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ISSUE 121 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/21/2008

Moodle keeps tabs

By Karl Olson
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 21, 2008

Professors using the online classroom software Moodle have revealed in recent months that they can track student's academic behavior within each class page. The tracking logs, which record what students have and have not clicked as well as time spent on Moodle, raise questions about student accountability outside the classroom.

"I was outraged that I hadn't heard about it before," Martha Schwehn '08 said, who learned about the tracking logs at the beginning of the semester. "It's just one more way that students can be assessed outside of class."

Schwehn's biology professor mentioned that he has access to the tracking logs at the beginning of the semester and periodically reminds students of this feature. St. Olaf professors have used Moodle since it became available in 2004.

Most students have not heard of the tracking logs until this year, however, and some are still unaware of the extensive professor privileges. Sara Galbraith '11 did not know of the tracking logs until recently, but the feature does not concern her. "It doesn't bother me at all. I don't think it can be used against me," Galbraith said.

But professors can see all of their students' behavior with their privileges. Professors primarily use Moodle to post syllabi, proctor quizzes, continue discussion through the forums and even to save paper because everything is electronic.

While most professors say they use Moodle for these purposes, some acknowledge they have viewed some of the student logs depending on the student's academic situation.

"If a student is doing poorly in class, Moodle will reveal whether or not the student has been doing the things they were supposed to be doing, and we can start there in terms of addressing how they can get caught up and get back on track," said Christine O'Malley, professor of art and art history.

O'Malley believes students expect forms of electronic learning in a technology-driven world. As a result, she uses Moodle frequently and understands the tracking logs will help her diagnose student problems more easily.

"I don't use the function in any 'big brotherish' way, and I have no sinister motives in mind when using it," said O'Malley, who always informs classes of the privilege.

Schwehn recognizes that most professors use the tracking logs in honest ways, but would prefer the feature be turned off. "I'd like to think that [professors] aren't using the tracking feature much," said Schwehn. "But it just bugs me that they snoop around in what I'm doing."

To turn off the tracking logs, Moodle system administrator Dan Beach said he would have to turn off all logs, which have been helpful in the past. When Moodle was in its early stages at St. Olaf, one professor contacted Beach with a question about student honesty.

The student claimed to have turned in an assignment but the professor had not received it. The logs indicated the student had not used Moodle at all. Beach indicated cases like this are rare, but tracking logs are helpful when they arise.

Kyle Chezik '09 found out about Moodle's tracking logs first semester but sees benefits to it. He said knowing about the logs increases participation in class.

"I guess it keeps us honest, but it's frustrating when you have those occasional days when you can't finish your assignment," said Chezik, who is not bothered by the feature enough to recommend turning it off.

Chezik also said the logs are "morally awkward" for both professors and students. The logs do not ensure students read the assignment, he said, but they can fool the professor by clicking the link anyway, which leaves professors wondering if they should use the logs and students questioning if they should fool the professor.

O'Malley understands this loophole in the tracking logs and says she takes it into account when viewing the logs.

"Obviously, a student can just sign on and not read or complete what they are supposed to do, so you have to be careful about how you exactly read the 'viewed' function," O'Malley said.

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