Random Thoughts

Google Apps, WP Blogs, Moodle

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View from my place in bangkok

Still trying to remember where my summer went, I find myself back in Bangkok and preparing for the year ahead. This could be a big tech year for my school. Things are in place to start really using technology in some innovative ways. Not that we haven’t in the past, but the systematic changes we’ve made this year will definitly add some ability to use technology in much more authentic ways. 

We continue to roll out our 1:1 program this year with all 6-8th graders getting a MacBook Pro to start the school year off. Next year will be 9-12 and what excites me is we have 5th and 4th grade teachers already asking ‘how about us?’. 

We’ve continued with our stratagy of building our online communication and blended learning enviornment around three key tools. Google Apps, WordPress Blogs, and Moodle.

Google Apps:

We’ve just finshed rolling out Google Apps to all teachers on our main domain so all students and teachers are now officially on the Google Apps platform making the ability to use calendars, docs, and sites that much easier and much more powerful. What is also great is the resources around Google Apps for Education, Google has done a good job of getting videos, handouts, etc out there for others to use…and at the same time keep innovating with their apps.

Speaking of which another Gmail Lab extension hit sometime last week I think. It’s called Preview Pane and basically gives you the 3-column view like Outlook. Another great feature to help those who are use to this view make the transition. If you’re a long time gmail user this might not be a big hit…but for teachers transitioning from a desktop client it could be a stepping stone. 


Preview Pane 440x67

 WordPress Blogs:

I’m excited each year now as we continue to grow how we’re using blogs at our school (download the free PDF to the right for more info). This will be our 4th year using blogs. What I love most is that the blogs and blogging has never been a focus of the tech team or the school yet this year every 3-12th grader will have their own blog. My school does have a definition of learning though:

Learning is the primary focus of our school and we recognize learning as a life-long adventure. We value meaningful learning where students construct enduring understanding by developing and applying knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Increased understanding is evidenced by students who:

– Explain its relevance
– Describe how it connects to or conflicts with prior learning
– Communicate it effectively to others
– Generalize and apply it effectively to new situations
– Reflect critically on their own and other’s learning
– Ask questions to extend learning
– Create meaningful solutions

There are at least four bullet points that I can specifcally tie to blogging and even show evidence of over the past three years. What I love is some of our students are starting to connect posts together of their prior learning (point 2). When you have four years of thinking, artifacts, pictures, assignments all in one place it makes it easy to reflect on your learning and tie that to prior knowledge you have. That….is powerful learning!


As we continue to roll out our 1:1 program Moodle has become the foundation for our blended leanring enviornment. It’s great to see the administrative team on board with where we’re going as this year all high school and middle school teachers have a manditory 2 hour Moodle training to start the school year. A chance to really look at the design aspect of courses and give the teachers some time to create their content for this year. I’m excited to see if we can take Moodle and Blended Learning to the next level…..maybe even flip some classrooms. 🙂


Any school looking for an online blended learning enviornment I have to say this is a pretty powerful one. These three tools together give us a lot of flexability with our online learning space. I’d be interested in hearing what other schools have set up for their blended learning space. 

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Amy Cantone Reply

    I’m a big time Moodle user, but I have seriously considered abandoning it this year in favor of just Google (we still have 1.9). I also plan to use blogger for kid blogs. So my questions are: why still use Moodle? And, why WP over blogger?

    • I could see a time in the not-so-distant future where we might abandon Moodle as well. I think it will just happen as teachers understand the power of Google Apps more and more.

      As for WordPress a couple reasons.

      1. Very customizable
      2. School branded http://blogs.isb.ac.th rather then random URLS
      3. We can allow the embed of anything where blogger blocks some things such as VoiceThread and Voki which are very popular at our school.

      All in all I love our WordPress install, easy to use, kids love it, and hosted on our own servers so it’s fast.

    • I use Moodle as an assessment platform, along with blogs. Moodle is pretty good at delivering quizzes and tests in a variety of formats. Moodle also has a pretty organized structure for posting resources for students by date or by topic area.

      • What do you do about the “scroll of death” when you start getting so many resources in a course. Kids complain all the time how much they have to scroll.

        • To avoid the long scrolling page in Moodle I’ve sometimes tweaked the visibility (the eye icon) of some items, making them visible only as we need them in the progression of the course. Especially at the beginning of the course when students are easily overwhelmed if it’s their first Moodle experience you might hide some of the later topic details. By the time you get further in your course and you’ve made all items visible the students will be used to Moodle and the long scroll.

  2. Amy Cantone Reply

    Very interesting – thank you! Can you tell me more about the set up for student word press accounts? Do they need an emIl address (I know you have google) to use it? Are domain account set ups free?

    • Yes…you can download wordpress at wordpress.org and set it up on your own server for free. There is a huge community building around it as well so lots of support. You can download the free PDF to the right on this blog for more details and how we’re using it here.

  3. I’m in the midst of rolling out Google accounts for all HS faculty and students this week. Am looking for some great resources to build our PD upon if you know of any.

    • Hi Brandon,

      I’ve been finding and sharing youtube videos that in 3 minutes can explain a feature of gmail. How to archive, how to search, how to label, etc. I just had a great idea that what we need is a podcast channel like the Apple Quick Tips for Google Apps. Might have to start that. 🙂

  4. We began using Google Apps this year and I’m totally sold. The students are now using docs for nearly all their work (rather than Pages), they collaborate more, marking work is easier because I don’t have to download email attachments, they just Share their work with me. I’m also noticing more peer feedback as they share their work with one another for suggestions – the discussions tab is great for this as it doesn’t show up on the document, but in another forum which is easy to use.
    A new part of the Apps for me is using Sites where I put their topic work in week by week, with attached rubrics and any other document they might need.
    Forms is great for student surveys, it’s anonymous and it gives you graphs for the results.

    • Thanks for this Brigid. So I have to ask….you’re URL is a wikispace site. Do you see Google Docs/sits/apps replacing your wiki as well? I believe wikis are dying and what you explain above is great reason why.

  5. WOW – I might look closer at Goggle Apps and Moodle. Don’t know much about either one.

    • What you need to do mom is start a blog. 🙂 You already have the google account. Signing up for blogger is easy and I think you have a lot to share. 🙂

  6. Keep up the great work, Jeff.

    The question like one of your earlier commentors is about how long Moodle will be part of the ecosystem. The one big restriction I see right now is the space restriction on Sites withing Google Apps. 25gb for one domain is not going to cut it if all teachers have a website, all students have a portfolio, and projects are occurring there.

    Sadly, the intuitiveness of Google would be received with greater openess than Moodle. Even Moodle 2.1 hasn’t resolved the outdated look and feel compared to web 2 tools.

    It serves a purpose but it is becoming smaller by the minute.

    • Hi Ryan,

      I agree…..I actually floated the idea at our school last year that I think within a year we won’t be using Moodle. Admin doesn’t like hearing that as we put a lot of training time into Moodle and making it part of the ‘system’. I agree though…..I was hoping Moodle 2.0 would update the layout and be more Web 2ish but the linear flow is still there and I think the flexibility of just using Google Docs and collections with Google Groups and the rest of the Apps becomes very appealing.

      Good thing it’s free! Otherwise I think would hold on to it even more then they’re going to.

  7. Morning Jeff,
    Funny that you bring up the matter of replacing wikis. Four years ago, I learnt how to make and use a wiki and I was a real bunny with the computer, so I agree it’s a place for beginners to start. But as we have our kids over a two year cycle, I was wondering if the kids and I are “over” wikis and should we move onto blogs. I’d have to say that I have made some blogs, but don’t us them as I find they put me back into “bunny” phase. When I made my Google site the other week, I did think this would be a real possibility for our new class which begins in February. Will be talking to my students about that later in the year. They will have had a bit .of experience by then of using Sites

  8. Tony Jaccaci Reply

    Hi Jeff – Thanks for your post and description about how these three elements work together. As a Chinese School in China, however, we do not have the ability to use Google Apps and we are looking into Moodle as our learning platform (also consdiering Schoology). Any thoughts on creating a learning environment without Google Apps? Thank you, Tony Jaccaci

    YK Pao School

    • Hi Tony,

      How about Zoho? It’s been awhile since I’ve been in China so I’m not sure what’s blocked and what’s not. If I was at a school in China I would be investigating tools that I could install on my own server so I didn’t have to worry about the connection to the outside world.

  9. We are using similar tools in some similar ways at our K-8 school in Jacksonville, Florida. Last year, we used WP blogs for portfolios in grades 5 and 8. This year, I would like to move to a “blogfolio” where students have a blog where they can write (as a lot of students, esp. 5th grade, really wanted that) and the portfolio will be a category. Next year we will focus on 5th and 6th grade for the blogfolios, at least to begin. Some goals are to move to student-led conferences and to join into “quad-blogging” with partners who are also blogging/blogfolio-ing to interact with each other, comment on each other’s work, etc. Might you be interested in joining with us in this? I have found that the students are extremely motivated by comments or the idea of them, but it’s hard to find consistent commenters.

    As for Moodle, we haven’t used it at our school yet, but we are talking about installing it on our school domain and having the Middle School students use it to create tutorials to teach others.

  10. We were all set to use Moodle 2.0 as the LMS for our 1 to 1 roll out this fall. Then after some great conversation at BLC (what a conference, by the way) we backed off and refocused on Google Apps. We have struggled to get teachers to buy into Moodle over the past four years (too clunky, too many options, not very elementary-friendly) and my teachers have really flocked to google docs and calendar. Given our philosophy of allowing our best teachers to lead us to the best tools, google makes more sense. We hope to use Sites, Forms and Blogger to round out our own LMS. And besides, Moodle still forces teacher centered instruction; while google encourages student creators and contributors. Should be fun.

  11. Hi Jeff,

    I’ve just started, literally first week back this week, as PYP IT specialist at KIS international school. I’ve been looking around Bangkok to extend my ‘professional network’ and I came across your name on linkedin and then this blog.
    Anyway, the school uses Moodle as their VLE and I would like to introduce both wordpress blogs for each grade (initially) and later google apps which I’ve used for personal use for some years. I was pleasantly surprised you are using a combination of the three yourself at your school.
    I’m finding Moodle to be rather clunky at present and although it runs smoothly and does exactly what it’s supposed to do, I just feel aesthetically it could be much prettier! I’ve read it can be customised, so it’s more appropriate for younger users – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
    Anyway, very pleased to have found this blog,
    Have a good weekend!

  12. We have Moodle set up at our school, and I used it for several years, but I found it cumbersome. I found what I believe to be a great alternative – Schoology. Schoology allows you to generate a gradebook easily where students can see their own grades when they want. It also has its own dropbox for assignments. One of the great selling points for me was the online quiz/test function. SO MUCH EASIER than Moodle! I did a PD session for some teachers at my school this past week, and once they saw it (it looks like Facebook), many of them decided to either switch from Moodle or just start using it for their LMS.

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