Bangkok protests – 1 year on. How to use Moodle in a crisis?

Bangkok Protests - Red shirts on Sukhumvit road

[pulledquote]Today marks the first anniversary of the crackdown by the Thai army on the so-called ‘Red shirts’ who had besieged the city centre of Bangkok for over a month. The 19th May 2010 will stay engraved in my memory forever for obvious reasons, and less obvious ones.[/pulledquote]

Our school had to close for about a week at the height of conflict as it wasn’t deemed safe for students and staff to travel to and from school. As a teacher and e-learning coordinator, that week was one of the busiest ones for me. What did I learn from it, and what did Moodle help us achieve during that crisis?

Disclaimer: these are my views, not the school management’s/owner’s. I am not speaking for them, just sharing my own account of what happened. This blog is in no way endorsed by my school.

The situation

Tension was high for weeks prior May 19th, the ‘red shirts’ had paralyzed parts of the city for over a month, and this was (is) part of a wider political struggle that started at the end of 2006. The school was therefore on high alert and the community were fearing the school would need to close for a while, after all it wasn’t the first time that the school had to close in the past few years. Mentally, teachers were definitely prepared for such an eventuality.

Moodle, head and shoulders above the rest

If there was ever a time to get ‘technophobes’ on board to use Moodle (or IT in general), last year was the time!

It is important to mention that Moodle was not the only medium used to communicate with students, but it certainly was the one that allowed for the best interaction with students and that provided them with the┬ábest learning experience. Our in-house online ‘Homework’ database was the most widely used system to communicate with students, as we were required to use it, Moodle was optional. I witnessed teachers use e-mail, Skype, personal websites and blogs, as well as Moodle to stay in touch with students during the crisis.

For those using Moodle, it was almost ‘business as usual’. Teachers were able to carry out their daily duties using Moodle – namely setting and collecting work, returning it with meaningful comments, easily keep track of who were lagging behind, etc.

Although students could not benefit from the face to face interaction they normally get at school, they certainly engaged in useful asynchronous discussions through the use of forums for example. This crisis gave the opportunity for some teachers to try some new collaborative tools, such as wikis. I would be lying if I said that all (even most) teachers tried that, but some tried, and were successful. I would say that most teachers who used Moodle did so using it as a file repository. Even that was great. We have to keep in mind that students were extremely worried, and Moodle really helped them keep on top of things and organise themselves. Yes, email was fine, but I struggle to keep on top of emails, nevermind an 11 year old juggling between as many as 15 subjects and teachers.

Overall, I genuinely believe that using Moodle helped us function as a school, even in time of crisis. Many a teacher came to see me after it was all over to praise Moodle, and their eagerness to use Moodle more often in the future – many did continue. On the other hand, it gave teachers who do not like using Moodle, or do not see the benefits of using it, a reminder that it is there to stay and actually works

How we prepared students prior to the closure

  • Students were reminded to update their contact details on Moodle – especially their email address. We do not provide email addresses for students.
  • Students with no email account received help from tutors.
  • Students were asked to login to Moodle to ensure they remembered their usernames/passwords.
  • Students were also asked to login to all relevant courses, and enrollment keys were provided in case students were not enrolled.

How I prepared teachers

  • Luckily enough, Moodle training is part of our INSET here, so most teachers were Moodle proficient.
  • I reminded teachers where to find the training materials and videos that I produced in case they didn’t remember how to perform a Moodle task.
  • I shared with all teachers a Google Docs with all students’ email addresses. This document was edited by teachers as some students had several email accounts but stored only one on Moodle.
  • I answered countless emails of the ‘How do I upload a file again?’ type…

What I did to ensure Moodle would remain accessible through the crisis

  • Ensured good operation of Moodle (server stress tests, uptime, etc.).
  • Checked Uninterruptible Power Supplies with IT team – there were many power cuts during the unrest.
  • Full Moodle backup on external hard drive – which I took home with me (just in case).
  • Setup LAMP at home (I have a home server) – which did not get used
  • Restore Moodle on home server to check if it was usable – it was, but not great due to lack of bandwidth.
  • Daily Course backups to server and copied to home server – initial seed done with backup on Hard drive. I used Tonido software to achieve that.

What about you?

Obviously, you might never have to manage Moodle in an area where a major crisis occurs (hopefully), but there are many reasons why a school might need to close: snow days, natural disaster, etc. As they say “better safe than sorry”…

Has your school been forced to close in the past? How did you manage it? Please share your thoughts using the comments section below.

3 comments

  1. Our problems were not nearly as difficult as yours – 10 snow/ice days scattered over about 2 months which repeatedly interrupted school. I am the only teacher in my school to use Moodle – and students continued to work there with no interruption. The discussion forums had more activity than usual, but not all students participated in them. Our school uses Edline for class web pages, so many teachers posted work to be done there. Our interruptions were of the 1-2 day variety, not the scary time that you had.

    The teachers developed our response as the weather continued. The key to our success was letting parents know (via email which we can do through Edline) that 1) we were posting assignments, 2) that the students were expected to do them, and 3) to please email us with questions. Parent response was very positive, and students came in complaining that their parents wouldn’t let them go outside until they finished the work.

    One kid tried the “my internet was down” excuse for not doing the work, but that evaporated when a quick email to mom determined that there were no service interruptions. Loss of power/internet is a major concern here because most students live in rural areas or small towns that are the last to get their power/service back.

    Your planning was exemplary. I’m using your experiences to do some planning of my own for next year. Thanks!

  2. Hi Fran,

    thanks for sharing your experience with school closure. We had a similar response from students – most of them told us afterwards that they actually worked a lot more/harder than when they are normally at school. I guess it is a combination of parents monitoring their kids closer (most of them were off work as well), and teachers providing more work than usual. I personally found it rather difficult to gauge how much students could go through during that period.

    Cheers,
    Fred

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