The Moodle Monolith
Last October I travelled to Keele University to attend a conference on Microsoft Teams, a tool not unlike Slack in its use of groups and channels to organize information and chat with peers. The conference focused on the innovative use of Teams at multiple UK universities, some of which are in the process of transitioning their virtual learning environments (VLEs) to Teams altogether. The event had two broad themes. First, virtual learning environments as they are now are not conducive to social and collaborative learning. Second, the proliferation of social media and mobile technology means that a single monolithic learning environment is no longer viable or relevant to learning. Instead, learning environments should be an ecosystem of interconnected tools and spaces that draw the outside world into the classroom and enable greater collaboration with external partners.
As a Microsoft tool, Teams connects students to a whole host of other applications in the Office 365 suite as well as many other external applications. It also is much more flexible with membership and allows students and tutors to form their own networks and collaborative groups where information can be shared and accessed equitably. Several guest speakers shared their innovative use of Teams and other O365 apps to run entire courses while others spoke about encouraging collaboration on group projects or running unique activities like an escape room built entirely of password-protected OneNote pages.
The general argument was that communication, not content, should be a key driver in online learning, and as much as I agree there were several significant questions left unaddressed, specifically around trust and data privacy.
- Will students feel their data is secure with so many third party apps connected to the platform?
- How will the university need to adapt to a changing learning environment?
- Will a social learning platform increase fears around surveillance?
- What effect will such a dynamic, unrestricted space have on teaching practice and assessment?
- Will teaching involve more collaboration and project-based activities?
- Will students contribute more of their own resources and participate more actively in learning and curriculum design?
The desertification of many Moodle sites suggests there is a significant problem to be solved, but whether Teams provides answers or new challenges is yet to be seen.