If you see your highschooler on what seems to be a social-networking site when you thought she was doing her homework, don’t assume she isn’t. A handful of Verona High School teachers are test-driving a free, Internet-based system that allows students to interact virtually with their teachers and other students for educational purposes.
The system is called Moodle, and unlike a lot Web sites with odd monikers, this name actually stands for something: Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. Developed by a company in Australia, it is used by 1.2 million in 206 countries. The company also notes, in what many be one of the scarier uses of statistics, that it has been used to administer more than 40 million quiz questions.
Teachers in many New Jersey schools, including Montclair Kimberly Academy, use Moodle to post assignments and quizzes and host interactive learning forums. Here’s why you might like Moodle, if you’re a parent: All the materials for your child’s assignment are online and his or her work can be submitted to the teacher over the Internet. No more dashing back to school to retrieve forgotten books; no more notes home that Johnny forgot to turn in a paper. (You can take a sample class on Romeo and Juliet here.)
Moodle is what the computer world calls open source: While the Australian firm owns the basic copyrights to the system, anyone, anywhere can create improvements on it and share them with other users. That used to make people nervous because there was no one big company standing by with support. But millions of Web sites now run on open-source systems, including MyVeronaNJ.com.
Verona’s experiment with Moodle may be short-lived, however. The Board of Education is in the process of making some minor improvements to the school district Web site–you may have already noticed some changes to the home page–and is planning much bigger ones. In fact, the Board is currently evaluating several companies, including municipal government Web site provider Cit-E-Net and three education companies, Schoolmaster Student Information Systems, Edline and Schoolwires. All of these are proprietary systems, not open source. Schoolwires, which is now used by 1,000 school districts in the U.S., may have an edge because it can handle school board office tasks and staff administration as well as homework. It has also been endorsed by both the New Jersey Association of School Administrators and the New Jersey Association of School Business Officers.
School officials hope to have a completely new Web site up and running in September for the 2010 school year, and any new provider is likely to incorporate features similar to those offered by Moodle. “We will be upgrading the Web site so that it is more effective,” Superintendent Charles Sampson said at the most recent Board of Ed meeting. “We need to move forward on all these fronts. You will be seeing light years of changes.”