Moodle: the sinking ship

By Editorial Board

In less than three months, Moodle, Columbia’s notorious learning management system, will replace OASIS and serve as the college’s only official online classroom component. The college is hoping to truly integrate technology into its learning experience with Moodle, but years of bumps in the road on the journey to digitally enhancing the classroom should not go unnoticed or unaddressed. 

Students and faculty use Moodle—often in vain, often begrudgingly, often because they’ve been coerced. The unreliable system allows users to upload documents, videos, PowerPoints and so on for learning, teaching and archival purposes. Some professors appreciate Moodle’s ability to make it virtually impossible to lose papers or turn assignments in late. These professors are few and far between, though, as both students and professors frequently voice deep-rooted aversions to Moodle during the review of the syllabus on the first day of class.

On its website, Moodle bills itself as “a free, open-source PHP web application for producing modular Internet-based courses that support a modern social constructionist pedagogy.” Similar to communism, Moodle sounds great on paper—a website that creates ever-evolving learning environments to include both teacher and student in the ever-evolving education system—but in practice, it falls desperately short. Columbia’s administration wants Moodle to be all that it can be so that it can benefit the community, but an unwillingness from both students and faculty to properly utilize Moodle because of an already buggy interface and lack of interest are not making the rollout any easier.

However necessary an LMS may be for the campus community, there are issues that cannot be overlooked as the college moves forward with Moodle’s total takeover. When using Moodle, students are often required to upload assignments and participate in rigorous blogging and forum posting, while teachers are expected to pack the site with resources. In essence, every time work is uploaded to Moodle, intellectual property is being handed over to the college and the Internet at large. For some this may not be an issue, but for those who value their work and time, this is a serious invasion of privacy. In a sense, Moodle becomes an archive of student and faculty work that may be used later for course construction, evaluations and data and number crunching by the college. 

When Moodle was proposed back in 2008, the college’s administration should have taken time to explore alternative options rather than jumping for the cheap option in order to quell complaints about Oasis. Blackboard Inc., an education management company that now owns Moodle, offers several LMS alternatives—such as their own systems—and should have been considered before Columbia took the dive into the deep end of the tech pool. Regardless, it is absurd the college can afford to funnel any funds into expanding its Moodle capabilities among endless budget cuts. 

Furthermore, the idea that online interaction and discussions on Moodle should be required of students is silly. Discussion and participation should be a top priority in the classroom, not online. Collaboration and learning are so easily found in real life that, when forced to do it online for a grade, it becomes artificial. When commenting on someone’s blog or forum post becomes mandatory, voluntary, organic ideas disappear from classrooms. Why bother engaging in class if it is just going to later be recorded for posterity on a website no one wants to use and no one will ever look at again?

Nonetheless, there is no stopping the tides of change, even if the tides are further sinking the ship.  However, the fact that the Moodle juggernaut has not been stopped only proves how out of touch the college’s administration is. Investing in an LMS is wise in the face of an evolving technological world, but throwing money at a bad idea—money that could be better spent on a more intuitive, advanced system—is foolish.