Despite persisting complaints leveled against Moodle by several professors, usage reports show an increase in the number of faculty members using the learning management system, which will eventually completely replace its outdated counterpart, Wolfware Classic.
According to usage reports from Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications, N.C. State’s company for creating and administering learning technologies, 2,866 course sections used Moodle in the spring of 2012. For the spring of 2014, the number has risen to 3,566 course sections.
A professor still has the option to use Wolfware Classic, the software that was used prior to Moodle, if he or she prefers. However, the number of sections taught by professors using Wolfware Classic has also declined since 2012. In two years, the total number of class sections still using Wolfware Classic has dropped from 1,332 to 1,131.
So what exactly is it about Moodle that always seems to spark complaints from some professors?
“The problem with Moodle is that it has so many features that are complicated for the instructors to use,” said Bob Larson, a communication lecturer. “A lot of us don’t run our classes that way and don’t need all of those things.”
For Larson, however, the thought of using Moodle isn’t entirely dismal. Moodle has gotten much easier to use since it was first implemented, Larson said, but he also said he wished a simpler version of the program would be made available for professors who are less technologically literate.
“I would like to see them come up with a Moodle lite, or something like that,” Larson said.
Fortunately, for Larson and anybody else who dreams of a more user-friendly Moodle, DELTA, a division of the Office of the Provost whose stated goal is to “foster the integration and support of learning technologies in NC State’s academic programs,” is working to bring these dreams to fruition.
According to Martin Dulberg, senior coordinator for DELTA, the division is currently fielding suggestions regarding how to make Moodle more user friendly.
Any student or faculty member who would like to submit a suggestion pertaining to Moodle can do so via the WolfWare home page. However, though Larson’s “Moodle lite” may seem only a suggestion away, submitting a request doesn’t necessarily mean DELTA will make it happen, Dulberg said.
“We have about 270 [requests] in the system, and there are about 120 that are being worked on right now,” Dulberg said. “There were about 49 that we just said ‘no were not doing it.’”
Cyber suggestion box and “Moodle lite” aside, the increasing complexity of software will inevitably confuse some professors, Dulberg said.
“If you look at my bookshelf, I have a lot of books on usability, and that’s what my degree is in,” Dulberg said. “I am very mindful of how hard or easy it is to use something. The most we can do is try to make the best tools that we can, and it is up to the instructor to decide how they want to use it, if they want to use it. We can’t appeal to the lowest common denominator.”
This, however, is not to say that programs, such as Moodle, are impossible to master, Dulberg said. In fact, DELTA offers workshops, seminars, online tutorials and custom trainings to help faculty members get comfortable using Moodle and all of its features, according to Dulberg.
“We will come to a faculty member’s house and teach them exactly how to do whatever it is they personally need to be able to do on Moodle if they request it,” Dulberg said.
For some faculty members, however, the mystery that is Moodle is not so easily solved, and while DELTA is working to change this, Dulberg said there is much to be done.
“I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that [Moodle] is all easy peasy to figure out,” Dulberg said. “The grade book is particularly challenging. It’s been something on our list to do for a while now. It’s a huge undertaking, but at some point in time we are going to make that easier.”
In the meantime, some professors, such as Tracy Appling, an external relations director teaching assistant professor of public and international affairs, have taken to using Wolfware Classic’s grade book instead.
Appling said she didn’t have any complaints about Moodle. However, she did say Wolfware Classic’s grade book was much easier to use.
Dulberg confirmed Appling’s observation, noting that Wolfware Classic’s grade book is very simple and similar to an Excel spreadsheet.
Though Moodle still has a thing or two to learn from its predecessor, Wolfware Classic won’t be around forever. In fact, its imminent demise, though a ways off, is already in motion, Dulberg said.
“There are certain features in Wolfware Classic that we need to duplicate in Moodle before it will be going away,” Dulberg said. “After that we will give people two years to migrate their stuff, so it’s at least two and a half years away.”
Though some teachers may be unhappy that Moodle will inevitability be a part of their future, Larson said it is important to recognize that it is still doing its job. Despite the fact that he doesn’t like the program, Larson said he has never heard students having any problems with it.