Educating in a Virtual Learning Environment
Dr. Ralph Nofi, now in his 22nd year as school Psychologist at Regis, began noticing some mobility issues with his knee last summer. By winter it was clear that he required knee replacement surgery, and the surgery could not wait. To prepare for his absence this spring, arrangements were made to cover his counseling duties, but managing his third trimester senior course proved to be a bit more complicated. Fortunately, Regis IT had recently installed the Moodle eLearning system for faculty, and Dr. Nofi found himself with the perfect opportunity to take advantage of this new technology.

Moodle (an acronym for "Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment") is a free and open-source eLearning system designed to help create interactive online courses. Moodle has quickly become one of the most popular online learning tools, with a very strong following in Jesuit secondary education.

"We executed a pilot rollout earlier this year, and are training faculty throughout the Spring, with a full rollout planned for September," said Joe Amatrucola, Director of Technology and Chair of the Computer Science Department at Regis. Starting in September 2013, most Regis faculty will be using Moodle in one way or another. For some, it will be as simple as posting a syllabus. Others will undoubtedly be using it for a great deal more.

For Dr. Nofi, his ability to provide instruction remotely through Moodle could not have come at a better time. "Prior to surgery, I was able to post the syllabus and textbook information for my class on my course's Moodle page. The coursework was organized by week, and for each week I posted a brief video introduction to create a bit of a personal touch. Readings and assignments for that week were posted and, to complete assignments, students uploaded documents or typed directly into the course's Moodle page." Dr. Nofi was able to schedule live chats during class periods, and students joined in the chat discussion from various computers around the school. He also “met” with his class using Skype video conferencing to moderate a discussion. The virtual classroom setup allowed him to interact with students and easily maintain the flow of the class.

"With an increasing number of teachers embracing new and innovative instructional technologies, I think we will see a rise in the variety of educational activities that extend beyond the classroom," said Amatrucola. Moodle is already proving to enhance the dynamic content available to students, and it also fosters greater collaborative efforts among all constituencies at Regis. In time, Amatrucola anticipates an increase in the development of course wikis, interactive chats, online quizzes, and online tests. Collaborative assignments can also be constructed, with parameters that make it easier to track the work of individual students. Online chats can be structured in ways that encourage students to carefully "hear" what another student is saying and to respond specifically to that student’s ideas, reinforcing behavior encouraged in classroom discussions.

Video conferencing has also become much easier, nearing the point where it will be turn-key for any teacher or student. Amatrucola added, "I see great possibilities, including what Dr. Nofi has done, or perhaps even the reverse: enabling a student who is absent long-term to 'attend' class via Skype on an iPad. I also see teachers seeking out real-time video conferencing opportunities to bring more content into the classroom."

For Dr. Nofi, the value of incorporating new technology like Moodle into the classroom is obvious. "When I think about what I might have experienced had my knee surgery taken place when I started teaching 22 years ago, I imagine my course would simply not have been offered. The technology is what enabled my elective to be available to seniors."

This article first appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of the Regis Alumni News Magazine.

Posted: 5/3/13