The Moodle Podcast

Steve Watt on Empowering Education with Low-Tech, High Inclusion E-Learning using MoodleBox

December 15, 2023 Moodle Podcast Season 1 Episode 17
Steve Watt on Empowering Education with Low-Tech, High Inclusion E-Learning using MoodleBox
The Moodle Podcast
More Info
The Moodle Podcast
Steve Watt on Empowering Education with Low-Tech, High Inclusion E-Learning using MoodleBox
Dec 15, 2023 Season 1 Episode 17
Moodle Podcast

As Inclusiv Education says: "Education has a profound impact on people’s lives but not everyone can access it." 

Steve Watt from Inclusiv Education joins Lauren Foss Goodman from MoodleHQ in this conversation around a use case for MoodleBox and Raspberry Pi, and how it is possible to bring eLearning to those with limited access to infrastructure and resources.

Find out how Inclusiv Education used  Moodle and MoodleBox to teach children and empower educators in a refugee camp in Kenya.

Through this conversation, you can learn more about Inclusiv Education's mission to empower the world's most marginalized learners and educators by building their capacity through education technology. Their innovative solutions, such as this eLearning system using MoodleBox and Raspberry Pi, are making education accessible, regardless of circumstances.

Learn the highlights, challenges, and lessons learned along the way. 

Visit the Inclusiv Education website.

MoodleBox is an open source project, founded and run by Nicolas Martignoni. Support the project or learn more here.

Lauren Foss Goodman is a Learning Designer at Moodle US.

Learn more about Edutab on their website.

Visit Moodle at

Show Notes Transcript

As Inclusiv Education says: "Education has a profound impact on people’s lives but not everyone can access it." 

Steve Watt from Inclusiv Education joins Lauren Foss Goodman from MoodleHQ in this conversation around a use case for MoodleBox and Raspberry Pi, and how it is possible to bring eLearning to those with limited access to infrastructure and resources.

Find out how Inclusiv Education used  Moodle and MoodleBox to teach children and empower educators in a refugee camp in Kenya.

Through this conversation, you can learn more about Inclusiv Education's mission to empower the world's most marginalized learners and educators by building their capacity through education technology. Their innovative solutions, such as this eLearning system using MoodleBox and Raspberry Pi, are making education accessible, regardless of circumstances.

Learn the highlights, challenges, and lessons learned along the way. 

Visit the Inclusiv Education website.

MoodleBox is an open source project, founded and run by Nicolas Martignoni. Support the project or learn more here.

Lauren Foss Goodman is a Learning Designer at Moodle US.

Learn more about Edutab on their website.

Visit Moodle at

Hello everyone. My name is Lauren Goodman and I am a learning designer with Moodle. I'll be your host for today's episode of the Moodle podcast.  I'm thrilled to be with you all today and to welcome our guest Steve Watt from Inclusiv Education.  Steve is one of my clients, and it's been an honor to partner with him and with Inclusiv Education as they use Moodle to fulfill their mission of bridging the digital divide to realize everyone's right to education and create lasting change for communities around the world. 

Today, we are talking about low-technology, high inclusion e-learning. And the way that Moodle can be utilized globally to facilitate high-quality online learning experiences in offline and under-resourced contexts.  To get us started, Steve, would you please tell us about yourself and about inclusiv education? 

Sure thing. Hi Lauren, hi everyone. It's really great to be here. Um, and I'm coming to you from the  Adelaide Hills, home of the Peramangk people, and I'd just like to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land that I'm on, and their elders past, present, and emerging. 

I would describe myself as a lifelong learner. The fact that I'm on a farm perplexes my dad. As a kid, I was into music and arts and reading.  I don't think I owned a power drill until I was 37, and I now know how to drive a tractor. I look after alpacas and sheep. I can do rural fencing, and amongst other things, I've also co-founded an international edtech business working in international development.

So I am just constantly learning things. I'm a project kind of person, and I live on the farm here with my wife, Susie. And we have three kids that are way too much like their mum and dad for their own good.  Shall I talk about inclusiv education? Yes, please. Lauren nodded for those at home.  Um, so we're really passionate about the right to learn anywhere.

And, and so when we think about our vision, we're really thinking about the lives of the world's most marginalised. And we want to see those learners transform using education technology to increase access to quality learning. And this all started out in some conversations with a fantastic INGO called Save the Children.

They're the world's largest child facing INGO. And as we got to talking, and this was, you know, sometime after I finished working in I'll say some traditional edtech corporate settings. It became really obvious that there just weren't enough teachers, there weren't enough schools globally, and there was really, I thought, an underutilization of e learning practices and tools that I'd become familiar with.

So we really took it upon ourselves to try and partner with Save the Children, initially, and just see what we can do about driving access to education and training in the world's most difficult educational and training context.  That was probably six or seven years ago now. Great. Thanks so much, Stephen.

Because the listeners Like to know what version of Moodle did you start with?  I had to look this up.  So I believe in 2004 We were working with Moodle version 1. 4 and at that time working at NetSpot, a Moodle partner I reckon I was doing everything from a little bit of project management a little bit of sales I was definitely doing level one helpdesk and password resets and  Uh, and that kind of thing, and I, I can remember going to, uh, some of the Moodle Moots in Australia, at least, that at the time were held in primary schools, and  Sitting at the kiddie desks  in sessions, uh, learning along with everybody else. 

Awesome. So, long time Moodler.  Okay. Uh, our topic for today has to do with facilitating online learning in offline environments. For many listeners, this might seem impossible or this might be the first time they've even heard of this idea. So, could you start by explaining generally what this means for folks who might be hearing about it for the first time?

What does it mean online learning in offline environments?  Yeah, glad to. You know, I have a suspicion that if you're listening to this podcast, you may already have an interest in this area. So, you may have some, some sense of what we're going to get into. But really, we need to think about digital infrastructure versus traditional infrastructure and the way we do e learning.

So for a lot of us who've worked, I'll say, in high income countries like Canada or the US, the UK or Australia, we make a whole bunch of assumptions that if we're thinking about e learning, we assume that learners will have access to internet. We assume that they might have access to a smart device or a computer. 

We assume they'll be in a place that's got electricity.  When we're working in an international development context, I quickly learned. We can't make any of those assumptions as e learning practitioners.  Um, and so.  Then we ask ourselves the questions, well, can we still do flexible delivery? Can we still do electronic or digital based learning?

Even if one of those elements is missing.  For example, internet. If there is not reliable access to internet, but there is access to, for example, smartphones or devices, and some electricity, or maybe solar, we've got some, but not all of the ingredients necessary for, I'd say, traditional e learning.  So  now we've got to sort of fill in some of those infrastructure gaps.

So with our internet, we're, we're looking at how to make e learning work  offline.  That's kind of the best way I could describe it, thinking about infrastructure.  Yeah, and I, I think you're explaining this, but just to ask really directly, why is this important? Why is offline education necessary?  Yeah, so indirectly, you know, I was talking about, you know, may not have access to.

The reality is when we look at the world's learning population, actually we have hundreds of millions of children who have no access to school at the moment for a variety of reasons. And then we have,  you know, a very large, uh, student  and learning community that is learning in contexts that don't have. 

Um, necessarily a school or a building or don't necessarily have access to internet. Paint a picture for you. I'm imagining, you know, one of the many classrooms I've visited in the western province of Papua New Guinea.  Uh, some of the better classrooms would have a steel roof and would be a simple building like a, you know, small rectangular room with what I would call Besser bricks, like cement.

Block  and maybe still bars where there should be windows. Um, the floor would probably be made of dirt.  There may be Some desks and chairs and that would be a sign I think of a community that values Communication  and there would probably be a blackboard on the wall  There probably wouldn't be electricity.

The school probably wouldn't have a library. There probably wouldn't be textbooks. There may be chalk,  but that would be the kind of context. And similarly in, you know, a number of rural settings, at least in Africa that I've visited, you'd find a lot of schools that are set up like that. One thing that we do know though, around the world is parents want to see their children educated.

They want their children to have a better lives than they had. So you often find that there is. You know, a lot of motivation and incentives from parents and communities to see opportunities for education extended in their communities. So,  we gotta, we gotta figure out how we can expand access to education and training in those contexts.

And, and that's one of the reasons why offline is one of the tools that we need in our kit to scale up education and training. How'd I do?  Great, great. That's okay.  So, without getting too technical, How does this work? How does online learning and offline environments work? Could you explain what Moodlebox is?

And, you know, how does one run Moodle without access to the internet? For those that don't know me, you know, my history in Moodle has very much been around growing businesses, marketing, sales, strategy, so it's not going to be too hard for me to not be technical, Lauren. But essentially what we're, what we're talking about is An open source project called Moodlebox that has made some adjustments such that the Moodle LMS can run on a little computer called a Raspberry Pi. 

And the little computer can  draw very small amounts of power. In fact, we've run them off battery power banks. Uh, the little computer can also broadcast its own local. Wi Fi network or a local area network.  Even if we're working in a place that has no electricity and even no internet, learners can connect to that box and that becomes their internet. 

And the only thing  in that internet universe is going to be the Moodle instance.  I appreciate that. As a fellow non technical person, I followed that completely, so thank you for that. We're basically, we're basically bringing the internet to them. Yeah, and, and, and Moodle is the entire internet universe.

So, could you give us an example of a project you've worked on that brought these various components of online learning in? Offline environments together everything that we've been talking about here. Yeah, and it's it's a it's a project that we're so proud to have been involved with we partnered with Sesame Street and also save the children in Kenya  and To paint a picture of you we worked in a setting in a refugee camp  Where there are displaced communities, lots and lots of children, and no physical classrooms, but there were very large tents, like marquees. 

Class sizes  averaged around sort of 70 to 80 children, one teacher.  And Uh, not enough internet to support everyone. So the approach that we piloted with Sesame Street was to revoice a lot of the Sesame Street content.  Um, and then make that available through the learning, uh, Moodle learning platform on the Raspberry Pi Moodlebox devices.

So as. As a core part of that was training the teachers and volunteers who work in that refugee camp to learn how to connect their tablet to the box, open Moodle and load up these videos. And the way we did it was actually  Pretty, pretty clever, I reckon. Because if anyone's used the Moodle mobile app, you will know that it can tolerate times without internet. 

So actually the way we, we had it working was that a child bring their smart device, a tablet, um, that had been supplied,  approach the Raspberry Pi box,  Open up the Moodle mobile app,  connect to the box, hit the Moodle server, load up the course, load up the content,  and then take that device away, and the video and content would persist in the app and engage with it.

So the devices were shared around among students. Then, you know, next day might come back and sync some new content, some different content and work with a different set of videos. And that worked really well.  You know, as a learning designer, I'm sort of obligated to ask this question, which is, you know, tips and strategies around designing courses in Moodle that can be used in these various contexts.

Do you have anything there? Yeah, there are, there are definitely a few approaches that we took that are worth pulling out. The first thing I think I would speak to, though,  Is the concept co design. We're working, you know, outside my culture and our culture and it, you know, it's really incredibly important, I think, that teaching and training that happens reflects the voice of teachers and trainers.

One of the awesome things about Moodle is that you can show people, uh, how to create their own content and teach with their own voice.  Um, so in this case, we involved local stakeholders in the revoicing of the content and the co design of the materials. And so that was an important first step. I guess what we brought then was the technology and some of the know how as, as scaffolding.

So in the way that we thought about creating the content, we did need to respond to  Uh, the learning content, which in this case, Lauren, was reasonably informal and we were  providing resources that were about social and emotional well being and then some basic STEM, basic literacy, basic numeracy, but these were resources to supplement the face to face teaching that was happening.

So not much structure required from a course development point of view. What we needed to think very carefully about was.  Because there's a direct correlation between  how heavy, in terms of megabytes, the Moodle sites are, and how many learners currently connect to a Moodle box.  You have a capacity constraint. 

Um, so we needed to strike a balance there around the length of videos. Long enough to have some meaningful learning experiences, but not too long that it would take so much time to sync or download them that it would impact negatively the learning experience. The length of media was one, the size and compression of the media, uh, would have been, would have been another,  you know, our experience is the technology and the content  can be absolutely brilliant and fantastic  and all worth nothing. 

If  people don't know how to use it.  And so actually the biggest instructional design  lesson we learned, uh, was to really focus on capacity building, particularly of the teachers and volunteers, and ongoing mentoring and support to be able to use the tools.  Yeah, absolutely. And I know that in the work that I've done with you and inclusiv education, that's something that I know is so valued and that I really appreciate in the work that you do that focus on capacity building, empowering teachers.

Parents, learners, you know, everyone to be involved in that experience and, and localizing for the local context. So I, and I should disclose, you know, I didn't get to visit the project. I would've loved to, but we partnered with a Kenyan  owned and run business called Ed uab, and I was actually talking to Patrick and Maxwell and Mike last evening.

on teams. They were in Nairobi. And so they, they were also an important element. I guess I'm just ad libbing here for you, just adding another dimension. They, so they did get on a plane and they did attend the refugee camp and they provided that mentoring and coaching and technical support. Some of the photos that they shared with me, you know, just so excited to see children actively learning  and Um, having access to really good quality materials because you contrast that with a learning context where there's no library, there's no books,  um, and now they've got access to this rich, rich media, um, and I'm looking at a photo now, and what I'm seeing is a Kenyan teacher standing in the front of the classroom facilitating, and I'm also seeing Muslim girls, uh, learning on one side of the classroom and boys on the other, and I'm seeing girls with tablets and devices in their hands.

And that's just so exciting to me that we've provided, you know, the tools and the infrastructure necessary that these children can get access to, you know, to learning like any other child,  um, around the world, in this case, not like any other child. The, you know, the challenges and barriers to, to learning we're really significant to overcome.

But I just, you know, I, I, I love that. Ultimately, Moodle and the Moodle community and everything that I've learned since that Moodle, what was it, version 1. 4 has become an enabler and  the impact of that Moodle community is now, you know, continuing to grow and proliferate and now there are people in Kenya that have that experience  teaching and learning with Moodle and, you know, you just never know where that, that opportunity to become literate in using e learning and using Moodle, you know, where that might end.

Yeah, that's one of the things. I'm smiling as I'm talking. This work is so hard.  Uh, it's very humbling. There's always setbacks and challenges, but when you get to actually see some really positive outcomes, it's super exciting. And being able to, Bring Moodle in an offline context was the, you know, the key to unlocking this learning experience for these, these children.

Absolutely. And, you know, I think just from the learning design perspective, the, the one piece I'll, I'll add for those who might be interested in this topic or exploring on their own is to really lean into the core Moodle tools and features, which can be used. both online in the LMS and then also offline in the Moodle mobile app.

I think that's, you know, the, the mobile app has evolved so much over the years and increasing access and increasing usability in offline environments is a real priority there. And so, you know, just encourage anyone interested in this to do their own testing and to really understand how this works. Uh, cause it's, you know, just so useful for, for all learners really to have that.

ability to continue to learn, no matter the context, given the importance of measuring impact and effectiveness in international development work. What about data and reporting? When Moodle is being used offline, how does that work?  It doesn't. And you know, here's where the rubber hits the road, you know, you know, we can be inspired and excited.

And then the project asks, okay, who's using the tools? And can we see the, can we see the data?  Super challenging.  So this is where inclusiv education has a role in innovating. And part of it is our partnership with, with Moodle where we saw, we saw a need and so we built, we built a plugin, actually a cluster of plugins  that allow us to remotely pull and synchronize from the remote Moodle boxes when there's internet to a parent site, and then pull data from that parent site. 

In this, in this case, in this project, that was only partially successful, partly because the tablets were being shared around  and there were decisions made on the ground not to require login.  So. You can immediately see, you know, if you're familiar with, with Moodle that, well, yeah, we can tell you how many times the videos have been viewed and how many times course pages loaded and that kind of thing.

But we obviously couldn't talk about individual learners. And that was a trade off, uh, a decision made early in the project. Try and make access smoother and remove some barriers. And also, I guess, in response to the literacy levels of the, the learners that we were catering for. So, there's more work to do there, but it's, I think , it's really important that we find the space to innovate,  even in international development, and, and recognizing that children Uh, often invulnerable context, but in this case, yeah.

So we, we learned some lessons, uh, and it's clearer to us now. And I think next time, you know, when we're designing a project, we talk more about, you know, the trade off often in international development projects, you do a monitoring and evaluation plan upfront. It's really important to include technology stakeholders in that planning.

So that we can support  with technology advice on what's possible, but also that's going to come with some gotchas  in this case, we can't pull data if we don't have people logging in at an individual level. Yeah. So that, that was a challenge.  So that sounds like a big lesson learned any other lessons you've learned along the way?

Yeah. So the, the big one was having on the ground support was really great. And I'm speaking as an Australian person supporting a project in Kenya. So having the guys from edutab local and knowing that we could support them to work with trainers and teachers that made a big impact. And I think that's really consistent with the Moodle philosophy where a community ultimately, and, and, you know, you'd really like to think that the work that we do. 

Is supportive of local ownership and local skill development. And so that was really important having on the ground support. Another was  working within the boundaries.  Of the devices.  We'd hope that the Raspberry Pi's might support 30 to 50 learners currently hitting the box, but we're working with video  and there are some other factors that meant really, it was only practical to have five concurrent users. 

And so we had to get creative. From an instructional point of view, and that's why we had children coming, syncing their device, and then leaving, and then someone else coming to the box and syncing their device, taking turns.  And that's practical, and that was fine. We were able to work within the budget constraints and the time constraints.

But it was an educational design response that was needed there, so.  That's okay. Be prepared to work within  the boundaries and limitations of infrastructure that you've got access to. And if necessary, get creative and never underestimate the ingenuity of local people to figure out a way and make things work.

Optimizing the content for Raspberry Pi. We've talked about that and designing for standalone deployments of each bot  was tricky as well. So we had more than one box deployed and we knew that we wouldn't have remote access to refresh.  Those boxes. So we had to be thoughtful about the design we did up front, uh, cause there were no do-overs as you would say in the U S  so that was, yeah, that meant the shift to design upfront was, was really important and, uh, it was important to co-design.

with people that knew the context and knew the challenges that we would have.  Absolutely. Thank you. So, what's next in this field? What do you see on the horizon for you and for inclusiv education?  Yeah, it's such a complex question for me because I, like I used to, I used to love these questions working in higher ed in Australia and New Zealand and we'd talk about the changing workforce and the changing patterns of Learners and, and informal learners and part time learners, but,  uh, when you layer on international development,  um, and there's a whole new set of variables there, it gets super complicated, but there are three things that I can speak to, uh, that are happening.

One is we will, we will continue to work with European-based Moodle partners, and there's one in particular that we have a collaboration. With to beef up the capability of the offline boxes and to see how we can scale them up. We're both looking at beefing up the Raspberry Pi boxes, but we're also looking at alternative deployment models and exploring that. 

Secondly, uh, we've been working on extensions to Moodle, which provide for more digital inclusion. And we'll be launching those next year.  Things like making, uh, Moodle facilitated learning available where a learner doesn't have a smartphone or a computer, which sounds impossible, but we've integrated the Twilio messaging service, for example,  to provide teachers with just a different way to interact with children and give them more tools in their toolkit.

There are a bunch of other things that we've been working on. And Lauren, you've been working with us to configure Moodle in ways that make it work better in low-tech contexts and better with people who don't have a lot of experience with digital or with course development and packaging in more opportunities for them to learn as they go in the context of the site.

So we're, we're regularly using our platform for projects in international development, uh, next year we'll be. Increasingly offering a more productized digital inclusion version of, of Moodle. And then finally,  no answer would be complete this year without talking about artificial intelligence.  And it's a super, super interesting cocktail.

I, so I've been, I've been working in tech startups and ed tech. Since just before the turn of the millennium and what we're seeing now with AI,  I feel like is as big as the dot com boom and possibly going to be bigger and more transformational.  What we're super excited about is it coming yet another tool that will allow learning institutions and instructors and teachers in very low resource context  to leapfrog  traditional. 

infrastructure and skills that's needed to get educational learning outcomes. So in this case, we're super interested in AI assisted digital content, authoring tools, because  it will.  empower  local teachers and instructors to teach in their own voice and become less reliant, honestly, on companies like inclusiv education and, and other, I guess, Western organizations.

So we really want to see, see the potential realized for AI to be an enabler, um, and to, to drive more access to quality education and training. So we're actively evaluating tools. We're looking at partnerships. We're looking at how this can work.  In Moodle, the other piece that we're looking at, though, is representing the needs of international development stakeholders, uh, somewhere around data privacy, um, and the integrity of information, knowing that we're working with vulnerable people, you know, it's really important to know where that information is going. 

Um, and secondly, the idea of cultural bias becomes super important when you're working with some AI tools that may have been trained on data sets coming out of North America, but we're working in an African context and people want to know, if  we ask this tool to create a learning object for me, is it going to reflect my culture? 

And so the data sets become really important, so this is another area I think inclusiv education will want to take some stake in and make a contribution. To see how we can support the use of AI, but with local content and local data. Super interesting. There's never enough time or resources. Uh, but these are the, yeah, these are the things that we're, we're working on. 

Great. Well, thank you, Steve. I've really appreciated this conversation as I do all the work that you do at Inclusiv Education to increase high quality learning experiences around the world. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. For those who would like to learn more about you and about inclusiv education, please tell everyone where they can find you. 

We have a URL. Now, we spell inclusiv without an E at the end, uh, so that's the, that's the challenge. We want to make it as difficult as possible, obviously, for people to find us, right?  So we are inclusiveducation. com, but you need to drop the E at the end of Inclusive and you'll find us. Uh, we're also active on, on LinkedIn.

Um, I'm on Skype, but yeah, the best way, best way is to, to hit our website.  Great. All right. Well, thank you so much, Steve. It was a pleasure talking with you. Thanks, Lauren, and you too.