Building Learning Opportunities in Times of Crisis
Big news!! Did you know that Moodle has recently joined UNESCO’s COVID 19 education coalition? Kudos to the entire Moodle community.
Online learning with Moodle has taken centre stage and Moodle experts are working really hard to make it a grand success. The current crisis is opening up new avenues. It has become the new normal at least until we get rid of the pandemic.
Amid all this chaos, do you know how much effort it takes and what goes on in the back?
It is important to know that there are many people out there whose consistent efforts behind-the-scenes have made the transition to Moodle and the overall Moodle experience way better and easier.
Interview with a Moodle Specialist
Moodle can be hard to grasp sometimes. So, out of the limelight, there are experts who do a lot of work and are dedicated to bridging this gap between you and Moodle. One such gem is Moodle Girl, Gemma Lesterhuis.
Gemma is a Moodle expert, a professional who can take charge of all the functional management and administration of your Moodle LMS. She is the owner of the Lesterhuis Training and Consultancy and has eons of experience handling Moodle.
Many of us don’t understand the nitty-gritty of Moodle nor do we understand its limitations. Gemma is the master of troubleshooting all the Moodle LMS related problems – thanks to her urge to learn new things and regular experiments with new Moodle plugins.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with her for an interview. It was very generous of her that she took some time out from her super-busy schedule to have a chat with us.
Welcome to Gemma’s Moodle world.
Here we go!
Edwiser – We definitely know your nickname – The Moodle Girl, to start with but tell us how you figured Moodle out back then when you had no idea how exactly it worked.
Gemma – I spend a lot of my free time googling, reading Moodle documentation and trying out things. That was for me, the best way to learn new things.
Edwiser – Share your self-learning experience with us. It’s impressive how you built a Moodle system of 300+ courses for a business organization, as your first project. How did you go about it?
Gemma – First of all I did not do this by myself.
Being part of an organization where project management is key in all we did, we are used to working in project teams. The main team was rather small, I and some people that were close to the management were involved. So that decision could be done quickly and the management was informed on the progress in the right manner.
My main responsibility was the Moodle system and making sure that others in the organization know how to work with it. For my own way of working I choice the agile approach. Based on the demo we had from the hosting party, my experience in an early project I could create a to-do list of the things that needed to be done.
We picked a few courses to start with. I made sure those project teams were involved but they did not work directly with Moodle. This was run through me at the beginning so that I could fine-tune things quickly.
The approach seemed to work and in a very quick manner, I finished up all the documentation, sorted a FAQ list, and started with training and supporting the project teams to get their courses into Moodle. Within a year all teams were self-supported, and my focus was on new developments, 2nd line questions and being the first contact for IT deliverance.
This approach is still my baseline in my work and helping people implementing Moodle. And even though this was 10 years ago, not much has changed. Since in my experience, the biggest challenge of implementing Moodle is not the technology, but managing the change your organization has to go through.
Edwiser – You chose to start independently after some sort of economic crisis. What do you wish to achieve with your new initiative?
Gemma – When my former employee and I decided it was best for both of us to move on. I actually had not figured out what my next step was. The world was open. It was other people in my environment that convinced me I should start as a freelance/independent contractor, and that should do what makes me feel motivated at the time. And that was Moodle. And until this day I am happy that they convinced me to take this step and risk.
Edwiser – How long have you been in this industry, tell us a little bit about your journey?
Gemma – It was my IT Teacher that told me at the age of 16/17 that I should go into IT. It took me about 13 years to see his point.
In my free time I was always working out smart ways to make technology work for me, I simply hate repeating steps on a computer. But I also figured out that programming was not my cup of tea – if I see a problem I need to fix it. And well I did not want to spend all my days behind a computer.
It was my former employee that showed me how my analytic and pragmatic approach could help out organizations and overcome my insecurities regarding contact with people.
First from my own comfort zone as an event coordinator where I worked with developers to (semi)automatize some of our work aspects. Later by implementing Moodle, and supporting the system.
Edwiser – It’s great to know that you bridge the gap between Moodle technology and people. But that can be a grueling task, given how heavy and complex Moodle is. Can you run us through some of the challenges involved in your work?
Gemma – Managing expectations: Not only from the organization towards the Moodle software but also towards their IT delivery parties like hosting or developing.
Not all issues can be fixed in a blink of an eye and making sure that your organization understands this can be challenging. So one of the things I try to do is, give Moodle as a software a “face”, and try to create an understanding that this technology is developed by humans, and just like us, they are not flawless.
Edwiser – You must be really well-versed with Moodle now as you blog about your day-to-day Moodle experiences and also experiment with different plugins. Can you share your opinion on the current layout, design, and functionality of Moodle?
Gemma – Even though the current layout and the design could be improved, let’s first be impressed by the way that an open-source free software as Moodle manages to keep improving. Especially in the last few years, they did an amazing job.
I think the biggest pain of most people is the teacher interface for creating courses. This should be a lot more intuitive and less technical.
Edwiser – Can you tell us about your personal experience with Moodle for online learning? How do you think it can be improved?
Gemma – Most examples of online learning are still in the same way as I see my school years. It is about just making sure you put as much information you can into people in a short period of time and then test their knowledge on a quiz.
What I do hope is that teachers will notice that the use of Virtual classroom software like BigBlueButton combined with the powerful tools of Moodle like Workshop, Forum and Assignments can create a more interactive challenging learning environment for their students.
Edwiser – We appreciate the fact that you advise for and against Moodle whenever required. You advise and develop independent, unbiased solutions that speak a lot about your effort and pragmatic approach. Do you follow any specific protocol or work process for getting things done in a systematic way?
Gemma – My protocol is that 80% of the software that you choose should do what you expect of it. The other 20% is about your willingness as an organization to change
I practice this in every decision that is made in Moodle and/or organization around Moodle. In this world, we live in a day where we are so much focused on fixing everything with technology that without realizing it we tend to create an inflexibility of your organization. And since our world is changing so much and so fast every time, you do want to stay flexible.
So while hearing the questions from the business, looking for solutions I also keep the discussion going on what can be changed in the organization.
That said: even though I can speak “against” Moodle, I am Moodle minded.
Edwiser – What do you aspire to do in the future with respect to Moodle or e-learning in general, any Plan of Action on your mind to achieve it?
Gemma – At the moment I am happy in the place I am. The one thing I would love to achieve is a Moodle Partner status or something of this kind. That would be the “cherry” on top of the things I try to do.
Edwiser – Do you have any Moodle-specific focus areas that you would like to capitalize on?
Gemma – I just would like to encourage people to become a member of the Moodle User Association. It is a great way to give your input and thoughts on how to improve Moodle and making sure that this software stays available for all people in the world.
Edwiser – What are your thoughts, if any, on Edwiser products and premium Moodle plugins?
Gemma – I have tried out different plugins for Moodle to connect to WordPress. And I absolutely love the simplicity for the Edwiser Bridge, where you can create a synergy between 2 absolutely beautiful open-source software systems.
For organizations that are looking for a way to sell courses, Edwiser Bridge, and their extensions such as WooCommerce integration, Bulk Purchase is an absolute must.
I am also following the Edwiser Rapid Grader development since I cannot wait for the Assignment Grading. I think this product-specific shows the flexibility of Moodle and how much can be improved on the experience for teachers.
We couldn’t thank Gemma enough for such a detailed interview. These are some really great insights our readers and fellow moodlers would find useful while working with Moodle. Also, you could connect with her on LinkedIn at nl.linkedin.com/in/gemmalesterhuis/
If you have any more questions that we might have missed out on, feel free to drop us a note in the comments section below.
Kiran is a thrill-seeking horror movie fan. She loves experimenting with food and learning new languages in her leisure time.