At my old university, I was using course software called “Moodle,” which I loved for both its ease and its power. Now, at my new institution, I have to use course management software called Sakai, which is both very expensive and (as I see it) a whole truck-load of suck. This is my first post in a series in which I explore what I miss about Moodle, and what I dislike about Sakai.
For background, go to the Sakai website and watch (if you can stand all 11 minutes of it) the “Sakai Video Report” that’s featured prominently there. Note the weird mix of techno-babble and CEO-speak. Now, go to Moodle’s website, and look at their page on Pedagogy. Note how they actually have a page devoted to pedagogy! You may not completely agree with them about how learning happens, but it’s clear that Moodle was developed from the learner’s point of view. Where Sakai is a glorified version of Lotus Notes–the guy in the video admits as much–Moodle was built from the ground up on widely-accepted learning theory.
One concrete example is how everything in Moodle is either an “activity” or a “resource” for students (or “learners,” or whatever, since you can customize roles in Moodle), and every activity or resources can be found right on the main page of the site. If I want to put a PDF text right next to a forum to discuss that text, I can. Not so with Sakai, which uses a byzantine file structure, and buries both activities like discussion forums and resources like texts in different areas, requiring much clicking to move from one to the other.
As a teacher, when I ask students to discuss a text, I want them to have the text open while they write, so they can, you know, actually refer to it. In Moodle, two clicks gets you there–I haven’t bothered to count how many in Sakai, both because it’s variable, and because it makes me weep. Navigability, I’m saying, is more than just an issue of elegance; it has pedagogical consequences. My students are much more likely to engage with texts and discussion in fruitful ways if they don’t have to drill up and down the file structure to do it.
But isn’t it confusing to have all those activities and resources on the main page? Not at all, because Moodle lets you easily customize how you organize things. You can arrange everything by week, or you can do it by “theme” or “unit.” This is generally how teachers think about their courses anyway. In my writing courses, each unit is aimed at having students draft and revise a single essay. With Moodle, I can put the essay assignment, related texts, discussion forums, private journals (for brainstorming/freewriting), wikis, etc. all in one area, and I can move that area to the top of the main page so it’s the first thing students see when they log on during that unit.
Sakai, on the other hand, is like an overzealous Montessori teacher; there’s a place for everything, and everything must be in its place. Texts and handouts and assignment prompts belong in “Resources,” while discussions go in “Forums,” and students submit work in “Assignments.” If you’re looking for something in particular, you first have to think about what kind of thing it is, and then go look for it under that rubric. So, if your teacher says, “please download the reading for next Monday,” you have to figure out that that’s a “Resource,” then go look for it there. In Moodle, the text sits right there, on the main page, in the section that covers next Monday’s class.
Anyway, I’ve got plenty more to say, but I’ll save it for later posts in this series. I might eventually (and grudgingly) admit that Sakai does have a few nice features, but I’m more interested in explaining how Moodle is better in almost every conceivable way.