Thursday, September 6, 2007

The red triumphant Moodle

It seems, from the reading to be offered here, that the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay's talents included foreseeing not just general aspects of the future but also specifically the nature and function of the Moodle. In her sonnet number CXXXVII, she writes about "the meteoric shower of facts" which rain down on "this gifted age," but which "lie unquestioned, uncombined." Then follow the key lines of the sestet:

Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric; undefiled
Proceeds pure Science, and has her say; but still
Upon this world from the collective womb
Is spewed all day the red triumphant child.

Looms these days can take a variety of forms: the documentary film suggests itself as a clear and influential instance. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth represents a compelling fabric, woven from wisdom and science; Michael Moore has a particular talent for these tapestries, skillfully combining the weft of objective facts with the warp of individual experience and opinion in Sicko or Bowling for Columbine. Other looms can be found on the Internet: Wikipedia comes to mind, though the number of weavers involved and their varied level of expertise seem to raise some controversy.

As for metaphorical wombs, eduction in general and language teaching in particular are slowly extracting their pedagogic head from various discrete point and trivial orifices and acknowledging the value of detailed, extended learning tasks and long-term projects. The collective womb is thus a learner team, designing a web site to highlight artefacts representing their learning; or conducting a series of experiments and analysing the outcomes; or putting together a class newsletter; or writing, casting, rehearsing, shooting, editing and premiering an iMovie.

Loom or womb? Both are attractive analogues for the Moodle. The former is a framework, a set of moving parts awaiting the threads (and, yes, there actually are discussion threads) of raw material of research, experience and archived materials. This framework then provides and sustains the machinary which combines these threads in meaningful patterns and stores the work in progress until the whole cloth is finished. Or perhaps the on-line design is the weft and the students' experiences, thoughts and interactions the warp? Either way, the final product is then lifted off and worn, one hopes, with pride by each participant.

Yet (Dr. Freud smiles and nods) I am especially inclined to the womb image. The Moodle provides an appropriate and fertile environment as the participants first merge with embryonic pedagogic purpose. The cells of learning multiply, nourished by the organism housing and supporting the Moodle, the maternal internet, which in turn depends on the greater world beyond. Finally, the trimestral course is over, the instructional waters break and through painful spasms of final projects, tests and evaluations, the newly informed language teacher is delivered (hit ESC?). A severing of the instructional cord (CTRL-ALT-DEL?), a pat on the back and on to a life of pedagogic independence. The Moodle graduate being both red (from exertion, from the glow of success) and triumphant.

Both of which would also apply to the Moodle design team, I fancy, as the meteoric shower of possibilities has been questioned, catalogued and combined into something of which we may be triumphantly proud.

Edna, I like to think, would approve.

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