Moodle and Google – on Libre and Gratis

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by my executive to give a “State of the Union” address to teachers on the successes of my Moodle/Apps@CCC project – the integration of Moodle courseware with Google Apps Education Edition. I was asked particularly to focus on where we were at as a school engaging in e-learning and what some of the future possibilities and potential might be.

It’s no real secret that some of our teachers are doing a fine job of adopting this new technology in a relatively short amount of time and on their own steam. I run afternoon sessions and sessions during school time on everything ranging from the basics of setting up a course page to moving towards co-constructivist learning with a broad range of modes and learning opportunities. Session after session, I see dedicated teachers wanting to know more and do more with technology, to build an online learning community of over a thousand switched-on critical thinkers and learners.

At the same time, many teachers struggle with the concept of e-learning – perhaps understandably so. For them, it simply involves uploading a bunch of Word documents to an online repository somewhere and leaving it at that. Problem is, while it’s a decent first step, the jury’s out on whether that’s really going to make a real difference in the long term. For some, this is the only step – and teachers here need to be challenged to think outside the square.

Seizing my opportunity, I prepared a talk on the nature of open/closed, libre/gratis (check out the Wikipedia page on this) and free vs free. On the one hand, one can appreciate Moodle – a fully open-source, free (as in libre, or speech) and grass-roots initiative. On the other hand, it’s also possible to appreciate Google Apps Education Edition – a relatively closed service, but nonetheless powerful and free (as in gratis, or beer). While the distinction to some might be academic, I really argue that we should always recognise where the Web 2.0 tools we use stand in relation to the questions – some of them ethical, others organisational – posed by the open/closed and libre/gratis paradigms.

Perhaps I’m dealing with two issues here – after all, what’s possibility and potential in relation to open and closed, and what does free beer have to do with it?! In the end, the way I see it is this: we’ve managed to source and use two of the best pieces of scalable software for e-learning-based education, both of which don’t cost us a cent. The possibilities and potential are endless – but that doesn’t change the fact that we need to think critically about how we approach them. After all, who really needs another bunch of Word documents?

Here’s the keynote of the presentation (check it out at to see accompanying notes):

About Michael

Cellist, singer/songwriter, school teacher, nerd, recent scooter enthusiast and failed philosopher.
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