By: Maria Paula Triviño
We spoke with Francesc Busquets, Online Services Coordinator and the person in charge of the Agora-Moodle project in the Catalonia Education Department, the body responsible for education policies in the non-university sphere in this autonomous community.
How does Departament d’Ensenyament de la Generalitat (DEGC) work?
The Catalonia Education Law grants public focuses a certain amount of freedom in managing resources and also in determining and implementing their education project. DEGC is organized in the form of eight general divisions, nine territorial services, and the Barcelona Education Consortium, which is a joint Generalitat and Barcelona City Hall venture that administers education centers in the city. It is important to remember that Catalonia is a diverse community with a high percentage of the population concentrated in urban areas as well as a significant number of rural schools throughout the territory.
What IT services does DEGC offer education centers?
The XTEC portals, which offer education professionals information, documentation and resources, should be mentioned, as should edu365.cat, where there are thousands of digital education resources aimed specifically at students and families.
There is also the free JClic tool, which is used by hundreds of teachers in different countries to create interactive activities that can then be shared under Creative Commons licenses.
Meanwhile, the Alexandria platform is aimed at sharing Moodle courses, SCORM materials, and PDI (Pizarra Digital Interactiva) applications created by teachers.
Another project is Linkat GNU/Linux, which offers complete free software solutions that are structured in various application profiles. We also have the XTEC-Blocs platform, with over 40,000 education blogs and, especially, the Agora service.
What is the Agora platform, what is it used for, and what has the student response to it been?
Agora allows education centers in the country to activate and administer two types of services. On the one hand, there is the Agora-Nodes web portal, which is aimed at the center’s internal and external communications and has news publication functionalities, information pages, intranet, social media, agenda and communication with mobile devices. It is also based on the WordPress and BuddyPress free software packages, and is currently used by over 1,000 education centers.
The other big service is Agora-Moodle, which allows each education center to activate its own Moodle space with extensive administration capabilities: user creation, course management, categories, roles, etc. Meanwhile, the center can forget about server maintenance, software updates, making backups and other technical tasks, as these are done by a team of expert professionals. Agora also offers a complete Moodle environment with a wide range of plugins, training materials and advisory services, and an active support forum. It currently has around 1,300 Moodle spaces with about 350,000 active teacher and student users.
What projects are you currently working on with Moodle?
For the next course in 2016, we expect to have a pilot program up and running for planning, evaluating and following up on basic Compulsory Secondary Education skills, using the new functionalities in this field offered by Moodle 3.1. The goal of the project is for the students themselves to be aware of the skills they need to acquire during this stage and to be able to progressively produce their own map showing elements consolidated, points under construction and aspects they need to start working on.
Another interesting aspect is that thanks to the Marsupial communication protocol (initially designed as an evolution of SCORM for remote content that has been used successfully since 2011 and is currently being redesigned in order to integrate it with standards like Tin Can API – xAPI – or LTI), publishers can connect their digital products to Moodle and other education platforms, thereby making it easier for students to access content and to gather in one place the results of the exercises they have done on those different platforms.
At some education centers in Catalonia, online digital materials have replaced textbooks, either wholly or in part.
How does Universitat Oberta de Catlunya function?
UOC is a secondary education center that bases a large part of its work on online interaction between students and teachers. It currently offers Secondary Education Graduate studies, various high school diplomas (in humanities, sciences and arts), numerous professional training cycles and English courses to prepare students for Official Language School exams.
UOC has a teaching staff who are specialized in online tutoring and training and who perform their duties on a large Moodle installation that currently has over 30,000 active users.
Catalonia is a great example of how digital media is an extremely important part of the education project. In fact, UOC was the first wholly online university in the world, and today it has around 53,000 students from numerous countries. At the same time, all universities in Catalonia have their own virtual campuses where they offer graduate and master’s programs, together with various specialization courses, either as blended learning or fully online programs.
*Francesc Busquets, Head of Telematics Services and the person in charge of the Agora-Moodle project in the Catalonia Education Department.
*Main photo by: 123rf, second photo by: AFP Pau Barrena