Education Informed Research Using Moodle

How hard can it be?

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM

Adjunct Lecturer, Australian National University

For 2010 ACT MoodlePosium, Canberra, 8 October 2010

ANU advocates educational programs informed by current research (1). Based on his experience of designing and teaching an e-learning course based on current research, Tom proposes using the educational techniques of the Moodle system for projects and research. He will use his globally accredited Green Technology Strategies course to illustrate the talk (2).


  1. About the Australian National University, Going to Uni, Department of Education, Science and Training, 2010-08-03: url:
  2. Green Technology Strategies: Using computers and telecommunications to reduce carbon emissions, Tom Worthington, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-9806201-7-7, URL:

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM

Tom Worthington preparing to depart the USS Blue Ridge by Military Helicopter during Exercise Tandem Thrust 97 Joint Operations Control Centre (JOCC) on aboard Blue Ridge during Exercise Tandem Thrust 97

Tom Worthington is an independent ICT consultant and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the ANU. Tom was recognised in the ACS Canberra ICT Awards 2010, as educator of the year, for design of the ANU's Moodle based Green ICT Course. Tom is a past president, Fellow and Honorary Life Member of the Australian Computer Society, a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

One experience at the Department of Defence, while doing web pages for military exercises, seems relevant to this conference. At the invitation of the web master of the U.S. 7th Fleet I visited them on the Flagship on exercises off the coast of Queensland, for some extreme mobile computing. The 18,500 ton, 1,550 crew USS Blue Ridge is a mobile floating headquarters, equipped with ordinary desktop computers used to run military exercises. Standard office software and web browsers are used. This reduces the cost and allows systems to be easily upgraded. Temporary staff, such as the US Marines bring their laptops and stick them to the desktops using green gaffer tape.

The lesson from the US Navy was that that an IT systems need to be simple to survive. I suggest that IT systems at universities need to apply similar principles: simple and practical.

Moodle for education: First global Green ICT Course

Green Technology Strategies: Using computers and telecommunications to reduce carbon emissions

In 2008 the Australian Computer Society (ACS) commissioned a 12 Week E-learning course as part of the Computer Professional Education Program. This program is now part of the ACS's accreditation by the International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3) for international standards of professionalism in IT. It is at a postgraduate Masters-level with university articulation to several Australian university programs.

The course was first run by the ACS in early 2009. The course materials are available as free open source in the e-book Free e-textbook "Green Technology Strategies: Using computers and telecommunications to reduce carbon emissions" (Tom worthington, 2009). The course was run by the Australian national University, second semester 2009 and 2010. A version of the course adapted by one of the former ANU students for North America is offered by Athabasca University, Canada.

Teaching Students To Work Together

Zonbu miniature PC

Moodle e-learning system provides:

  1. Online discussion forums
  2. Tools to author content

The tutors foster discussion, not present content.

Green ICT Course won the ACS Canberra ICT Awards 2010, Education Award

See: Computer Professional Education using Mentored and Collaborative Online Learning, David Lindley, IJCIM Special Issues on e-learning, Vol.15 No. SP4, November, 2007.

The ACS and the ANU use the Australian developed Moodle open source Learning Management System. This is used to provide forums for students to discuss what they are learning, not just receive content prepared by teachers. This also teaches students how to use the same on-line collaboration techniques in the workplace.

The techniques of using mentored collaborative on-line learning for computer professional education were developed for the ACS by David Lindley. This uses a model of online learning described by Gilly Salmon in "E-Moderating: the Key to Teaching and Learning Online.

Lessons from 19 Months of Teaching Green ICT

The Ancient Gymnasium at Delphi

Moodle is useful to:

These can be applied to supervising research.

Having run a Moodle based course for 18 months, there are some lessons learnt:

These lessons learnt can be applied to supervising research.

Tools for research


ANU is driven by a culture of curiosity and discovery. Our research and teaching is guided by the important issues and questions that face our nation, our neighbourhood and the world. ...

From: Research & education, ANU, 2010

Alliance for research

As for other universities, ANU provides policies to help frame research and tools to help publish the results online. ANU also provide a specialised online system for researchers to discuss and collaborate online, but is such a tool needed?

Alliance for research

  • You can discuss your research findings, as well as research related aspects with other geographically distant researchers who might be working from different time zones, using the Forum tool (asynchronously) or Chat tool (synchronously)
  • You can share files, reports, journal articles and other useful research documents using the Resources tool
  • You can collaboratively write documents using the Resources tool or Wiki tool

From: Alliance for research, ANU, 18 August 2010

ANU's Alliance is an implementation of the Sakai Open Source Learning Management System. This is provided for use by students and staff for research and education.

Wattle for Education

Wattle (Web Access To Teaching & Learning Environments) is an online learning environment used to provide a set of tools to facilitate learning, communication and collaboration, and can be used to make lecture notes, readings, digital lecture recordings and other learning resources available to your students online.

Wattle consists of Moodle as the main underpinning platform, augmented with other online learning facilities such as Digital Lecture Delivery (DLD), Wimba Classroom and Mahara ...

Wattle will replace WebCT which is being phased out during 2010 ...

From: About Wattle, ANU, 7 April 2010

During 2009 ANU introduced the Moodle Open Source Learning Management system, under the ANU name of "Wattle" to replace WebCT. Mooble is intended to be used for supporting traditional face to face courses, blended courses and pure online e-learning courses.

Moodle was not to support education, with Sakai (branded "Alliance" at ANU) already in place for research. As a "research informed" university, it is likely that most researchers will be also undertaking some teaching. Moodle and Sakai provide essentially the same features and so it makes little sense for staff and students to learn both. It seemed reasonable to see how well this would support research.

CS Individual Project Courses

Students will conduct a project, under supervision, that will act as a capstone to the Computer and Programming Language Systems specialisation, by applying and increasing the depth of the student's knowledge in this area. The activities in the course will normally include some combination of reading, writing, project work and presentation, as appropriate to the topic. The learning objectives, project overview and assessment arrangements will be specified at the outset using the Department of Computer Science form 'Independent Study Contract'. ...

From: Computer System Project COMP8750, ANU, 7 April 2010

Suggested Organisation of the Work

  1. Requirements Specification and Background Research (3-4 weeks)...
  2. Modelling / Design (3 weeks) ...
  3. Implementation, testing/debugging/second phase and documentation (3 + 3 + 1 weeks) ... You are pretty much on your own for this phase of your project...
  4. Write up, demonstration and submission (2 weeks - throughout)...

From: Individual Project Courses, Master of Computing COMP87*0 Project, ANU, 7 April 2010

In addition to class based courses, the ANU Computer Science Department has individual student projects. With these projects a student works on their own, with supervision from a staff member, researching a topic and producing some artifacts, such as computer software. One use for these projects is to give the students a taste for research work.

Each student undertakes their project on a different topic, with the details refined between the student and supervisor. All projects have some common requirements, such as a "Independent Study Contract Form", Initial Presentation, Final presentation written report. There are also suggested stages in the progress of the project.

While some structure is provided, undertaking an individual project can be daunting for both the student and the supervisor. Previously I have used e-mail for supplementing face-to-face meetings with the student. However, the number of draft documents can quickly get overwhelming.

Moodle for Project Courses

Realising that Moodle already provided a structure, which the student and staff are familiar with, I set out to use this for supervising one student.

The first step was very simple, as I found that a default "course" had been automatically created in ANU's Wattle system for COMP8750. This had remained unused as the course did not previously use Moodle. The one student was added and a weekly structure set up.

The Moodle "Dialogue" tool was included at the beginning of the Moodle course for communications between the student and supervisor. This is slightly more clumsy to use than email, as the tool sends an email alert and the student or supervisor then as to enter Moodle to see what the message was. However, the tool keeps correspondence related to one course and one student together. If the supervisor is not available for some reason, the lecturer in charge of the course can read the correspondence.

The Moodle "Assignment" tool with advanced uploading of files was used for deliverable for the course, with each "assignment" placed where it was due. This provides an easy to understand schedule of what is required. Also a "weekly report" was added for each week, as an assignment. The intention is for the staff and students to gave regular feedback.

This approach as worked reasonably well. It should provide more effective where there are a large number of students using the system with individual supervisors, with the lecturer in charge being able to monitor progress.

Some Issues for Using Moodle With Research

The use of Moodle and similar LMS should be feasible with longer term research, such as for a full Masters, or PHD. However, there would need to be some adjustments to the way Moodle is normally thought of.

  1. Long Term Projects: Courses are normally assumed to ruin for six months or a year, with the contents being archived after that. PHD research may be undertaken over many years, causing problems for the management of the Moodle system.
  2. Larger files than for courses: Research projects are likely to generate many more and larger files than a conventional course. Also numerous drafts of the same document will create a document management problem, with Moodle currently lacking version control features.
  3. IP and Privacy issues with content: Research projects can be potentially commercially valuable and may contain confidential information. This information needs to be protected. This may conflict with the more open access provided for courses.
  4. Supervisors may resent being monitored: While supervisors may welcome being able to easily monitor progress of their students via Moodle, they may be less happy about monitoring from above. However, placing an onus on supervisors to check on student progress and provide feedback cannot be objected to.

One way around some of these problems is to use some of the other tools commonly provided with Moodle, such as Mahara.

Benefits of Using Moodle With Research

More Information

  1. Mentored and Collaborative e-Learning for Postgraduate Professional Education, 2009
  2. Green Technology Strategies: Using computers and telecommunications to reduce carbon emissions (e-book and book), 2009
  3. Green ICT Strategies COMP7310, Masters program, The Australian National University, from July 2009
  4. Tom Worthington
  5. This document is available at:

Slides for these notes are also available.

Copyright © 2010 (Version 1.0, 5 October 2010) Tom Worthington

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