What do you mean no tags? Conceptualizing what online teachers need.

So I had this great idea that next semester, when students post their primary sources in the forum, they could tag them with a topic. I could provide a list of tags that represent larger areas, the sort of topics they can later work into historical themes: fashion, war, society, medicine, politics, economy, etc. This would work better than search, and allow them to browse the collection they’d created as they thought about their research approach.

But when I went to look at the settings in Moodle (1.9 and 2.2 and 2.3), there was no such thing as tags for a forum post, or even a glossary entry (my other new idea). Moodle only has tags for student “blogs”, which are connected only to each student’s profile and do not work in any interconnected way.

This was a big reminder that Moodle is still an LMS, and that sometimes I simply cannot configure it to do what I need. In WordPress such a thing is a no-brainer, and of course I can set this up in WP, but didn’t I just decide there was no real need for that?

It occurred to me that what I want to do represents an overlap that LMS thinkers don’t understand – the interrelationship between “content” and “activity”. The main Moodle blocks have two drop-down menus when you want to add something, and they clearly indicate the mindset:

A “resource” is supposed to be static, and an “activity” is supposed to be interactive.

A “forum” is considered an activity, a platform for “discussion”. I’m not using it for discussion, but rather for having students create a set of resources (without that nasty confusion a database would bring into play). The students are thus actively creating a “resource” that they need to search and access throughout the class. The lack of acknowledgement of such interplay is what leads designers to think of tags only in terms of blogs.

I am also setting up some secondary historical readings for my Honors class, and there’s no way in Moodle to have students annotate them together.

I just want a static resource, an article, that I’ve introduced, and have students annotate it collaboratively. The only “activity” available in Moodle would be a wiki, and it would not allow in-line commentary. I admit I’m somewhat Talmudic in my idea of what a collaboratively annotated document would look like. So I’ll be trying a circuitous route, uploading a pdf article into Crocodoc, then embedding the resulting doc in a Moodle page to allow for in-place commenting without students needing an account. It’s an awkward solution at best, and one which requires me to wear a Fair Use t-shirt and remove the articles after the semester.

The perpetuation of the division between “content” and “activity” causes harm to learning and prevents some of that innovative methodology everyone says they want. The idea that resources and “discussion” are separate gets passed down to new teachers going online, and they set up their classes that way, limiting their pedagogy.

So, note to LMS designers, including Moodle:

Stop adding internal “features” to your LMS based on webapps you see people using externally¬† (“blogs”, “scholar”), and start rethinking why teachers use those things. Think about the interactivity between “content” (or resource or page or presentation) and “activity” (the stuff that means servers have to talk to each other).

Wrap your head around the concepts, not just the tools, of teaching online.

1 comment to What do you mean no tags? Conceptualizing what online teachers need.

  • Hi Lisa,
    Totally agree that the concepts are what drives learning forward, tools are there to make it as smooth as possible.

    I use the ‘Glossary’ function in my Moodle-based course, where learners make regular contributions. The entries can be searched according to the author (learner who made the contribution), title, date and the alphabetical order. No tags but can insert a ‘Random Entry Block’ which displays entries at random when the learners log-in to the course site.
    I don’t have a specific preference which tools I must use. But I’d like to introduce my learners to various tools ‘gently’ as it’s all about scaffolding their learning. If they get overwhelmed by the ‘tools’, they’ll be less likely to develop mastery in using them.