The developer and creator of EduMessenger and ConfMan for Moodle- Robert Schrenk is one busy man.
He has been an educator since a decade and half and still continues to work for promoting better learning practices across the schools in his country. Robert enlightened us with his vision and goals in an online interview which is shared below for all readers-
First of all, a very happy new year to you! Do you have any specific goals to accomplish in 2018?
Thanks, wish you a happy new year too. I am working in the field of eLearning since 16 years. Over the years I saw many trends, tools and technologies that changed my teaching and understanding of learning. But there was one tool that I used over the 12 years unceasingly – Moodle.
After discovering many different ways of how technology can enhance learning, I think that technology has to change the way we learn by enhancing the way we interact. Using an outstanding learning management system like Moodle plays a key role as it combines learning design, communication and learning analytics. Therefore I started to focus on the development of Moodle in Austria some years ago.
My latest two projects concerning Moodle are the development of eduMessenger, which should enhance the communication and help to develop connectivistic assignments, and eduvidual, which is a centralized Moodle platform that can be used by a huge amount of organizations at once and hence extend the standard moodle.
Currently Austria has around 1,500 Moodle Installations in schools, which is a lot, regarding the fact that we have around 6,000 schools in total. In order to propagate the central Moodle instance and generate synergy I work together with the Austrian Ministry of Education. Concerning eduMessenger I want to improve it technically and find partners to make it a working business.
“1,500 out of 6,000 schools in Austria use Moodle- which is a lot.”
You have been a lecturer and a teacher as well. Which of the modern teaching techniques have you adapted in your teaching style?
Yes indeed I have been working as teacher in vocational schools since 12 years and for 3 years I have been working as lecturer in tertiary institutions. Therefore I developed and adapted various teaching styles. Most of the time, the possibilities to use technology are limited by the circumstances within the institutions.
I want to give you some examples:
> At school we are still forced to attendance-based classes. We use technology mostly to enhance in-class collaboration. Using Moodle, the whole learning process is prepared and documented. Besides the normal lessons we use Moodle for examinations too. My students like the fact that the learning process and grading is transparent. Sometimes we use trendy tools like Kahoot or such, or we introduce Augmented Reality Examples. They make lessons more diversified but none of them had much effect on the learning itself and the way learning took place.
“My students like the fact that the learning process and grading is transparent.”
> At the University of Applied Sciences in Burgenland, I am a lecturer for the Masters degree programme for Applied Knowledge Management. Approximately once a month students and I meet, and in between those meetings we communicate about the tasks online. Assignments are planned and submitted through Moodle, most of the communication takes place in Moodle-Forums. If there is a need for synchronous communication, we use WebEx or Appear.in to meet in smaller groups.
> At the University of Education in Vienna I am responsible for planning and supervising the online stages of a bachelor degree programme. Although my responsibility lies in the online stages, they can not be handled separately from the lessons. As the lessons are held by staff that is working there since many years it is sometimes a hard change management process. People are not used to plan their courses so precisely as is needed in conjunction with online stages. Most of the online stages we develop are based on eTivities. We believe that using online stages, social interaction and cooperation plays an important role.
> Lastly, I have been working as lecturer in an MBA Programme for a private institution and was forced to make the whole lessons using Adobe Connect. It felt horrible to be limited to synchronous assignments in lectures that last 4 hours. I implemented asynchronous tasks using Moodle to demonstrate the difference and the students were delighted but the curricula did not allow this in a bigger scope. Although this was the only example that is based 100% on online tools, it was the one with the fewest impact of technology on the learning itself. As a consequence I stopped working there.
As you can see the circumstances an institution offers make a big difference. Therefore it is important that educational institutions are open to new ways of education and allow a change to happen.
“It is important that educational institutes are open to new ways of learning. Being limited by technology feels horrible as a teacher.”
Tell us about ‘Elearning cluster’ for which you worked at the Austrian Ministry of Education.
The eLearning Cluster was a project of the Austrian Ministry of Education for vocational schools that had the goal to help schools develop with change. Schools that wanted to implement technology had the chance to meet regularly for exchanging Know-how and got some money to carry out individual projects. The eLearning Cluster was continued as “eEducation Austria”. This new initiative covers all schools from primary to upper secondary in Austria.
You have developed EduMessenger and Confman for Moodle. Are you planning to develop any other plugin for Moodle?
I have many visions and ideas for the future. I learned that many good projects do not turn out well if there is no concept of how they can proceed for a long lasting period of time. What I mean is an appropriate business model.
Making software and publishing it as open source is easy, but if OS projects are discontinued they are becoming unsecure and buggy. This is not a good thing for the open source community as a whole. Behind every project there has to be a concept how development can be assured.
“Many good business ideas do not work out in the long run if there is no appropriate business model”
Currently, beside the public one I made a plugin in conjunction with eduvidual to make a mobile app that allows teachers and admins to manage “their” part of the centralized Moodle platform more easily. Many users don’t like Moodle as it is very complex and many advantages are not understood at first sight. They tend to start using impaired apps with limited functionality which is enough for the moment, but not for longer time. Our eduvidual app is more straight-forward but uses Moodle as its backend. People can familiarize with the tool and switch to the Moodle website instantly.
Perhaps I can publish this tool once, but currently I am not sure how to assure the development for the future. With eduMessenger and ConfMan I am trying two different models – we will see how they will perform.
Why was Moodle your choice in the first place?
When I started as a teacher I was asked to develop the network infrastructure of my school. Therefore, I was short on time for my classes and needed a tool that allowed fast exchange of files. At first I used the normal network folders but when I saw the feature in Moodle to plan the deadlines for assignments, I switched immediately. After some weeks I discovered more functions like quizzes and started to use them for repetitions and – after a while – for examinations.
Which was your favorite tool while creating online courses?
If I have new courses to plan I use a normal text editor first for creating a concept. I start by listing the competencies, choose the required outputs to prove them and lastly, define assignments for those outputs. Afterwards, I always use Moodle to create the course itself. Until now I haven’t found a better tool for this.
Lastly, what is your typical work day like?
If I am honest I have to say, that there is no “typical day” in my life. Other than my work that causes very fluctuating and dynamic tasks, I have two young children who make every day a new surprise! 😉
Thank-you Robert, for taking the time out to answer at length. It was great listening to your valuable ideas that can only spring from a rich experience. Until next time…adios!