Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Henley-on-Moodle & Father Jack says (a)RSS!

Today I've been at Gillott's School in Henley in Oxfordshire doing a day's work with some staff who are starting to develop the school's use of Moodle. Today there were six staff, two technical people, two Curriculum ICT staff, one person from MFL and one from Science. It was a fruitful day, we spent a lot of time going through worked examples of activities - choices, forums, assignments, lessons and then some....

Father Jack says RSS!!!Like Great Marlow School this is a school which is taking its time to plan things, but at the same time is starting to experiment with small groups of students. One of the most useful things to show people the power of the internet (and how this can be easily incorporated into Moodle) was some simple work using RSS feeds. For example, aside from the obvious BBC or Guardian news headlines on your site via RSS, did you know...
  • you can get the latest BBC Bitesize Revision areas for each subject in your site automatically via RSS?
  • you can use Google News or Yahoo! News to customise the sorts of stories you want on your Moodle site and have them fed in via RSS?
  • etc. etc.

It always makes me chuckle (or is it weep?) when someone selling Moodle to the as-yet-unitiated makes a huge deal of the fact that "you can have Newsround headlines, a link to your own school web site (no really, that's a very technical thing), a Wikipedia search, etc. on your Moodle site if we set it up for you" - good grief, we'll be allowed to change some text on our own Moodle front page next... it's not that these are bad things (obviously they're not) but it's the implication that "without us you couldn't do this" - it breeds dependence, and I'm pretty sure that the whole ethos of Moodle promotes the opposite...

This is why it's worth spending time developing capability in schools - so that staff and pupils can start to explore this for themselves. On Monday at our primary training day the overwhelming comment from everyone there was "this is so easy" - speaking on a personal level, it does my head in when people start to sell Moodle to schools from an odd position - namely the "this will change your world" point of view. It might do, but what's important here is the ability to change thinking, to modify expectations, not simply to make a fast buck by hosting oodles of Moodles without thinking about impacts on teaching and learning. Sorry, rant over.

In the meantime, here's a list of things I need to do for Bucks Moodlers in the near future:

  • combine the Primary VLE and Moodle Users areas on the BucksGfL into one - they shouldn't really be separate
  • provide information on Creative Commons tools for when (I hope) we start to share courses beyond Buckinghamshire
  • make a Captivate screencast on using RSS feeds in Moodle (that'll be freely available somewhere, probably on Google Video or something, but it'll definitely be in the BucksGfL Moodle users area as well
  • write my presentation for the Naace conference next week (oh, and someone please change that picture...)
  • request (again) that the company which keeps writing to all of our primary schools (create mail merge document > open spreadsheet of Bucks schools > merge > post...) - offering them Moodle and confusing the heck out of them - would desist from doing so, or at least be reasonable. No links in this bullet point. At least not yet...


  1. A good point there Ian. The learning platform, Moodle and all these things are completely irrelevant. After all, in 10 minutes you could set up Moodle on a privately hosted server (as I have several times).

    The important thing here has to be teachers ability to use the features of a VLE. With a starting point being as low as "you can have a link to your school site" I think that it's also a bit of a mission (in terms of time more than anything).

    I'm currently reading e-tivities by Gilly Salmon and it's opened my eyes as to just how involved a discussion forum can be. Now given that I know technically what you can do with it, the idea that there's a 200 page book just on that aspect of Moodle seem astonishing. After all, if someone is to say they 'know' Moodle just how much should they really know.

    On a different subject, you mentioned Captivate. How are you getting on with it? I haven't spent to long with it, but was trying to find a free alternative... if you're interested then check out my post on it at

    This will allow any teacher/school to produce screen recordings, reduce the filesize to something manageable and then produce a neat SCORM package. (It does require something like Macromedia Flash to make the wrapper - but that's trivial). I'd be interested in what you think of the solution.

  2. Captivate is very very good, another alternative is Wink - at - it's not quite as automated as Captivate but it's a very useful tool. There are also earlier versions of CamStudio (version 2.00, not version 2.1 - you need to search some file download sites for this), but Captivate is easier to use than either of these. Plus, we can link it to our Connect/Breeze server which makes handling large Flash files easier.

  3. As I say, I haven't used Captivate very much so don't feel qualified to talk about it. However, I do know that it has a few clever features that the others don't.

    I've tried Camstudio which is good at what it does (and I don't think it's hard at all to use - but I would consider myself quite techy.

    I'm sure if you have the full connect/breeze servers etc then it's best. But I still like the idea of using camstudio to record, getting the filesizes as you want them with riva, and then packaging the whole thing together with eXe. And there is much to be said for the price of that solution (free). - But it is probably not so appropriate for those that aren't tech savvy.