About a decade ago, I decided to no longer use Blackboard. My thinking is that I should be using tools that my students (current and future teachers) can also use. Most k-12 schools do not have Blackboard. Why should I model a tool that ends when students are not taking classes at my university? I shouldn’t. So I began a quest to find the replacement, preferably an open source solution. Through the years I have used static HTML pages to PostNuke (died in 2008). I settled into using Drupal for a number of years and I really liked it. I still really like it; however, it was not a tool that was easy to replicate for the typical teacher even though it is free. I decided I really need to be using Moodle and I switched full time to Moodle about 2 or 3 years ago. I like Moodle well enough. I wouldn’t say that I am an expert at Moodle, but I know it well enough to set up my own Moodle servers and to train teachers to use it and do some fairly detailed problem solving. But I don’t tap into many of the features so that’s where my limitations are with Moodle.
Well, this past semester I started shifting away from Moodle. I still use it, but I now use it mostly as a placeholder. It’s a place for my students to go and login to find the weekly parameters that I post. I also post links to assignment rubrics and other external links in Moodle. But when my students want to see what the requirements are for week 1 then they click on a link to the Week 1 Parameters and it opens a new window displaying a Google Doc. If students want to read an assignment rubric then they are also clicking a link to a Google Doc. I can create my materials in Google Docs as easily as working in any typical word processor (or office app for that matter). When I am ready to share the file I click on the sharing settings and make the file available to anyone who has the link. I also make sure I do not click to give the person permission to edit (at least not for my weekly materials).
Google Docs Sharing Settings:
My Class Moodle Site:
I can post the link in Moodle so that students merely need to click on “Week 3 Parameters” and get a new window open showing a Google Doc with all of the requirements for week 3 provided. Each item has a description of what students do to complete that item. Additionally, the item might have a link to click and get more detailed instructions (e.g., a link to another Google Doc). I can add images or screen shots easily. I can link to a podcast easily . . . all from this single Google Doc that becomes the roadmap for the weekly session. Students do not want to click in one place to find discussion parameters and another place to find the lecture materials and another place to see assignments; rather, students want to see it all in 1 place. Why not provide that to your students?
I am not ready to give up on Moodle, but I am pretty comfortable with using Google Docs as the nuts and bolts of my online classes. I still have the grades being stored in Moodle and I still want to support Moodle as a product. I just think Google Docs is super easy to use and requires very little effort to get up and running. While it’s not open source, it is freely available, for now, so that helps accomplish my goal of modeling free or cheap resources for my students.