Tools for an increased flexibility in learning

According to the Romanian regulations in the field (Order no. 6251/2012), distance learning must consist in a mandatory combination of online teaching and face-to-face tutorials. In order to efficiently manage the online courses, the National University for Political Studies and Public Administration, Bucharest, Romania, has found a solution to integrate the platform Moodle. Moodle is a free, online Learning Management system enabling educators to create their own private website filled with dynamic courses that extend learning, anytime, anywhere. It fosters engagement and encourages content-driven collaborations between students and professors.

MA students who have professional engagements that prevent them from attending courses on a daily basis can enroll in low-attendance programmes. With the use of the e-learning platform, they have access to:

  • An online forum for live seminars
  • An online evaluation system
  • A permanent forum for discussion and FAQ
  • An online system for evaluation of projects, applications, exercises, and tests
  • An online system for processing information regarding their online attendance of seminars/courses and their individual progress

The platform is employed by the faculty and students of the following Masters programmes:

  • MA in Communication and Public Relations
  • MA in Managerial Communication and HR
  • MA in Project Management
  • MA in Management and Business Communication

The features of the e-learning platform Moodle that increase the flexibility of long-distance learning include, but are not limited to:

  • Modern, easy to use interface, easy to navigate on both desktop and mobile devices.
  • Personalized Dashboard that allows administrators to organize and display courses the way they want, and view at a glance current tasks and messages.
  • Collaborative tools and activities: forums, wikis, glossaries, database activities.
  • All-in-one Calendar
  • Convenient file management
  • Simple and intuitive text editor, allowing users to format text and conveniently add media and images with an editor that works across all web browsers and devices.
  • When enabled, users can receive automatic alerts on new assignments and deadlines, forum posts and also send private messages to one another.
  • Messaging capabilities

One of the most important aspects of using Moodle is that it offers many options for assessing progress in learning, as follows. During online courses – through the use of the forum, the lecturer directly engages with the students and is able to ask questions and receive answers, thus assessing their level of knowledge (live). Every course has its own Grade book. Some activities such as Assignment and Quiz send grades back to this grade book. It is also possible for teachers to enter grades directly into the grade book. If Activity completion is enabled by the administrator and in the course settings, teachers can indicate for each course item how they wish it to be registered as complete. A tick/check mark will then appear against the activity. Students may either mark it complete manually or the item will automatically be registered as complete once a student has met the specified criteria. As an extension of activity completion, enabling Course completion allows for a course to be officially marked as finished, either manually or automatically according to specified criteria.

A number of Course reports are available to the teacher in their course to help them track the progress of their students. In addition to the activity and course completion reports mentioned above (which are only available if these settings are enabled) there are also activity reports, participation reports and general course logs.


More Information

Impact

What was the challenge intended to be addressed? Why? What did work well? What did not work well? What have been the main achievements? How did you evaluate its success? What has been the change brought by this good practice?

The main challenge was to increase the flexibility of online learning, without sacrificing the direct connection to the lecturers/tutors. As shown in the case description, Moodle is the perfect option to ensure the implementation of a successful mix between live, online courses together with individual study activities. For example, apart from attending live, online lectures (taking place in an online chat), students can revisit the discussion at a later time, upload and download study materials or assignments, communicate with the lecturer and his colleagues, check his grading at any time etc. Students are empowered in their act of learning, and can adapt the process to their needs and schedule, without lacking the benefits of having live interactions with the lecturer.

Success Factors

What are the enabling conditions (e.g. institutional, economic, social/cultural, regulatory) that needed to be in place or played a facilitating role for the good practice to be successful?

Economic success factors are related to the fact that Moodle is open source. No additional cost burdens the institution in implementing such a technology. Regulatory success factors derive from the legal framework making higher education low-attendance learning possible in Romania.

Constraints

What are the challenges, barriers or limiting factors encountered? How have they been addressed?

A limiting factor is that online activities take place in writing, which is a less-than-ideal scenario for a higher education lecture.

Feasibility & Sustainability

What are the elements that need to be put into place for the good practice to be sustainable (institutionally, socially, economically, etc.)? If applicable, indicate the total costs incurred for the implementation of the practice. What are the benefits compared to total costs?

The technology itself is free (open source). However, for a sustainable implementation of online teaching via Moodle, there is need for the academic staff and the IT team to collaborate in the actual set up of the platform, and in building the architecture (creation of chat rooms for each course, managing the calendar, and so on). Lastly, the academic staff & students must be trained in using the platform.

Replicability & Upscaling

What are the possibilities of extending the good practice more widely? What are the conditions that need to be in place for the good practice to be successfully replicated in a similar context? What are the steps that should be taken/respected to ensure that the good practice is replicated / up-scaled, but adapted to the new context?

This good practice can be extended for any specialization for which regulating bodies allow distance learning.

Lessons learned

What would have facilitated an earlier and/or bigger impact? What are the key features that should be kept in mind if this would have to be implemented again? What would you do differently if you could go back in time? What could have been done better?

1. MA students are frequently full-time immersed in the world of work. Therefore, they need flexible learning solutions allowing them to reconcile their studies and their professional engagements.
2. Moodle e-learning platform is a good option, allowing them to:
attend online courses and seminars from a location of their choosing
submit tests, papers, and projects online, without requiring their presence on the University’s premises
engage live with their lecturer, albeit in writing
be aware of their progress in learning
3. Flexibility fosters performance for long-distance learners.