Simpson College: Utilizing Moodle™ to Adapt to COVID-19 Changes

Learning plans at universities across the globe were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. The disruption led to many schools placing even heavier reliance on their learning management systems (LMS) to support their transition to online learning. Open LMS saw a number of clients implement unique solutions in order to support their students and keep them learning throughout the pandemic, with some clients going above and beyond in how they used their institution’s online learning platform to improve student and institution success despite the derailment of traditional learning.

One of the institutions that found new, innovative ways to use their LMS to support their faculty and students through COVID-19 was Simpson College, which used Moodle™ to help it stay adaptable and successful in the face of the pandemic.

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Equipped for Unknowns

Simpson College is a long-time Moodle™ institution, transitioning from a self-hosted site to one hosted and managed by eThink Education (now part of Open LMS) several years ago. Simpson College invested a large amount of time and thought into its Moodle™ site and, with Open LMS’s help, it was able to set itself up for success long before the pandemic reached the US. One of the primary ways Simpson’s Moodle™ site was set up for success was through the incorporation of a variety of plugins that helped the institution maximize its LMS.

Simpson’s Moodle™ site includes integrations with Zoom for video conferencing, Intelliboard for analytics, Grammarly for grammar and plagiarism detection, Panopto to support videos, and Smartthinking for online tutoring. All of these integrations and additional resources to help faculty and students with these tools are available through quick-access links on the Moodle™ site.

Simpson also utilizes Course Blocks, available within the Moodle™ Fordson theme, to provide easy-to-access links to outside resources, support for Moodle™ information, and training for different online tools. By working with Open LMS to design an interoperable, multifaceted Moodle™ site, Simpson College had a strong foundation for dealing with the unknowns that would come along with the spread of COVID-19.

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Training and Adaptation During the Transition to Online Learning

Faculty Resources

When COVID-19 started causing questions at Simpson College about the potential safety impacts it could have on students and staff, Manda Gibson, Simpson College’s LMS Admin and Instructional Designer, jumped into action to build upon the faculty resources to prepare for a possible online transition. Prior to any final decisions being made about course format, Gibson recruited faculty and staff with Moodle™ knowledge to become part of an academic software support peer mentor team and started building a database of additional Moodle™ resources.

When the formal decision was made to transition to online learning, 238 courses taught and designed by 90 full-time and 50 part-time faculty members had to be moved online. Gibson utilized the expertise of the academic software support peer mentor team to host a number of Zoom and social distanced face-to-face support hours to help faculty transition their courses online.

Additionally, Moodle™ crash-course sessions were set up with each individual department to ensure all faculty were up to speed. Gibson also created a “Moodle™ Resources for Faculty” course that included both basic and advanced Moodle™ tips and tricks for faculty that also spent substantial time in the LMS.

Maximizing existing integrations

Open LMS helped Simpson utilize the plugins and integrations it already had on its Moodle™ site to continue to support students online. Simpson used Panopto to support its new influx of recorded lectures and video resources, and Zoom for holding synchronous courses. Additionally, Simpson expanded the use of Smartthinking online tutoring, which had just been used for limited online courses in the past, to provide resources to all its students.

It also adapted its use of Intelliboard reporting and data integration to track learning progress of all students and provide additional data to advisors so they could initiate retention efforts for students if needed.

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Utilizing Moodle™ in New Ways

Simpson College realized there was far more that Moodle™ could do than just support its online courses—it could also help the college conduct some of the daily activities that occur outside the classroom. By using the Choice activity in Moodle™, faculty members could conduct their regular faculty voting during meetings. This new voting solution not only met its needs, but faculty soon found it was an even better solution than traditional in-person voting because votes were automatically counted and recorded for future consultation.

Improving site efficiency and helping to retain jobs

During a time of heavy layoffs at many organizations, Simpson College enlisted the help of employees that were not previously involved directly with conducting courses to improve the online learning experience for learners and instructors. Gibson put together a captioning team of staff members who lacked a full eight-hour-a-day workload to help instructors caption their lessons to make online lectures accessible. Captioning takes a large amount of time, so enlisting the help of a captioning team benefitted staff by providing them with necessary workload and allowed faculty to focus on creating effective courses and lectures.

Gibson also organized a team of academic assistants from multiple departments to help her assist faculty with the building of Moodle™ question banks to streamline the assessment creation process for faculty.

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Getting in an Online Learning Rhythm With Moodle™

Continuous Faculty Education in Online Learning

Simpson College used the summer to prepare its faculty for the possibility of continued online education in the fall. Since the summer of 2018, Simpson College has offered an eight-week Simpson College Faculty Academy (SOFA) each year that allows faculty members to learn how to create better online learning experiences for their students by stepping into the role of a student themselves.

The course regularly attracts 10 to 15 participants, but this year’s course included 50 faculty members in three simultaneous cohorts. The course covers:

  • Learning objectives
  • Assessments & course alignment
  • Building the community
  • Basic Moodle™ content
  • Video content
  • Interactive content
  • Feedback & Moodle™ gradebook
  • Open SUNY Cote Quality Review

Gibson provided faculty with additional information on modality format decisions and how to plan courses in the face of continued unknowns. This included course map templates, a detailed outline of the potential plans based on the state of the pandemic as the fall semester began, and a Moodle™ sandbox that provided a blank slate for faculty to explore and test out innovative ways to use Moodle™.

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Moving Summer Activities Online With Moodle™

As with many colleges, Simpson College usually supports a plethora of activities on its campus during the summer. With the inability to host in-person activities in the summer of 2020, Simpson turned to Moodle™ to support its summer programs. Simpson College transformed its Upward Bound program, which is usually held in person, into a Moodle™ Cloud mini class that included weekly activities with tutors/mentors. The Moodle™ course proved so successful that Simpson is considering continuing to use it as a supplement to the in-person course in the years to come.

Simpson also conducted its SOAR (Simpson Orientation, Advising, and Registration) Program using Moodle™. This program, which helps familiarize incoming students with what they need to know before beginning their career at Simpson, was transformed into a 1-day synchronous session in June combined with a Moodle™ course filled with all the information students need, including:

  • Academic technology tutorials and information
  • Details on security, parking, and the student handbook
  • Quizzes on important information
  • Career development resources
  • Counseling
  • And more

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Preparing for continued success in Fall 2020 and beyond

Simpson College has continued to invest in the transformation of its Moodle™ platform so it can maximize the potential of its learning technology investment. Simpson integrated several new tools into its Moodle™ site including PoodLL and H5P to add more detailed and interactive elements into online courses.

Additionally, Simpson kept up its momentum from the spring and has organized new question bank and captioning teams run by academic assistants, graduate assistants, and work study students to continue to support faculty in creating effective and accessible online courses. Simpson College also implemented a new COVID-19 symptom tracing component for all its community members on the Moodle™ site for the fall. On all community members’ Moodle™ sites, there’s a daily Moodle™ check-in course that is used to record temperatures and symptoms. The course, which occurs on each weekday, also provides participants with resources on what they should do if they report certain symptoms. This course is integrated with other systems at Simpson, so nurses and HR team members are alerted when necessary.

The course also provides an alert to the necessary parties when students do not fill out the course, so that Simpson can proactively reach out to check in on students who have not submitted answers. Simpson College has taken full advantage of the open and flexible nature of Moodle™ and, with the help of Open LMS, has designed a truly unique Moodle™ platform that supports initiatives across the school and will continue to support their needs through the pandemic and beyond.

Watch Claire Kruse, Director of Support at eThink Education, and Manda Gibson, LMS Admin & Instructional Designer at Simpson College, present on Simpson College’s COVID-19 response in a recording of their presentation from the 2020 Mountain Moot.

Note: A version of this case study originally appeared on the eThink Education blog. eThink is now part of Open LMS and some details of the case study have been updated accordingly.

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Jeremy Schweitzer
About the author

Jeremy Schweitzer

Product Manager at Open LMS

Senior leader in education technology with a proven track record of supporting enterprise clients. My team develops and implements learning solutions that support organizations’ strategic goals. As a former systems administrator and instructional designer, my technical knowledge and people skills drive a systems approach when I conduct needs assessments and design solutions. My focus is building sustainable options for my clients that are adaptive to evolving needs and challenges. In my current role with Open LMS, I work with three learning management systems building solutions for clients in higher ed, non-profit, government, and corporate sectors.

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