Last week, I asked two of my Retail students who are presently on a co-op placement, to come back the classroom to make a Podcast about their experience with using the Learning Management System.  Both immediately agreed to come in, and were excited to do so.  That was a relief; I was a little worried that this would be like pulling teeth.skills-podcasting

I arranged this myself.  I called their HR managers to let them know what was going on.  I think I made the mistake of explaining the project in too much detail to her.  She appeared to have been multitasking at the same time, but pleasantly agreed to let the two learners off for the day.  When I contacted them, I asked if the manager had told them what we were going to do.

Claudia said yes.  And that she was excited to do a radio interview for the CBC.

I knew I should have comprehension-checked the HR manager!  Regardless, I cleared it up with Claudia and Diego (who seemed more relaxed to know that it was not a live radio interview with CBC).

The Podcast Procedure

When I fired off an email to the media centre explaining my project, I was actually just wanting a microphone.  Our lab has headsets with a mic attached, but only one person can record at a time.

So, I ended up with a monstrous mixer board which came with an encyclopedia of instructions, over 75 feet of cable, two standup microphones, and two other microphones whose purpose I could never entirely figure out.  I used the program “Audacity” to do the recordings. The recordings could easily be converted into an MP3 file.

What Claudia & Diego Had To Say

I chose one learner who I knew already had some technological competence, and one who didn’t.  Diego, the one who didn’t, was an interior designer and I was interested in his opinion on the layout of the program.

They both talked about the program’s user friendliness.  Doing a task was fairly straight-forward.  Diego wished he had known about all the units we never had time to do.  He always did the front matter and didn’t know to scroll down to see what else was there.  Looking through the LMS prior to the interview, Diego was surprised to encounter the other LINC tasks on the site – that was my fault.  I should have made sure the class knew that there were many other activities on the site that they had access to that would help with their LINC 5-7 Reading/Writing/Listening skills.

Both are currently using technology in the workplace.  Claudia is using several different computer programs; one is very cool.  It’s the retailer’s colour-match program that involves taking a colour sample, scanning it, then working through the system to create the exact colour that the customer wants.  I actually got to see her do this at the co-op a few days after the Podcast.  She was beaming as she took me through the stages.

Diego took me through a product-search program on his workspace computer. He showed me how to enter the product code, and how to maneuver through the system to find out if the product is in the store.  He did this with ease.  This is the guy who sat at the computer on the first day of class with a deer-caught-in-headlights look in his face.

Lessons Learned

Diego and Claudia  were under no obligation to approve or disapprove of the LMS.  I had to press them to get them to talk about anything that they thought could be improved.  Their overall impressions were that gaining confidence using technology was very important.  Technology is used in the workplace, and the employer expects some understanding of basic computer functions.  Using the LMS helped in this regard.

Also, making podcasts is relatively simple.  I may be doing more of them in the future – sans 75 feet of cable and the 40 pound mixer.

How Important Are the Tools…

Patience is a Virtue…

I know that waiting for something is not one of my strong suits.  Waiting for programs to load, waiting for a video to queue, waiting for a doc to be downloaded…  I am, at this moment, waiting for something from Hot Potatoes to load onto my work computer.  I have been waiting since lunch, which is now about an hour and a half ago.

Occasionally at work, things slooooowwww down to a crawl.  The computers aren’t all that old; it just seems that there are definite peak times when every credit student with a smart-phone is logged onto their student account doing highly useful educational things.  If I seem irked, how perceptive of you to notice.  The irksomeness stems partly from this bandwidth issue, and from the no-ESL-students allowed policy at my school.  Credit students can straddle our bandwidth and ride it all they like; ESL students are not given accounts.  We’ve asked.  They’ve said no.

Hey Hey, Got Some Action Finally…

Somewhere in the middle of the last paragraph, my Hot Potatoes install finally clicked on.  When I checked download status in Chrome, it said “estimated time – 1 day.”  Now, I know that isn’t true. Chrome tends to exaggerate the size of its fish, but come on – almost 1.5 hours?

Today seems to be particularly hard on our poor bandwidth.  YouTube videos struggle, and then give up about a third of the way through.  Stuff from the LIT2Teach site also takes excessive amounts of time.  I want to point, click, count to three, and then see the fruits of my labour.  Is that too much to ask?  Is it really necessary to have a book to read while pages load?

Lightning speed PCs with huge bandwidth… mmmm… I can see it now.

What? A Speaking Task on an LMS?

Speaking on an LMS

An LMS opens itself up more easily to Reading/Writing activities.  An instructor can direct learners to a website, or upload a reading onto the LMS, and then link the task with a writing assignment.  Listening activities are also quite simple to do…  But a speaking activity?

MOODLE uses the “nanogong” tool – which I have used, with some degree of success in the classroom.  Nanogong is a voice recording tool, similar to Vocaroo or other such devices.  I like that it connects with the LMS, for tracking and whatnot.

How Learners Use it:

The Instructor needs to create a nanogong activity first, which the learners can then access simply by clicking on the activity.

Nanogong in Action

The learners in my SLT class (Retail) were researching interview techniques, specifically the STAR interview process.  Learners had ample time in the classroom with this procedure, and had written STAR answers in their journal prior to this activity.

Learners were then posed a common behavioural job interview question, such as:

  • Tell me about  a time when you had to work with a difficult person.  How did you resolve your differences?
  • Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty at work.

I encouraged the learners to think about their answers, and to maybe jot notes, but not to write out their entire responses.  To illustrate this, I had a teacher demonstrate by reading some text, and then by naturally answering it.  Learners discussed the differences in the two responses.

When they were ready, the learner would access the program and record his or her answer.  They could stop, rewind, delete, and try as many times as they wanted until they were satisfied.  Then they could listen to their responses.

The instructor can give feedback right in the activity, and provide links to help with fluency, or provide feedback face to face.


The learners were all together, in one CALL Lab, working on the LMS.  They were also working on other assignments, and would not all necessarily be on the speaking assignment at the same time.  Students would feel self-conscious in an otherwise quiet lab, suddenly giving an answer to the interview question.  Or, if a few were on the same topic at the same time, the recording would pick up the background noise.

Solution:  The lab was big enough that we could dedicate a recording corner, which might afford some privacy and keep the background noise to a minimum.


The Nanogong tool works best in the Firefox browser, but it still comes up with a security alert message.  Learners have to be directed to select the right response, or the application will not work.

Other Speaking Tasks:

  1. Leaving voicemail messages:  Students are given a scenario where they have to return the phone call of a job interviewer, and give details regarding availability, etc.
  2. Customer Service Scenarios:  Return phone calls –voice mail message; students role play customer service associates returning a customer call with specific information
  3. Customer Service – Inquiries: Role play learners as customers asking about a specific service or product
  4. Work Role Play – Calling in Sick – students are given information or told to make up their own and role play a phone call voicemail message to their supervisors
  5. Customer Service – Product Knowledge – students use the nanogong to record their response to a customer’s question about a specific product (warrantee, features, benefits, etc)

LIMITATIONS:  The nanogong is hard to do interactively, but it can be done if you have the right equipment in the lab.  Our lab is currently set up with a headset/microphone, so only one person can record at a time.  With a hand-held microphone, however, you can do more interactive role-plays and other scenarios that would be useful training tools.

Hide (‘n’ seek??) or I Spy with my little Widgit

Round Two:  Hiding Content

Now, why would I want to do that?  Well, say you’ve got your course loaded up for the term, all topics or weeks laid out, ready to go.  Yes, it’s awesome to have learners so eager they dash ahead and complete readings and tasks, etc.  However, sometimes, you want to control what goes out to the group and when this info is released.

First, I have to say I like the “time release” function in D2L for news items.  V. useful.  Moodle may have this as an administrative function, but I haven’t seen it yet, as a non administrator.

(Time release lets you set up a series of instructions, or news items, that will only appear on a date you select.)

Hide It – D2L

Now, having done a search for how to do this on D2L, I thought that the solution was fairly straightforward.

Click on the little yellow pen that appears beside the content that you would like to hide, select “hide”.  So, the first problem was that I do not have a little yellow editing pen tool. Okay, there has to be a way, really…  There is.  You need to select the module you would like to hide, and then deselect “publish” and choose “draft” instead.  There is no time release feature for the modules; this exists for news items, and maybe some other features.  When an item is in “draft” mode, is is not visible to the learners.  When you want them to see it, just select “publish”. (see picture below of D2L)


Hide It – Moodle

Moodle does it like this:  make sure your editing is on.  See the content you want hidden?  See that there is a wide open eye for all currently visible content?  Click the eye.  You’ll notice that the eye closes, and the content to which it is attached is now greyed out.  Ta-dah! (Check out the Moodle pic; you can see how simple this procedure is.   Notice the greyed out topic with the closed eye… so easy, a trained chimp could do it. ) (Uh, my trained chimp is taking offense at that last remark, so disregard it.  You don’t want to get a chimp angry…).


Not to seem like I’m ragging on D2L, but why couldn’t they make these features a little more user-friendly?

Note: Yes, I see the little yellow pencils under bulk edit in the D2L pic, but these do not allow me to hide content at all; it allows you mass delete files.  Look above at the Moodle graphic; see how straightforward an action it is to hide something?  Yes, one can fairly easily select “draft” in D2L but one would have to know first that this is what one needs to do.  How would one know that a draft is not visible to all participants?

Got SCORM? Revisited.

Well, this will be short and sweet.  In the one corner, we have Open-Source Moodle; in the other, Proprietary D2L.  Even though D2L has the shiny new boxer shorts, Moodle is holding its own quite nicely in its functional, and well worn sweats.

Which one is going to win the battle of the SCORM?

The bell rings. Moodle is off like a flash.  Turn your editing on.  Add SCORM.  Upload file. Make a title. File is now in your “moodle file locker room.”  Select it.  Save and display.  Test it out – works.  No browser issues, all plugins working fine.   Moodle has D2L backed into a corner.

moodle scorm

Now let’s look at D2L.  In order to upload your SCORM, follow these steps:

Click course, click content, click manage files.  Wait – no “manage files”?  Okay, then you need to “edit course”; it’s on the top of your toolbar.  Now, import/export components.  Browse and select your SCORM.  Type a folder name.  Select “overwrite existing file”.  Not sure why, just do it. Now select “all components” to import, or you won’t get all the stuff you need to properly run your SCORM.  Got it?  Okay, catch your breath.  Select “next”.  Now, wait for it… go back to the folder you created.  Test your SCORM.  What?!  It won’t run?!

d2l scorm

Note: this is the same browser that runs the exact same SCORM activity on Moodle.  It works on Moodle.  D2L – adding SCORM is not very user friendly.

TKO – Moodle is the champ in the battle of the SCORM.

Note:  This was driving me nuts, so I made a call to D2L and had a nice long conversation with Rajesh.  There was something going on with the volume control at the D2L headquarters, because he was v. unclear, and when he adjusted the volume, I could clearly hear the advice being given by his rather loud female colleague in the background.  Anyhow, after a few questions back and forth, Rajesh figured it out.  It seems Firefox was blocking the SCORM content in D2L for some reason, but does not block the same SCORM content in Moodle.

Rajesh showed me how to allow the content – just click on the little shield symbol in the http bar at the top of the screen.  Now I’ll just have to relay that to the students and hope they remember that when they are at home trying to do a SCORM activity.

d2l scorm browser block


One of the benefits of using a LMS is having all of the learner tasks, grades, posts etc. in one place.  I love the idea of being able to look in on their activity to see what they’ve been up to.  I know that MOODLE is going to update shortly and work on a way to enable feedback in the blogs  – because right now, I assign a reflective writing topic in the blog, learners write, then I have to print them off, make comments on the hardcopy, and hand it back.  I have tried copying and pasting comments from their blog into a message, but that was too messy.

One of the challenges for me, both in MOODLE and in D2L, was the gradebook.  Before I gripe about it, I know that I need to go back, find the help document and re-read it.  It could be easier for instructors to use.  Right now, if I select a participant, all gradable activities show up in the order that they were created.  Because I created my own tasks after the LINC tasks, all of my assignments show up waaaaaay at the bottom.  I end up deselecting all, and then just checking the bottom portion to produce the midterm summative assessments.  There must be a better way to organize this – I just haven’t stumbled on it yet.

D2L was more complicated – there was a selectable field when you created the assignment.  You had to choose to automatically import to gradebook, or the task would show up with no grade (instructor would then manually enter everything).  One you wised up to this, you made sure to check that box.

I will eventually figure out a way to do this that works for me.

Like Lego (TM)

Blended Learning – Learning Management Systems & Virtual Learning Environments

A virtual learning environment is like Lego ™ .  Bear with me – I just woke up and this was the first thing floating around between my conscious and semi-conscious state.

A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) can be as simple or as complicated as you choose.  Lego ™ systems can also be fancy, with a plethora of bells and whistles.  Depending on your collection of pieces, you can have any of the following:

  • Standard, three blocks
  • Single piece blocks
  • Arches
  • Long flat pieces on which to use as a base
  • Corner pieces
  • Drawbridges
  • Ramps
  • Parts for vehicles
  • Little miniature people
  • Etc.

As you can see, it starts relatively easy and gradually gets more intricate.  My kid can put together a Star Wars Millennium Falcon practically with his eyes shut.  Without a map, even.  I still need the map.

At the TESL Ontario conference, I attended a lot of tech workshops and presentations.  I saw some great ideas.  I also noticed a trend.  An intake of breath, a shaking of the head, and a confession that the instructor or teacher would not be able to use that particular program, LMS/VLE, whatever, in her classroom because it was too difficult. This is a valid concern.

Manageable Chunks

The advice offered was always the same: start small!  Don’t try to design the Millennium Falcon on your first go.  Start with something manageable; like an Inukshuk. Start with making something in all the same colours and sizes.  I’m serious.  When you first jump into using online resources, start small.  If you have decided to introduce a Learning Management System like MOODLE ™ (which is NOT entirely FREE[i], by the way, unless you are LINC).  Keep your interface simple.  I’d suggest using only news, and group forums to begin.   This will get learners used to this format and a bit more comfortable sharing their thoughts online.

Gradually build up your platform.  Add a few bells and whistles.  Throw in the WIKI glossary.  Start using the BLOG tool.  Give learners enough time to get used to these tasks and to feel comfortable with them before asking them to go elsewhere on the net to a different site, create an Avatar, and then import the html code of that avatar to the home platform.  This is what some instructors asked their learners to do (I don’t know the abilities of their particular class, so this may have been a reasonable request).  I couldn’t resist asking if they ran into problems with this task.  Yes, they had.  But this team had great technical support and they were able to handle the crisis.

Avoid the Urge to Use EVERYTHING

For instructors and teachers looking into using a Learning Management System, or a Virtual Learning Environment, I suggest taking it a step at a time.  I may have misunderstood the LearnIT2Teach instructions that said you needed to use at least 10 different functions and report back on them, because that is what I did.  I have used the following: news, groups, wikis, blogs, questionnaires (choices), quizzes, SCORMS, nanogongs, calendars, and something else.

Since my class is only 12 weeks, I have jumped right into these tasks, asking learners to do all of the above.  I knew it would be too much too soon, and my main page is overly crowded.  Thus, as is the complaint with other instructors who have started using LMS’s, too much time is spent on the technical part of the platform than actually using the platform as it was intended.

Virtual Dream…

I have a Virtual Learning Environment dream: creating interactive second-life scenarios, connected to the LMS.  Learners could create and use their own avatars in simulated environments to do any number of tasks.  I saw this at the TESL O conference, and my mind was buzzing with the possibilities.  I teach an SLT program in Retail – can you imagine what you could do with Second-Life?  Create a retail space, teach customer service then have learners apply what they’ve been learning.

I’m not there yet.  I’m still learning how to put the windows on my Lego ™ house.  Still it’s the same concept.  One brick at a time.

[i] Citizenship and Immigration Canada has picked up the MOODLE project, and therefore funds LearnIT2Teach who are administering the MOODLE platform.  If you are not LINC-funded, (and it seems that there was an annoying assumption that everyone was), and you would like to use MOODLE, then you have to go a different route.  You have to purchase and maintain a domain (not expensive, like less than $20 a year), then install MOODLE yourself.  This part is free.  But there is a great deal of computer-programming tasks that you need to do in order to get this up and running.  If you are not LINC, this would be like building the Death Star as a first year engineering project – a little too much to handle except  for the exceptionally gifted.