30 October 2014

Feedback Loops, User Data, Personalization and Why Moodle Matters

There is more research every year about the importance of feedback; making it instant, providing it often, allowing for more than just data on if a response is right or wrong. We have the tools to integrate these kinds of responses into just about every system. I'm way into the idea that frequent quizzing interrupts forgetting. If a student does something in a course it generates data; as a teacher you should be able to view/analyze and use that data to target improvements to your curriculum. Students should also be able to see how this data relates to their overall progress in a course. These kinds of features should be automated and provided in real-time. Sadly, these kinds of detailed analytics are not readily available in all systems. After having spent a few months immersed in multiple learning management systems it seems that open source wins out again. The detailed reports and progress indicators that students receive and that teachers can view in Moodle are essential to any personalized learning initiative.

It sounds silly, but even the illusion of progress can greatly increase the chances of a person actually completing a task and even the speed at which they work toward their goal. Building those into curriculum is going to be key to student success and likely even being able to cover much more content in a given timeframe than might otherwise have been possible with traditional tools in traditional settings.

Feedback must be provided frequently so that there is time for adjustments to be made before it is too late. Here's how I build these elements into a Moodle course.

1: Completion Tracking - Setting course items to be marked complete based on conditions allows for a simple checklist of course items. In one course I helped redesign we took a page that went from 14% of students accessing it to 96% with the simple addition of the item in this checklist. (Edit to add: Setting the passing grade for items in the gradebook will give a student a completion check but it will appear in red if the target has not been met. I've had students re-submit work for that reason alone. They just couldn't stand to see the red mark vs. the green one. What is interesting to me is that the grade was not the motivating factor; it was all about getting the green marks and the consistency of the checkmarks on the course page. Thanks to Toni Soto in the comments below for the reminder!)

2: Quizzes - Providing quizzes is nothing new, but the use for them now has less to do with an academic grade than it does as an important tool for presenting content. For instance, in a traditional model a quiz might be used to see what a student knows at the end of a lesson and then that score is entered in the gradebook and the course moves on. If you didn't get a chance to click on the first link in this post here it is again. Providing frequent, multiple choice assessments in courses that build on previous units is a proven way to get students to remember course content. Building in the review options that Moodle allows for is an important part of this. They don't just see that they got an answer correct or incorrect, they see detailed feedback based on the response. If it's an incorrect answer they are directed to the information they should have learned and if they answer correctly it is an opportunity for the feedback to reinforce that knowledge. The quiz has built in progress indicators in a side block as users work through the questions.

3. Lesson Modules - This is one of the most dynamic Moodle elements because it allows for a personalized pathway through content with questions that can direct learners to content based on their responses and interactions with the material. They take some time to set up but they are exactly the kind of feedback loops that learners expect when using digital curriculum. With the setting to include it in the gradebook or not they become flexible resources that allow for practice opportunities while still providing data back to the learner. They include progress bars which, as stated previously, is essential to completion. These modules have become my preferred activity in courses I now design.

4.  The Checklist Module - While not technically part of Moodle, one of the strengths of the system is that it allows for so many wonderful plug-ins. The Checklist module allows for real-time data on completion of activities with the addition of a progress block so that students always see how much of a course has been completed. The developer/maintainer, Davo Smith is incredibly responsive to user needs and makes frequent updates to the tool.

All of these tools and indicators help support student working through course content in ways that exceed what a teacher can provide for individuals in a course without the use of digital curriculum. These tools go beyond content and make the use of a Learning Management System (LMS) (particularly Moodle) an essential component to learning (On a side note, it's why I don't consider Google Classroom to be an LMS).

What it means for a teacher:

I can use that completion data to identify which students have completed the content and which students are falling behind. I can identify elements of my course that are being under-utilized and make them more compelling resources to access.

I can use course completion block reports to quickly identify how many users in a course have completed the requirements (I rely on this heavily for professional development courses in my district in which we have over 800 users enrolled in a section).

User Reports offer me data on who accesses materials when to help identify support requests where users report little information that helps me diagnose their issue. Following up on when they accessed materials and filled out a support request often leads me to the resource with which they need support.

Quiz and Lesson statistics provide additional information down to the activity level that can help me make judgements about the effectiveness of my curriculum and questions.

Looking ahead, I was pleased to see just how seriously Moodle developers took the community feedback on their Grade Reports. I tested the features of the Moodle 2.8 gradebook today on a development site and was impressed with the types of information that can show students even how much a single activity in a course is worth in relation to others and how much of the course total it's worth.

tl;dr? If you do something, you should see something that indicates what you did and you should see it right away.