The Power Of The Five Minute Tutorial

More than a few times recently I’ve had those really great five minute conversations, the outcomes from which can make a world of difference to an individual. Nothing ground breaking by any technical standards, and often familiar territory to an expert. Typically these are focused around a simple need, and often facilitated by a readily available tool that isn’t being fully exploited.

Today that conversation was on the subject of communication – specifically in using Moodle as a communication tool. We use Moodle each and every day, but really only scratch the surface of its capabilities. Very evident when in this case you suggest to staff that Moodle can be used as a tool for unicast or multicast messages with participants (in other words, blank faces all round).

Needing to record a quick tutorial on the subject, I found a willing volunteer who would participate. I found Jo, one of our English teachers, looking at a substance she called ‘paper’ from a big metal lump known as a ‘filing cabinet‘. Conveniently, Jo had no previous experience of Moodle messaging – just what I needed. My instruction: “Can you login to Moodle and visit one course so I can see you in the Online Users block” (the simplest route by which a message can be sent). Jo replied “and then what do I do?”. “Then nothing – that’s all I need you to do”. A pleasant smile followed from both of us; must have been something satisfying about having to do almost nothing to support me and my tutorial beyond this (although the expectation might have been there initially!)

Off I went to record a quick video using my Screenr, my favorite app for the job. Whilst doing this I sent a message to to Jo as my chosen recipient.

With the video done, off I went to check in and make sure that my messaging hadn’t led to any confusion at Jo’s computer. Whilst the message pop up had already been closed, a brief and very interesting conversation followed – lots of questions about the messaging function that hadn’t previously been considered:

“I can use this to send messages to a student” – “Yep!”

“when will the message be received” – “almost instantly if the user is logged in; if not currently logged in it’s delivered on next login”

“can I use this to send messages to a class” – “No – but there’s another tool for that”

“I’ve just written a Post-It note for Dean in Sport – can I send him a message like this?” – “Yep!”

Each and every one of my answers was quickly followed with an exclamation of “wow”, “amazing” or “cool”. What a difference a five minute tutorial can make.

By popular request, here’s the video:



Having been to MoodleFest yesterday I’ve returned to the everyday office challenges like giving up my office and now it seems, my lovely desk too. Keeping my mind busy and otherwise distracted through this mild trauma today is following the Moodle development work that South Devon College have been communicating regularly via Twitter. Not only have they shared their upgrade schedule, but their staff are also documenting their journey through an upgrade blog.

In between tweets from Paul (he’s one of the South Devon Moodle guru’s), I realised that actually many organisations across the south (and probably further afield) are doing this exact same thing. Only yesterday a whole room of us were discussing our very similar plans. The thing is, it’s all a bit duplicitous. We might be different by name and marketplace, but for most of us, our organisations are ultimately so very similar – and all this knowledge and content that we are producing must be relevant to others in similar roles, particularly those with less available resources or skills to otherwise draw upon.

Paul and I seemed to agree that something to collate these resources would be really handy, and in about five seconds flat we had a Posterous site setup: Check it out if you have a moment. Better still, and the true test of whether it’s as potentially useful as Paul and I think: post some content!

MoodleFest: no bands, just Moodle fans.


So despite feeling a bit rubbish this week with man flu (apparently it could really exist), I’ve been along to ‘MoodleFest’, a regional Moodle event hosted by Guildford College and facilitated by our JISC Regional Support Centre.

A varied group of presenters today, from a number of different roles in education, each having slightly different responsibilities in support of their Moodle platform.

One of the technical speakers was Mark Johnson from Tauntons College. Mark is far more technical than I have ever been, and has been working tirelessly since November on developing their Moodle installation. Mark gave us a really comprehensive overview of the steps he has taken to establishing a clear process (for Tauntons, at least) to follow.

Martine Fryer from South Downs College presented some nice ideas. Some of these were very simple, functional examples, typically making Moodle use for teachers and learners more interesting. Something I particularly liked was the idea of introducing graphical links to specific course areas. This idea was referred to later in the event by Roger Emery from Southampton Solent University, where in order to provide students with a clear introduction to their course, and it’s facilitators, a departmental ‘course noticeboard’ where key information about the department is provided, including graphical biographies of staff. A nice human touch in my opinion, within a platform that all too often be somewhat bereft of personality. In addition to this, Martine also told us about her learning and development activities are organised in order to provide a coordinated approach to staff education. These development activities take the form of three levels of education; beginner, intermediate and advanced. In the beginner level, introduction is made to the concept of moodle, navigation and using course content. At the intermediate level users are taken through most valuable and arguably educationally beneficial Moodle features. Finally is the advanced stage for those wishing to further improve their moodling skills and make the most of advanced functions.

Conversation with Martine after the event had concluded was most useful and revealing. Like many other organisations (and including my own) Moodle ’training’ is not integrated with a wider continuous professional development programme for staff. Certainly such moodle training contributes to development hours, but these activities are not directly connected to other CPD work.

And it’s not just Moodle training that is treated as an independent activity. Sure, most staff can use Moodle; they’ve had plenty of training in this. And yes, most staff can also use a SmartBoard very capably, together with the note taking tools supplied with it. However, most will not make a connection between the two. For example, taking the notes produced in the classroom and publishing them online for the class to refer to. I can recall only one individual taking a step like this and connecting perhaps the two most regularly used classroom technology tools. I of course exclude from this the showing of one (VLE) on the other (SmartBoard). That doesn’t count! It is the connection of multiple tools and / or resources that has the potential to offer greatest educational benefit to the learner.

Maybe we are too ambitious of creating an organisationally owned learning programme for our staff that includes the acquisition of specific digital literacies. After all, for any given teacher their needs from technology are likely to be somewhat different from the next, as are the literacies that might be required in order to employ such tools. Just like any practical skill, each will be more confident in some aspects than in others, and needing less help in these stronger areas.

Perhaps a different model is needed? Given that most teachers typically have a highly accessible Internet service, ever growing online resources for any given topic, and a rapidly growing number of social learning opportunities presenting themselves, any programme of development would need to be pretty comprehensive. ILT Champion roles have been around in educational organisations for many years. Could these be the key to establishing a flexible and distributed network of peers from whom key skills are acquired but without the need for a formal programme? And with all the advanced tools presented at an event like MoodleFest, in a room full of experts and equipped with technology for full lecture capture, there appears to be much untapped potential in the resources we already possess. What we are missing is a little more clarity about the best way to achieve this widely in our own organisations.

You can read Marine’s summary of the event over at her blog, and there’s a brief overview of the MoodleFest event in the Guildford College web services blog. Since the whole event took place in a video enabled lecture theatre, you can check out the videos there too.