Students at Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School have broader opportunities to learn and interact in their classes this year with the introduction of the Bring Your Own Computer program and the schoolwide use of Moodle, an online classroom tool.

The St. Joseph's program was developed after two years of research by administrators, who wanted to create a fully digital campus that mirrors what students will encounter at the university level. Students and faculty at the 131-year-old school say the initiative is an exciting change.

"It's going really well," said sophomore Alexandra Oilar. "We're using technology often in our classes, whether it's taking notes on our laptops or going online to work on projects together."

The school renovated its campus completely over the past several years, improving all learning spaces to accommodate new technologies. This year, the school added the requirement that all students bring a laptop, tablet or netbook to school every day.

English teacher Suzanne Edinger incorporates technology into all of her classes. She posts videos of students in her public speaking class on a YouTube channel so they can critique their own performances. She also embeds Google forms for PSAT preparation questions, displaying aggregate data from the class in charts so the students can analyze what questions they're getting wrong and why. And, she uses Moodle vocabulary quizzes to reinforce important base knowledge with students so she can spend important class time on higher-order thinking.

"Online quizzing is the greatest thing that's happened to me in my teaching career," she said. "It allows me to capture authentic data instantly so that I have more time to practice the craft of teaching, rather than be a grading machine. Once I have good questions written and my materials online, I can focus on their brains, not just on the curriculum."

What is Moodle? Is it a thing, a place or an action? At St. Joseph's, it can be all three. Moodle is an online learning management system, similar to Blackboard, and is used on many college campuses. So as a website, it's a thing. Moodle provides each teacher with an online classroom to post class resources for their students, such as assignments, syllabi, and links to online resources. So it's also a place. Teachers can also use their Moodle page to quiz and test students, provide forums for active online discussions and receive immediate feedback from students through polls. In this way, then, Moodle is an action.

Some other specific examples of how St. Joseph's teachers are using Moodle include:

  • English teacher Kristina Zhebel uses her page to post homework descriptions and project rubrics. The students are also working with Google Docs to write and share documents with one another and their teacher.

  • The American Sign Language teachers Laura Vacca and Monique Medeiros are posting video tutorials for their students to see the correct signs.

  • Art teacher Mark Ritter uses a Google presentation to post each day's activities and embeds the presentation into his Moodle page to help students keep track of the course.

    Beyond Moodle, Spanish teacher Julie Johnson is using Google Street View to let her student take virtual tours of Spanish-speaking parts of the world.

    "The kids really get jazzed by it," she said. "More so than a picture or slide show. It makes it real."

    At its heart, Moodle is also an idea. Its purpose is to help students take charge of their education and become more self-directed learners. Now that we have the "Bring Your Own Computer" program, teachers can rely on technology to optimize the classroom time they have with students, to engage students in new ways and to use real-time assessment and discussion to shape their instruction.

    Andy McKee is the educational technology coordinator at St. Joseph's and has been teaching visual and performing arts as well as history, for 15 years at the school. He is an Alameda resident.