NeuroMoodle - Insights by a Teacher to Integrate Technology in Your Educational Practice

This article is going to talk about the application of constructivism in your e-learning teaching practice using Moodle.

With the help of different strategies as how to organize information, the looks, teaching dynamics, gamification, PLEs, and time and desktop management, we’ll ensure: pedagogy, engagement, self regulation, metacognition and brain-based learning.

Introduction

EdTech is a tricky word when the Tech part bullies the Ed one. I’ve stumbled upon several virtual communities struggling to integrate applications by all means in their educational practice, no matter the elephantine effort or lack of pedagogy.

As technology is just a tool, education has to be based on pedagogy. If we look up their old meanings we find: art, for technology; and, to lead the child, for pedagogy. Despite being an art we have several advantages thanks to science, like knowing some facts about brain functioning and the way it learns. Thus, we can fine grain our technological strategies to improve our lessons.

Speaking about tools, I’ll focus on two of them among the vast amount of choices: Moodle and Google Apps (in the market there are plenty of resources, thousands, and you shouldn’t hesitate to integrate them in Moodle, but it’d be better to use proven tools so you can save your time). The reasons for such selection are:

  • Moodle is the best educational tool nowadays. It has an acceptable learning curve (not super easy), and the power it grants is worth the effort. If your project is about flipping your classes then Moodle is your tool.
  • Google Apps are the best complement for Moodle.

Let’s see some strategies to use when designing your Moodle courses as how to organize information, the looks, teaching dynamics, constructivist basis, gamification, PLEs, and time and desktop management. Through their use we should ensure: pedagogy, engagement, self regulation, metacognition and brain-based learning.

PHASE #1: PRESENTATION

Image is everything, as it’s the first impact on your brain’s sensory channels. That’s the reason why you have to be very careful about how you set up your courses and what strategies you follow to keep students engaged and actively participating.

HOW TO FORMAT, DISTRIBUTE AND ORGANIZE THE INFORMATION ITEMS

INFORMATION:

Numerations and logical sequences:

  • Moodle is great to organize your courses in parts, as weeks or topics, but you can even divide them in other different things. There are plenty of plugins to installl: collapsed topics, grids, and so on.
  • Your contents should be spatially arranged in the same way, so students can rapidly identify data, sections, key words, etc. Your physical books follow a similar strategy, so you can get ideas from them.
  • Instead of long paragraphs full of text, organize your information using bullets or lists (6 items per list).
  • Use sparingly text format to highlight important ideas: bold, underline, colors, several font types. And remember the information pyramid: title, brief and body.
  • Infographics are great resources to attractively present information.

Clarify what students will be dealing with during the course: syllabus, timetable, goals, assessment, tutoring time. You can design a quiz so students can know what level they’re starting from.

Complexity incrementation:

Prepare:

  • Extract ultra simple facts from a lesson. That’s layer zero.
  • Build around it more layers with a higher difficulty level.
  • Consider using Moodle lessons to better control the flow depending on the knowledge level students have.

Execute:

  • Students will be able to go ahead in different paces.
  • Let your excellent students go over simple tasks to the more complex ones so they don’t get bored.
  • Remember to grant them badges or something similar (level-ups).

Stick to the big idea and repeat it over and over:

  • When a task has been finished you can make a Moodle label appear to show a summary of the previous knowledge (see the how-to’s in the gamification section).
  • Use Moodle quizzes where the last ones include questions from the previous ones (Moodle’s question bank helps doing that), i.e let students feel obliged to keep in mind what they’ve learned in past lessons.

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VISUALS:

Humorous facts, including pictures. Jokes work well.

Colorful and visually attractive things, like:

Surprising facts.

Exaggerations.

Overload information channels: if you want to make your message get through say it in different formats many times. Bear in mind that nearly all resources can be embedded in Moodle pages/books/lessons/labels (wherever an HTML editor is available), so you can easily do it in your Moodle changing your editor’s view to HTML and pasting the embeddable code. Check these resources:

Pictograms: they’re great for second language acquisition. This example has been made using pictotraductor.com
El mago lanzó un hechizo de amor (the wizard cast a love spell). I’ve cut the pictos using Windows’ snipping tool. You can paste them in Moodle.

Video tutorials: Screencastify free extension for Chrome will let you create your own lessons on video:

  • Prepare your lesson structure before recording. That way, you’ll sound natural and in permanent flow.
  • Make your face appear in the bottom right corner of the screen. That’ll create a more close relationship with students.
  • If you are going to speak in your recording:
  • Set up Youtube to generate automatic captions.
  • Include some classical music (I love Mozart).
  • Create quizzes embedded in your videos: blubbr.tv

VISIBILITY:

Show what you are working with, and hide the rest.

  • Students usually get lost in a course. The scroll bar is something mysterious for them, so try to make everything important appear without the need of it using Moodle’s collapsed topics.
  • Be extremely clear about where your course’s cursor is. You can use the top topic for that.

Make students use Moodle check-lists so they know what they have to do.

Consider using Moodle’sprogress bar: it’s like a road map.

Tell students to go full screen (F11 in Chrome) to avoid distractions.

OTHER STUFF:

Provide platform tutorials (how to use Moodle): you can find many on Youtube.

Make it clear how to sign in, password recovery and the like.

Create a FAQ about your course.

ENGAGEMENT: GAMIFICATION

Once everything is in its place we need to spice things up to catch (or grab) students’ interest and attention. Engagement and gamification go hand-in-hand. We can define it as the methodology consisting in applying game elements into non game based systems to increase participants’ engagement. Let’s see some elements and how to apply them using Moodle:

Points: valuable units you earn when doing certain things. They have to be connected to rewards, like real points for the final grade.  Try Level up!, a plugin designed to score points as you get involved in different activities. Other elements as forums let you assign points to posts.

Badges: representation of achievement. They give some social status. Included in version 2.5.

Leaderboards: take the previous two and make an ordered list from top to down to know who’s winning.

Progress bars, maps, and the like: to know where you are in the process. You have an ad-hoc plugin, or you can devise your own. Create several progress bar images (as photograms). Put each in different labels, hide them and make them appear consecutively as tasks are being finished. Students will see just one bar changing its state (as in an animation film). Something similar is the lesson objectives module.
Sometimes it’s interesting to let students know what point they’re starting from, speaking of their abilities on the subject at hand.

Random rewards: they intend to attract your students to take part in your system.

  • Create an orphaned quiz with one single true/false question: would you like a free point for your grade? Copy its URL.
  • Create a hidden label with a treasure picture. Program it to appear at some time. Students will see the treasure as if it were random. Link the picture to the quiz.
  • Analyse what time of the day students use Moodle less. Make your treasures appear at those moments.
  • When logging in they’ll see the treasure, click on it, answer yes and obtain points which will be reflected in their grades.

Easter eggs: these are strategically placed items to be found so you attract students to specific places. Use a similar strategy as in random rewards.

Unlocking elements: use restrict access and activitycompletion.

Webquests: mix the previous elements to create a webquest adventure.

Storytelling: wrap up a boring lesson inside a story.

Avatars:I believe these help in entering the magic circle, which is the locked environment where the game is played and its rules are naturally followed by students.

Level-ups: similar to pokemon evolution. After assimilating some new abilities you get transformed into something more powerful. You can use badges to recognize different levels of improvement.

Certificates of achievement: similar to badges.

Checklists of accomplishment: similar to progress bars.

PHASE #2: MAKING IT EXPLICIT

During this stage students need to recall, organize, put in words, project ideas onto schemes... what they already know about the subject, and make a first picture with: true and false facts, believes, experiences, etc. The process will be like:

Introduce the topic and facts:

  • Offline: Google Slides, Moodle pages, lessons, books, embedded PDFs, dynamic presentations (Prezi).
  • Online: Google Hangouts (embeddable in Moodle).

Let your students reflect and jot down their ideas: Moodle assignments, surveys, workshops, Google Drive.

Discuss in groups:

  • Workshops: they can submit their opinion, and, then, give their opinion and grade about others’. This is an invaluable tool, as students can act as teachers, empowering them even more.
  • Hangouts, forums and chats.

Publish: consider sharing the funniest misconceptions with the pertinent explanations.

As students will start working and producing things let’s see how to organize your course to ensure a “tidy desktop”, good use of time and social interaction.

DESKTOP ORGANIZATION

Provide tools to make your Moodle a desktop: make your resources pop up in different windows so a text editor is kept always in the main screen. That way your students will be able to jot down ideas while working with other things. There are three ways to do that:

Instruct your students to right click on the links to open them in new tabs.

Do it yourself:

  • Create the resource.
  • Copy its URL and make it orphaned.
  • Create a label and insert the link with a “target” tag in the HTML editor (see the javascript section) to make it pop up in a new tab.

Or consider using Google Drive in another tab, and let students share them submitting the shareable links in assignments.

  • If you use Youtube videos you can install a Chrome extension called Always on Top, so you can place your video window on top all the time.
  • Use calendars: Moodle’s or Google’s. Let those calendars be shared (ical) so students can include them in their Google accounts and check them through their mobile phones.
  • Keep your students over informed about what’s going on: mails, calendars, warnings inside Moodle, top topic as the communication board, pop-up messages (javascript section)...
  • Provide PLEs (e.g, create boards in Symbaloo and embed them).
  • Make students use digital portfolios, as Moodle folders or Google Drive. Blogs or sites (Google sites) can be used the same way, and if using them remember your students to link the RSS to their profiles.

TIME MANAGEMENT

Our brains can’t hold attention for a long time, so it’s important to:

  • Break down lessons in knowledge capsules.
  • Use different time span approaches (work/rest).

Impose breaks:

  • Give clear guidelines about how to use time (e.g, 10 mins for reading, 5 mins for reflecting and 15 mins for writing).
  • Instead of using Moodle assignments use Moodle quizzes, and the question type “Description”. You can set a time limit to submit the quiz once it’s been started.
  • Through the use of Javascript functions typed in the editor (HTML mode) you can alter the way Moodle works.

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SOCIAL

1- Include social interaction elements, and keep them alive: Moodle forums and chats, Google Hangouts, Twitter, Facebook… Remember that such social networks provide widgets embeddable in Moodle, but take in count you lose control of them as they aren’t tracked by Moodle.

2- Force your students to participate in constructive social activity:

  • Interaction must be of value, as students helping other students.
  • You can give them something in exchange, as points for each message in a forum.

3- Add personalization elements: avatars, groups… Students love to be integrated in groups but they also want to feel different and special. You can create funny groups based on many things: cartoon characters, personal preferences... Watch out not to let them use

4- other classifications, as IQ score, to create social division or negative effects.

5- Use Moodle workshops, where your students become teachers and can grade others.

6- If you are going to create groups remember these rules about group dynamics:

  • Made of 4 people.
  • The participants: one leader, one lazy student and two neutral ones.
  • Use group dynamics to keep them alive, like brainstorming.
  • It’s important for students to reflect about their group, analyze its functioning and see ways to improve it. Provide indicators (measurable variables) and surveys.

PHASE #3: INSERTION

During this stage students will work with new information, try to understand it, deal with exercises, etc.

They should actively start inserting the new information in their neural networks, but you have to help them, as they can: give up, get stuck, understand incorrectly, lose the pace, etc. During the insertion process new information:

  • Makes sense, is well accepted and is easily absorbed.
  • Doesn’t make sense, lacks detail, creates a cognitive conflict, is too complex, requires  tossing away other previous knowledge, and so on.  This is the hard work part of the process so you need to be as creative as possible and use different approaches to keep your course’s dynamic alive and interesting.

These tips will be helpful:

1- Mix routines and unpredictability: brain functions well with routines, but it also gets bored with them, so from time to time you have to something different.

2- Infuse emotionality: emotions are stronger than rational thoughts.

3- Create contrasts: if you explain something explain the contrary too. Speaking about sound propagation in air you can contrast it with whale singing or what happens in the outer space.

4- Use close to real life examples: the more familiar the cases are the more sense they’ll make.

5- Use meaningful contents.

6- Use usable contents that can be applied in real life situations: students need practical things, not only vane theory.

7- Use storytelling to wrap the information up (for Maths this technique is amazing).

8- Provoke intrigue.

9- Try to use a positive communication style:

  • Change, “You won’t be able to pass the exam if you don’t…”
  • For, “Your final grade will be awesome as you’ll do…”

10- Or use the classical advertising one: it worked for me; stronger, better, faster; be like me; and so on.

11- Hypotheses: use the “what if?” style to question ideas in your lessons. Create comical or impossible scenarios.

  • What if gravity on Earth would be as it is in the moon? Imagine your daily life.
  • What if we’d be silicon based beings?

12-Socratic style: make your students reflect giving them new questions instead of answers.

13- Keep in mind feedback (Moodle surveys will help):

  • Bidirectional: ask your students about their opinion, but give them yours too.
  • Detailed and measurable, this way you’ll be able to adjust your courses for improvement.

14- Make your students be the protagonists and center of the process.

15-Congratulate (reward) them when achieving things.

16- Give reflection and metacognition more weight.

17-Promote brainstormings.

18- Make students be teachers.

PHASE #4: INTERIORIZATION

This is about studying, learning, memorizing, creating new connections in the brain… but interiorization goes farther, as it seeks long-time information storage, application of the information to new scenarios, creativeness, excellence, pattern recognition...

Many factors take place in the process of interiorization, but some of them have more weight:

1- Survival: when it goes about being safe and sound your brain attention is sharp and you learn quickly. You might use this concept for your advance, in the end if you study more/are smarter/are better prepared you’ll have more chances for better opportunities, earn more money and have a more comfortable life (it’s just an idea, not necessarily true all the time). Sprinkle messages like that from time to time.

2-Interest: so far we’ve made a great effort to set on fire students’ interest.

3-Attention: keeping it for a long time can be a challenge, but retake some ideas we’ve talked about before.

  • Favourable ambience.
  • Tidy desktops.
  • Routines.
  • Physical conditions (glucose and water levels, comfortability…): remember this to students, as hunger or dehydration will make them focus less, etc.

4-Cognitive abilities: these depend on your genes, environment where you’ve grown up, social inputs, education, etc. You might have lost the battle in this field, but the brain is something fantastic and there’s always something to do with it. Speaking about hardware, it seems that a good synchronized brain works better. That happens when a task is executed involving both hemispheres. The following game is based in psychomotricity:

  • Create a table and write the alphabet letters in each cell. Write an L or an R in each cell randomly (for left or right hand). It’ll look like: a L - b R - c R - d R - e L - ...
  • Students have to read the alphabet out loud while they raise their left or right hand at the same time. They should do it faster and faster for some minutes. You can change letters for numbers or words, mix colors, etc.
  • This exercise claims to activate the corpus callosum in your brain, and, thus, improve left-right brain coordination. You can use it as a warmup for students prior to start working. Give it a try.

5-Environment: if your mind’s wrapping is your body, your room might be your body’s wrapping. Appropriate temperature, air quality, light… is recommended.

6-Repetition: many things are learned by mere repetition. Take it in count.

7-Usage: theoretical contents are settled in your brain once they’ve been put into practice.

In addition, bear in mind your brain’s information acquisition stages:

1- Sensors and sensory memory: brain decides whether to pass messages or not (remember the visuals section to catch your sensors’ attention).

2-Encoding: sensory impulses must be translated to brain code. Codification occurs more effectively when there’s understanding, emotions, experience, repetition, engagement, exaggerations, humour, rhymes and songs, symbols… so far, that should ring a bell.

3-Long-term memory (consolidation): repetition, recall, emotions, meaning, neural network, usability or good sleep, among others.

4- Retrieval and forgetting:

  • Usage, anchors, relatedness.
  • Distractions, lack of detail, channel noise or lack of interest.

 PHASE #5: PRACTICE

Practice is vital to settle information down in your brain. It takes place through exercises, projects, real work, etc. Performed in groups it increases its effectiveness.

PBL OR PROJECT BASED LEARNING:

Simple exercises can prove useful to start from scratch, but when things are in a more advanced stage then it’s time to try more complex things. PBLs are eclectic projects where to apply knowledge, abilities and tools to solve real life problems. This method usually requires more time, effort and resources:

  • Moodle assignments as portfolios: set them up to upload multiple files as many times as needed, and open the feedback box.
  • Promote the usage of other tools, as Visual.ly, Google sites, Prezi, etc.
  • Make students evaluate one another using Moodle workshops.
  • Use a competitive approach to improve quality (gamification’s leaderboards).

TEAM WORK:

You have many ways to work in teams through Moodle:

1- Create groups inside your courses, and let students submit assignments in groups.

2- Facilitate tools for group communication (already mentioned).

3- Use collaborative tools for real-time work, as Google docs:

  • Up to 50 people can work on the same document.
  • Chat is built-in.
  • Revisions are allowed.
  • It can be integrated with other tools, as Sheets.
  • It lets you work in offline mode using Chrome and specific extensions.

4- Moodle has other tools for collaboration: wikis, glossaries, databases...

REFLECTION AND METACOGNITION

There isn’t anything more powerful than thinking about thinking:

1- Make your students reflect on everything (products and processes):

  • Contents.
  • Content acquisition.
  • Interiorization process.
  • Tools and methods effectiveness.
  • Team work.

2- Make them publish their conclusions with their own personal touch, i.e, let them express themselves. To do so establish a fixed set of rules to be followed, and let students build around it:

3- Make them evaluate others’ reflections.

4-Collect interesting facts about their work, including misconceptions, mistakes, etc. Those may be useful to readjust your courses.

CURATING PLE’S: PERSONAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

Everyone has ever done something like a PLE, in fact bookmarking interesting websites for any kind of personal growth is to curate, and that special folder you keep with several useful links for your work is a sort of a PLE. As PLEs deal with many different things (presentations, social networking, documentaries and videos, research, production, publication, citation, collaboration, storage, project management, coding, augmented reality, virtual worlds, gamification, gamecodization...) you can also curate different ones.

Give your students a first PLE to work with so they can find quality resources and information, and let them extend it in a personal way. It’s like placing useful tools on a desktop to improve performance.

There are plenty of resources to work with PLEs, like Delicious, but there’s one more visual than the rest: Symbaloo. Look at these: example #1, example #2, example #3. Feel free to use them for your own sake.

 CONCLUSIONS

We’ve seen some strategies to deal with two excellent educational resources: Moodle and Google apps. They’re easy, powerful and effective. But the range of opportunities is very vast, so don’t hesitate to try new things (good ones). Anyway, bear in mind that:

  • A good approach usually involves a combination of different tools, and the same goes for teaching methodologies.
  • Social networks are invaluable tools for teachers to find out and publish new resources, so keep educating yourself and sharing knowledge with others.
  • Track, measure, evaluate and rearrange your courses, tools and practice.
  • Think of the learning process from a pedagogical perspective, and apply technology to improve it. Focus on students.

Good luck!

About the Author
Author: Andoni SanzWebsite: http://www.andonisanz.com
I'm a Computer Scientist working as a STEM Teacher and an Educational Technologist. Google Certified Educator and Moodle expert, I'm immersed in a non-stop research on technology applied to education, combined with the latest pedagogy trends, as blended learning or gamification. Also working on Gamecodization: teaching how to code through game development.

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