Moodle unplugs students from class

By Associate Editor

As the semester picks up and professors begin piling on more homework, students may notice that Moodle, the college’s online tool, is becoming more common in their coursework. Following edicts by department chairs, professors have begun incorporating education-based software into classes—a fact that is negatively impacting the college’s curriculum.

While some professors are simply requiring students to submit assignments online, others are making Moodle a focal point of their coursework, shifting emphasis to website use and away from interpersonal exchanges in the classroom. By turning face-to-face instruction into screen-to-screen exchanges, the use of Moodle cheapens the college environment and is counterintuitive to the college’s mission statement of creating a hands-on, collaborative arts learning environment.

Too often, classes require the majority of work to be completed through Moodle—lectures and class handouts are posted online weeks in advance and students are required to post their original work and responses on public forums. Often cited as a way to cultivate collaboration, Moodle takes away the valuable social exchanges that occur in the classroom. Students don’t form a connection with one another when most of their conversations happen online. Instead of helping them collaborate, Moodle further isolates students by quarantining them to their laptops.

If all discussions happen online, why even go to class? Attending classes has become redundant as professors rephrase material previously posted online and students are forced to listen to PowerPoint lectures they have already viewed on Moodle.

Because so much emphasis is placed on the online classroom, students are forced to dedicate even more time to class work. When a student is enrolled in four or five classes and suddenly has to dedicate more time to Moodle assignments, an average class load becomes harder to juggle, particularly when professors set due dates for assignments that do not correlate with class meetings, a practice that has become common on Moodle. Not only are students burdened with shorter deadlines, but they must also divide their attention between in-class assignments and online work.

Moodle should be used only as a minor supplementary tool. Professors should phase out the forum function and move online conversations back into the classroom. Collaboration is one of the pillars of Columbia’s mission and it is hard to collaborate with a class if the only interaction that takes place is among faceless users.

Moodle can also be an invasion of a student’s educational privacy if used incorrectly or negligently, and the website’s public forums are the worst offender. When a student completes an assignment and submits it to the instructor, there is an expectation of privacy. That privacy is lost when students are required to post in public forums, where professors often publish feedback for all to see. It is handy to have such feedback but the usefulness is moot when the feedback is delivered publicly and is seen by fellow classmates. If other students can read harsh feedback on a classmates’ work, the student who received the low grade may be discouraged and not perform well in the future.

When a student delivers a wrong answer or misunderstands an assignment in class, any embarrassment ends when the class ends. Moodle forums don’t offer the opportunity to forget the humiliation. Instead, mistakes are stored in the online repository for the duration of the current semester, and any future semester because classes remain visible to students after the semester ends. Ideally, instructors would shy away from posting responses in public forums. If they deem that posting the feedback is essential, professors could at least remove posts and close forums at the close of the semester.

One would think that a professor would understand the ethical violations of posting extensive critiques of a student’s work to a public forum, but they should also be aware of the legal implications when they go a step further and post a grade in a public forum. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act—a law that applies to postsecondary institutions that receive federal funding, like Columbia—prohibits faculty and staff from revealing academic progress without some form of anonymity. For whatever reason, some professors post scathing messages about the quality of a student’s assignment then wrap it with allusions to a low grade—or lack thereof.

Columbia’s advertisements emphasize hands-on instruction and students’ ability to learn from and interact with working professionals. Though an online platform is useful for some classes, not all teachers should be required to use it. Instead of getting personal experience, students receive a half-online and half in-class format.

Technology may be the future, but Columbia is an art and media college and several of its programs are better suited for face-to-face instruction and individualized attention, not flat words delivered via email or forum posting for the world to see.