After many years of operations, the Alberta Moodle HUB group continues to resonate with K-12 teachers and school administrators. What started years ago as a support group of a few public K-12 distance learning providers in Alberta has turned into a solid grass roots Moodle users’ group. The group regularly enjoys connecting with participants from British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
To the outside observer, the group can appear somewhat unusual. Despite the absence of a formal leadership structure and with no funding in place the group has continued interest and is now boasting a ‘membership list’ of several hundred. The glue that seems to keep people interested is its deep grass roots philosophy: any one wanting to learn from and share with other K-12 teachers is invited to join. Although Moodle is the platform of choice for those in the group, discussions often go beyond Moodle.
In the past few years, interest from other organizations and stakeholders has increased. We can tell by the number of requests we receive to tell others about what we do and how we do it. As experienced educators we value authentic intentions and practice. It is every teachers’ desire to want to help others. Likewise, teachers enjoy having conversations with their peers without fear of judging. The group does exactly that: support and listen to each other.
Often, online public schools in Alberta are a small part of larger school divisions. As such, they operate under authorities whose primary operations are focused on servicing and managing brick and mortar schools. As a result, opportunities for online teachers to connect with peers from their own school divisions are limited. Similarly, professional development opportunities of interest to the online teacher could be limited. This, we believe, is one reason why the group continues to be of interest to its members.
Another focus area of the group is the sharing of courses. Digital course development and subsequent maintenance and renewal of such resources is a long term and expensive process for any size organization but especially for small schools. Although online schools sometimes receive special development funding from their respective school divisions, few have designated course designers or developers on their payroll. This is where the group comes in: members readily share many of their own courses with each other. In the past, this has enabled completely new online schools to start from scratch because they were provided with digital courses and resources that were shared with them by members of this group.
This leads to one of the criticisms we sometimes hear in that shared courses or resources are not subject to any formal review process. While those wanting to use a shared course, having downloaded and installed it in their own Moodle system, may have the expectation that what they received is top quality, peer reviewed, and fully copyright checked, this should not be assumed to be true. There are many examples of quality courses and resources having been shared amongst group members. There are also examples of shared resources needing work before they should be used in active classes. When choosing to work with a shared course or resource, the key assumption should be to always assume that at least some work is required to make it work in their own schools. People may share snap shots of their work, partial courses, select resources only and often out of context of their specific teaching scenario. It is therefore always up to the professional responsibility of the receiving school to review and make appropriate decisions to make these resources work for their learners.
In recent years, efforts have been made to create awareness in group members to embrace collaborative course development. While a few teachers from different school divisions have come together to co-develop, this is still a concept very much in need of further exploration. A Science 14 course was co-developed by three school divisions and it is still in use in some classrooms. Several CTS (Career and Technology) modules have been co-developed as well and are available for all. Inspired by the British Columbia Learning Network and the newly formed Western Canadian Learning Network, we are encouraged to learn from other models. While doing so, the limits of how far a grass roots, no structure, no funding group can push the envelope of collaborative course and resource development become clear.
The future of this group remains bright. Teachers always will continue to want to come together, outside their own organizations hierarchies to learn from each other, share, and better their service to the students they teach.