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Moodle Project in Mexico

Moodle Project in Mexico






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  • In the late 1990s, several national surveys and reports in the United States stressed the need for preparing preserviceteachers to use technology in the classroom and also complained that technology was not well integrated into thecollege classrooms where pre-service teachers were being trained (National Council For Accreditation Of TeacherEducation Task Force On Technology And Teacher Preparation 1997; Persichitte, Tharp, & Caffarella 1997;President's Committee Of Advisors On Science And Technology 1997). Several authors have subsequentlycontinued to stress the importance of integrating technology into preservice teaching programs (Bielefeldt 2001;Mayo, Kajs, & Tanguma, 2005; Vrasidas & McIsaac 2001; Cunningham 2003; Kinslow, Newcombe, & Goss 2002;Angeli 2005).We felt that the timing to introduce distance education technology in this particular preservice program was perfectbecause public K-12 schools in the state of Sonora (Mexico) were starting to follow a path similar to one schools inthe United States had followed a few years before. Having recognized the importance of technology in education,governments and administrators in Sonora were pouring large sums of money into programs to insure that everyschool was wired and that there would be at least one small lab in each school.Because the plan to put technology and hardware into every school appeared to be similar to methods that had beenused in the United States, we could assume that we would soon begin to see similar charges of wasted money andineffectual implementation in many areas. At the time that we started to plan the e-learning project, there had been agrowing perception in the United States that much of the money used to introduce technology into K-12 schools hadbeen wasted because teachers had not been trained on how to effectively integrate technology. Ramirez (2004)confirmed that this situation had begun to appear in Sonora. The state had made great strides to place technology inevery school in the state, yet very little of significance appeared to be happening with it. According to Ramirez, theequipment often sat idle because few staff members seemed to be sure how to use it or integrate it properly into theirlessons.
  • Positive, innovative change is difficult to achieve in any organization. There are several conditions that can impedeor prevent change and several others that can promote it. We anticipated that even though the time seemed to beright for introducing e-learning into the department, that there would still be several hurdles to overcome including ageneral resistance to change. To help us understand and cope with these challenges, we referred to some of thefoundational literature on organizational change and diffusion of innovation. There are several theories that dealwith diffusion of innovations and technological change. Among them, three theories that were particularly importantfor this work were those of Rogers, Fullan, and Ely.
  • The Project was initially planned to follow four stages: diagnostic and presentation; training; implementation; andevaluation. However, these stages were not fixed, so we repeated or reinforced some of them as we progressed.Diagnostic and presentationThe project officially began at the end of April, 2005 when we made a short presentation in Hermosillo to discussthe project with interested potential participants. During that initial meeting, we determined that the Mexicanuniversity’s technology offerings were adequate to support the project and that the students and professors would beable to count on stable access to the online courses. At this time we also introduced the interested faculty to Moodleand explained what it was and how it would help them teach online.
  • After the initial visit in April, participants completed a three-week pre-workshop that included activities such asposting an introduction and a biography. We remained in contact and long-distance support was provided throughthe use of Internet phone service, email, instant messaging, and GoToMeeting conferencing software. The preworkshopcourse was designed to familiarize the participants with Moodle from the perspective of a student and itgave them a good introduction to many of the tools in Moodle. This gave us a good start before we began the firstworkshop. During the initial phase, all Moodle management functions such as user enrollment, troubleshooting andcourse shell creation was conducted by the project initiator in the United States. Remote technical support was alsoprovided via collaboration technologies such as GoToMeeting. A week-long workshop was then held in Hermosilloat the end of May, 2005. This workshop provided an in-depth training for faculty on how to use Moodle and most ofits main tools to create online courses along with suggested strategies for teaching online.
  • A small number of volunteers who participated in the week-long workshop then spent June through Augustpreparing online courses for their own students to begin in the fall. During the second semester of 2005, threeprofessors offered their first courses to approximately 100 students. We had a few glitches, but it was generally asuccessful launch. Next semester (2006-1), the number of faculty remained equal but the number of studentsdoubled.
  • At the end of the 2006-1 semester, the authors asked students to respond to a questionnaire to gather their opinionabout the courses where Moodle was employed. A strong majority of students reported favorable impressions of theopportunities created by online learning and several other professors were voicing interest in joining the project.
  • To keep the momentum going, we conducted a second week-long workshop at the end of the May of 2006. Thisworkshop re-taught the basics of using Moodle to a new group of professors, as well as introduced more informationon best practices for all of the participants.
  • Currently, the department of Foreign Languages offers 23 courses in Moodle and due to the interest of new faculty,the University of Sonora site administrator has started a permanent workshop for them, thus, the idea is still verymuch alive, but now with its own life
  • Building on Rogers, Fullan, and Ely, Surry (2002) has proposed a model for overcoming the barriers to integratinginstructional technology into higher education, which he calls the RIPPLES Model. Surry states that this modelidentifies the factors that can facilitate the integration of technology and details steps that administrators and otherchange agents can take to promote the integration of technology in their organizations. The main components of theRIPPLES Model are Resources, Infrastructure, People, Policies, Learning, Evaluation, and Support.
  • Building on Rogers, Fullan, and Ely, Surry (2002) has proposed a model for overcoming the barriers to integratinginstructional technology into higher education, which he calls the RIPPLES Model. Surry states that this modelidentifies the factors that can facilitate the integration of technology and details steps that administrators and otherchange agents can take to promote the integration of technology in their organizations. The main components of theRIPPLES Model are Resources, Infrastructure, People, Policies, Learning, Evaluation, and Support. In the nextsection we will discuss the project within each of the RIPPLES components.
  • The first element of Surry’s RIPPLES Model is resources, which refers mainly to fiscal resources. Surry (2002)points out that much of the adoption and diffusion literature includes surprisingly little about the importance ofmoney in the change process. In our case, there was very little money to support the project and we initiated it out ofa desire to experiment with an idea and our dedication to the idea of the importance of technology in education. Thetechnical expertise was provided by the American volunteer who was willing to donate time and effort. The otherway we saved thousands more was to use Open Source software that didn’t require any kind of licensing fees.Finally, the project was hosted initially on a server in the Flagstaff office of the American volunteer and then later itwas moved in the first year to one of the servers at Northern Arizona University. In the second year, the project washosted with an inexpensive commercial host in the United States which cost only a few hundred dollars. A serverwas also purchased by the department so that the project could eventually be hosted by the University of Sonora atthe end of the second year. So even though this project was initiated on the smallest of shoestring budgets, there stillhad to be some financial commitment from the institution or the project may not have lasted into the second year.
  • Surry (2002) states that people play an essential role in the process of integrating a new innovation. Ultimately, it isthe people involved who facilitate, evaluate, and decide if an innovation will be adopted. The Concerns BasedAdoption Model, or CBAM (Hall & Hord 1987), suggests the stages of concern that people generally go through asthey consider and ultimately accept or reject a new technology. Essentially, the CBAM theorizes that peopleinvolved in a change process will evolve through several stages of concern about that change. In the early stages,they focus on what the innovation is and how it might affect them. In the middle stages they begin to focus more ontask or management concerns such as how to use the innovation or use it more effectively and efficiently. In the laterstages, the participants’ focus shifts to concerns about what the results or impact of the innovation have been. Is thechange positive or negative, and is there a better or more efficient way to do it? In our project, most participants arein the middle stages, although there is a small group of faculty who might be in the last stage who has begun toevaluate the experience and its results.
  • The fifth element of the model is learning, which means that the new technology must enhance the educational goalsof the institution. Surry (2002) lists three ways that technology can enhance the instructional goals of an academicorganization. The first way is that technology can have pedagogical benefits in the way that it allows teachers andstudents to interact in new, dynamic ways. We saw this immediately when the American volunteer was able toconduct training for faculty in Sonora from his office in Arizona. Further, students were able to continue theirstudies while living abroad and some faculty even continued to teach classes in Sonora while attending universitiesin the United States and Canada. We quickly observed how the new learning management system moved thelearning environment out of the place and time constraints of the traditional classroom and quickly converted it intoan “anytime, anywhere” environment for all of the students who had access to the Internet.The second way technology can enhance learning goals is by allowing the institution to reach new studentpopulations or to serve current students in new ways. We certainly saw that students suddenly had many moreoptions for how and when they conducted their studies and their interactions with the instructors and their students,but we have not yet seen the occurrence of new populations being reached, which was one of our chief goals inimplementing the project.The third way that a technology can enhance learning goals is by reducing costs through either larger economies ofscale or through lower operating expenses. So far, we have not seen this benefit because most classes continue to betaught as web-enhanced or blended classes. Only a couple of the classes have been taught as completely onlinecourses, so if anything, the costs have been greater than they were when the department’s instruction was entirely inthe classroom.
  • The sixth element, Evaluation, underscores the need for continual assessment of the technology. Surry (2002)discusses four areas of evaluation that should be considered: the technology in relation to learning goals, thetechnology itself, the overall integration plan, cost/benefit analysis. Because of the informal, grassroots nature of thisproject we did not have the time, money, nor manpower to complete in-depth evaluations in these areas. Instead, ourevaluations were based on observations, informal discussions with the professors, and end-of-semester surveys ofthe students.Based on the activity in the learning management system at the end of the second year, we believe that the projectwas successful. There were almost 250 active participants in the system with different students logging in as often asevery two to five minutes depending on the time of day. There were approximately fourteen active courses in the falland twenty active courses in the spring with approximately eleven professors teaching those courses in the springsemester plus three more professors who started the course online but didn’t finish for whatever reason. We felt thatthis was an impressive gain since we had started just two years earlier with only three professors and less than 100students. As the project advances, the student feedback continues to be very positive; more professors are showinginterest in using it.; the University of Sonora now has its own server and has moved its courses from the old serverto the new supported one; and all of the administrative and technical support has been transferred to the Universityof Sonora. The project is now self-sufficient and the real test will be to see how well it is sustained into the futurewithout the original project founders being involved and guiding it.We did experience a few problems along the way. Most were minor issues that could be resolved, but one or twowere problems that threatened to derail the entire project. One serious problem that we had to overcome in the firstfour months of the project was a serious issue that prevented the learning management system from workingproperly when participants in Hermosillo tried to work with the system from their homes using the local cableinternet service.Another problem was the lack of involvement of faculty: annual workshops were attended by 15 or 20 facultymembers, but once they ended, we did not hear anything else from them. The way we resolved the situation was toconcentrate on three dedicated professors and work closely with them through Internet communications technologies(ICT) during the first year until we had finally build a core group, or seed, that we could use to model how to use thesystem to the other professors in the department, and eventually provide on-site technical support to other professorsas they began to show interest in the project.The final serious problem we encountered was that the technical support provided by NAU required much longerthan we had anticipated. The original plan was to begin turning the system over to the University of Sonora at theend of the first year. That didn’t happen due to technical problems with the server at the University of Sonora, whichlasted until the third year when the problem was finally resolved.
  • The seventh element of the RIPPLES Model is Support. This means that there needs to be a support system in placefor faculty, staff, and students who are using the technology. This was another highly critical piece for which theauthors recognized a need early in the planning process. Our biggest problem was that the person who had the mosttechnical expertise in the early stages of the product lived in the United States while all of the faculty and staff whowould need support lived in Mexico. We solved this problem through an innovative use of Internet andCommunications Technologies (ICT) that allowed us to collaborate in a way that eliminated the problems caused bythe distance between our two schools. Initially, we planned through the relatively low-tech medium of email. As thestarting date for the project neared, however, we begin to use Moodle itself as the place to train the faculty, withfeedback, support and encouragement provided by the facilitator in Arizona.After the initial workshop, support for the small group of professors who continued was provided through aninnovative use of Skype for voice communications and GoToMeeting which allowed us to view the same desktopand pass control back and forth. Between the two tools, we were able to provide technical support from the UnitedStates to the faculty in Mexico as if we were sitting side by side in the same room. This allowed us to slowly trainone of the professors in Mexico to become an onsite administrator and support person.
  • One of the biggest lessons we learned is the need to either be prepared to nurture the project for a long time,sometimes much longer than originally anticipated, and/or have a good exit strategy. If the project planners havedone their job well and really nurtured the project, participants will not be eager to let go of the support that wasprovided. We are pretty sure, though, that if the support from the United States had been pulled at the end of the firstyear as originally planned, the project would not have survived in its current form. So it is important to be preparedto continue to provide support longer than originally planned for projects like this, especially when they require a lotof nurturing in the early stages.Another lesson we learned is that technical projects like this which introduce sweeping change can be successfullyimplemented without a lot of money. The secret is to use open source software and have impassioned technicalvolunteers who are firmly committed to seeing it succeed.The third lesson is that it is possible to introduce change from a distance if the project planner can locate at least twoor three highly committed people on site who can work with the experts through the Internet. We feel that in spite ofsome very innovative ways to create presence and collaboration online, that it is always much better to have aknowledgeable person or persons on site who the non-technical participants can talk to face-to-face.Finally, a well-known lesson that we confirmed was that administrative support for introducing an innovation is anabsolute necessity. It may be possible to introduce change from the grassroots level, but it will be much quicker andless painful, and the odds of success much greater, if you have support and recognition of the value of the project bythe administration.
  • Changes in education are as Fullan (2001) argues, slow and complex, yet full of discontinuity, dilemmas anduncertainty. Therefore changes must be designed, implemented and evaluated from a strategic point of view asproposed by Uys et al. (2004), which takes many factors into account and encourages the participation of all thosewho are affected.In this paper we intended to describe and analyze an experience of collaboration between two institutions fromdifferent countries to introduce a new technology. Our work was based on the theories of diffusion and change byRogers, Fullan, and Ely. We hope that what we have presented here will contribute to a better understanding of thefactors involved in the change process as well as some of the issues that must be faced in trying to collaborativelyconstruct learning environments that are richer, participatory, and meaningful.

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