Moodlers Monday: We talk to learning designer, Jill Lyall, about Moodling at the Australian National University

Last week we talked to Luiggi Sansonetti in France to talk about his multiple roles and involvement with Moodle.

This week, for our Moodler Monday, we are heading to Australia, Canberra – the capital city to be precise – to talk to learning designer, Jill Lyall, at the Australian National University (ANU).

ANU uses Moodle as its learning management system, which they call Wattle.

As a learning designer, Jill plays an important role in making sure that Moodle at ANU supports educators and gives learners a good learning experience online or in a blended format.

Since early 2015, Jill has been working on a range of projects with Moodle for ANU online, helping to create online materials for post graduate courses and creating support and training resources in technology enhanced learning for academics at the university.

You can see some of Jill’s work and that of ANU Online’s with Moodle through this presentation from MoodleMoot Australia 2016: “Rebirthing ANU Medical School’s Online Learning Space.”

An article in which Jill collaborated as lead writer is published in ASCILITE’s latest Conference proceedings and can be found here: Challenges and Tensions in the role of the LMS for Medical Education: Time for the next generation LMS?

Let’s now chat to Jill to talk more about her Moodling experience!

Moodle HQ: Thanks Jill for taking the time to talk to us. Let’s start with a bit about yourself and how your role at ANU connects with Moodle?

Jill: I am in the role of Learning Designer in a central team currently known as ANU Online (although – breaking news! – some thought is being given to changing this name to ensure it reflects a broader use of technology in education).

Moodle is our institutional learning platform, and within ANU it is known as WATTLE – Web Access To Teaching and Learning Environments. WATTLE is significantly different to a “free range” version of Moodle not constrained by institutional rules about privacy, security, the maintenance of archives and records, intellectual property,  student appeals and complaints and other similar issues.  So much of my experience and expertise since working with ANU has been to learn how to work creatively within such constraints.

My main job is to ensure that all users, students and staff, have a positive user experience within this online learning environment. This is therefore quite a broad role.  It may include consulting and working with academic individuals and teams to set up an online course from scratch, which can include attempting a variety of innovations. But it also includes trouble shooting and maintenance of existing courses, particularly when I have been involved in designing them. We have just moved to Moodle 3.3, which I feel had enabled us to design course environments which are simpler and easier for users to navigate.

Moodle HQ: When did you first come across Moodle and what made you want to work more with our open source learning platform?

Jill: I was mainly familiar with Blackboard during my years with TAFE in Western Australia as that was the government provided platform for all State funded learning organisations. However I was aware that some institutions had broken away from Blackboard and were using Moodle. As it was an open source platform I did download it for my own experimentation, so I had some familiarity with it.

I have known about Moodle for many years and its availability as an open source platform and the accompanying community appealed to me as an educator who was always wanting to experiment with technology to provide a deeper and more enjoyable learning experience. Even though I mainly worked in Blackboard during my long career in TAFE in Western Australia, I did use Moodle off-line and also in the free spaces provided online, to try out ideas.

Moodle HQ: You have been a Moodler for a number of years now. What are some of your Moodle best highlights that you can share?

Jill: I think experimenting with Lesson for a Masters in Public Health course that I have assisted to create online has been extremely interesting and rewarding. I am always on the lookout for ways to improve my branching scenario techniques using Lesson. I would like to see a new feature added to Lesson which enables me to view the scenarios on a visual map.

The new Moodle 3.3 is a great improvement in terms of ease of navigation and fewer steps in adding or configuring activities. I have started to realise that encouraging the use of the side navigation bar, and also “one topic at a time” settings, is a better alternative than creating layers of CSS and HTML to make additional navigation tools that are designed to be more “user friendly” – the new Moodle 3.3 look and feel makes using the native Moodle tools more attractive. The creation of additional “bells and whistles” using CSS and HTML makes courses less sustainable in the long run even if they look “prettier,”  because unless faculty have access to graphic designers or other skilled learning designer type staff, it is very easy for such designs to break and for no one to be available to fix them.

Moodle HQ: What are most excited about for the future with Moodle, as an open source project, and also for ANU’s online learning space?

Jill: The community itself is exciting to be part of. I am inspired by Martin Dougiamas’s vision of open source educational resources and a more sharing educational culture. I am hoping that ANU  can take part in this sharing culture and benefit, while sharing its treasure trove of educational resources where possible.

ANU has started to commit itself to improved use of technology in learning, which is reflected in the investment recently of three additional learning designers and technologists recruited to the ANU Online team.

Moodle HQ: Lastly Jill, for those new to Moodle, or just starting to be introduced to the learning platform, what handy tips and advice do you have to help them get the very best from their Moodle?

Jill: Before you start to do anything too ambitious in terms of your course environment’s look and feel, first thoroughly investigate all of Moodle’s tools and resources and their various purposes. For me, I have learned “less is more.” Moodle allows you to be minimalist while still being clever about giving users a great experience.

Another tip is, if you ever hit a brick wall as in can’t figure out one of Moodle’s activities or tools, can’t get things to work, don’t know how to do certain things in Moodle, it is easy to search the exact topic in your favourite internet search engine, and find it. There are many resources, including within Moodle’s own websites, such as communities, discussions and documentation, to help you through. Make sure that what you find is related to the Moodle version you are using, because each upgrade has made Moodle significantly different in terms of processes and appearance.

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Thanks Jill!

If you would like to find out more about Moodle at ANU, follow ANU online on Twitter.

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