although my job title may now be ‘developer’ I’m still an educator at heart, so I love learning myself, then sharing things and helping other new starters in the community, seeing people I know I’ve helped taking that on way beyond what the starting point they may have been at previously.

Moodle HQ: As well as being an active member of the Moodle community online, you are also a regular attendee at our offline events, MoodleMoots!

Can you please share with us what role you play in MoodleMoots and what it’s like to attend a MoodleMoot?

Richard: I’ve been attending the MootIEUK for a few years now, and roles have been different on different occasions – from simply attending my first one and spending much of the time soaking up atmosphere, knowledge and making new real world friends with people I had been talking to for, in some cases several years, in the forums. I’ve since presented several times and also been part of the conference committee reviewing submissions and chairing conference sessions.

It’s a wonderful occasion that brings together users, administrators, developers, partners and HQ. A mix of social (and professional) networking with people I wouldn’t meet in other ways, whether they are from schools and institutions 20 miles away from work or home, or from the other side of the world. Attendees from Ireland, Mainland Europe and Scandinavia, Israel, America/Canada, Australia and New Zealand are now recognised faces, not just names in forums, tweets and chat rooms.

Moodle HQ: For those new to Moodle, how else can people get involved in the community and contributing to the open source project besides attending the Moots?

Richard: Well, I would definitely recommend starting with the forums themselves, but there is also the Learn.Moodle Mooc that Moodle HQ run – That also gets huge numbers of participants and you get to learn about the features of Moodle as well as chat to experienced users. The team from HQ who manage it are often supported by long time users who may want a refresher, or simply want to help out and share their own experiences. Looking at the community of practice that built during the last run of that Mooc, both in its own forums and on Twitter, shows just how much new users gained from taking part.

Also, there is the Moodle Users Association, a group that individuals and institutions can join, which sponsors core developments decided on by the associations members – Projects have included the integrated recycle bin, work on the new My Courses dashboard and the recent calendar improvements.

Moodle HQ: What are some of the highlights of your Moodling years?

Richard: There are many, but I’ll pick out just two highlights –

Releasing my first theme into the community plugins database and seeing it adopted by so many users (one of its descendents, although not supported in newer versions of Moodle, is still being actively used on some sites as I still have people contacting me for support).

Meeting some of the ‘superstars’ of the community at my first ever MoodleMoot – without wanting to make them blush too much, but certain people from OU, North of England (now working for HQ), Ireland and Israel, among others at my first Moot in Edinburgh. And, as I mentioned before, taking that on with some of the people I have met subsequently makes this one an ongoing highlight reel!

And what are you looking forward most to in the future in terms of Moodle development, community, and the open source collaboration?

I’m really excited about the new themes, based on Boost and now that Bootstrap4 has gone ‘stable’ seeing the developments we can take forward in improving the user experience. But that user experience work has gone far beyond the themes community now, with the recent changes in the calendar, and the work going on with usability testing by HQ and the collaborations between the community and HQ through the Users Association.

I believe that bringing that into play, alongside taking on board some of the wider comments in education and learning environments – interactivity with other tools, learning from what other systems do well – and bringing those into Moodle where appropriate and enabling links to best practice tools where that’s the most beneficial method, makes for a very exciting future and that Moodle is ideally set up to take advantage of those developments and practices.




Thank you Richard for taking the time talking with us today.

If you would like to join Richard and Moodle HQ at MoodleMoot UK & Ireland 2018 register your space today.

Or if you would like to read previous Moodlers Monday posts check out: