Moodle

Moodle is an open-source learning management system. Several Universities appear to have their own variants of Moodle, versions build off of the codebase that Moodle offers. Cambridge is no different. We’ve got our own Moodle, a virtual learning environment that allows us to enrol in courses and see all the material for our courses on a single database, in conjunction with Panopto.

I first heard of Moodle when I secured a place at UCL after Grade 12. UCL had us log-in to Moodle to communicate with the University, to inform them about impending arrival dates and everything. At the time, the technology didn’t particularly strike me. I only had access to the inbox side of things, and I was amused at how much the word sounded like Noodle, which for the most part just left me feeling hungry.

Late last evening, we received an e-mail indicating to us that Moodle was now open for us to log-in to, to enrol for our courses as students who wish to participate in the evaluation of the course, or auditors. I was too committed to a Pictionary night when I got the notification, so like most others who joined in for the game, I put off navigating Moodle for today. So I arose this morning knowing I’d discover something new.

Being in self-isolation naturally means that the feeling of being in Cambridge hits you slower. Moodle sped that up about two weeks. You log-in and see a smattering of repetitions and reiterations that you’re at Cambridge, and you can see details about all the courses on offer and the ones you’re studying, which for me – really grounded my brain in about the amount of academic work this degree is going to be. I’m certain all postgraduate degrees are the same way: a lot of rigorous, critical thinking, but boy did it hit me earlier than I anticipated it would. For a moment I was worried that perhaps I rode my luck a little too much during my undergraduate course but seeing reading lists and listening to Professors offer reassurances that prior knowledge is not assumed was rather helpful. In the least it will mean I can tackle the readings to gain foundational knowledge on which my term can build.

It made things very real, and for most of the rest of my day, I navigated Moodle to look at all of the material it stores and the range of ways it enables faculty to interact with us.

In the evening though, I had a puzzling thought. I wondered whether an attempt to create a Moodle would be ridiculed back in India. I look back at less-visually appealing attempts my own University administration made and all the various intranets we had, and I cannot recall being as awed by it. I’m fairly certain that unless forced to, we would not have used it at all. So why am I so thrilled when a University abroad creates an intranet portal that stores information?

My conclusion is this. I never properly utilized the intranet during my undergrad. If I had actually explored it’s full potential, I would perhaps have been equally taken aback. I know the library system at University shocked me when I realized everything was catalogued on our intranet and I could figure out if a book was available without walking till the library.

I missed that opportunity earlier, so tomorrow I shall wake up and navigate through more of Moodle and understand how it continues to survive open-source.

Dear Cambridge

Dear Cambridge,

At the time of writing, I have described your weather to everybody as British Test Match weather. When I was younger, I used to spend days watching India’s tours of England. I’d watch the day’s play and then watch the highlights. I’d pretty much be glued to the television till my grandmother came home and insisted I do something else. That passion continued through as I grew older. Since I started following the sport, there is not one season of English test cricket I have missed till date. Every match, I hear commentators say the same thing late in the day. Lots of cloud cover, the sun shining through in the batsman’s eyes. Ball swinging, difficult session. That’s precisely how you look today, and how you have looked for each of the five days I have now spent here.

Cambridge, you will be the fourth place I call home. Thus far I have resided in Dubai, Bengaluru, and Gandhinagar, falling in love with each for different reasons. I’m curious to fall in love with you, to find out why I fall in love with you. I’m curious to understand your character – what you enjoy, and what frustrates you. I’m eager to find out your story, your stories, each and every one of them. The folklore that birthed you, the myths that continue to help you survive, and the reality that draws people like me to you from far and wide.

You represent a closed loop in my life, Cambridge. It feels surreal being here despite the fact that I am sitting in self-isolation, because for years, I have seen your logo on my certificates as I completed my IGCSE’s and A Levels. I have seen your logo across International schools in the cities I’ve visited. I have repeatedly watched CamVlogs, and Jake Wright’s Vlogs on YouTube, and have heard stories from seniors about breathing your air and experiencing your grandeur.

I cannot wait to earn your trust and be your companion.

I hope you feel the same way.

Love,

Tejas

On Education

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to pick up my phone and call my high school Principal. My parents have been asking me to do this for years, but it felt appropriate on that day, given that I had closed off one part of my learning journey, and was taking my next steps. I’ve maintained a good relationship with most faculty who have taught me or interacted with me, so it didn’t feel awkward picking up the phone and calling her.

I’m so glad I did.

You see, about two years ago, my mother met my high school Principal on a flight to Dubai, and they spent a day together. Something I appreciate tremendously about my parents is that they’ve never forgotten that my teachers are human beings who have lives outside of teaching classes. My HKG teacher actually came home to visit the day I graduated from preschool and got me a cake and everything. While hearing these stories may seem out of place to others, for me, interacting with my teachers outside of school, while maintaining a respectful distance, has been the norm. I remember the day my parents spent with my Principal vividly. They called me up that evening and told me how fortunate I was to have been led and mentored by someone like Ma’am.

It was the first time in five years I was speaking to her, but the warmth in her voice felt like it had never left. Once I introduced myself, I could see Ma’am smiling, and was instantly taken back to meetings we had with her when I was on Student Council, where most feedback she had to give us was always encouraging and offered with a patient smile. At one point she said, “I didn’t think I made an impact on you kids because I never taught you”. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

At my school, as with most schools, the Principal represented a bridge between the administrative day-to-day and the teaching day-to-day. Ma’am made an impact on us because she chose to do so. This was true of most Management staff at our school – their doors were only closed when they were in meetings, and if you had something you really wanted to take up with them, you were free to do so. The first time my mother interacted with her was in Grade 8 when she requested I be allowed to take 9 subjects for the board examinations instead of the usual 8. Ma’am agreed, with the caveat that the extra subject would be difficult to timetable, so the school would provide support as best as they could, but I would have to self-study a fair amount. Ma’am was a part of the decision-making board that awarded me School Captaincy, reposing faith in my ability to lead. She was a part of this dressing-down we got given as a French class when we failed to study for a vocabulary test in Grade 9, but a part of this motivational brigade that allowed 3 of us to study the subject further in Grades 11 and 12.

Someone like that leaves an impression on you instantly. She told me how she continued to teach even today, and all of the outreach and support she offered to younger schools without access. As someone interested in engaging with academics, I always wondered whether it was a life-long journey, whether that passion would carry you through forever. Ma’am’s own admission says it does.

After catching her up on what now seems like the trivial details in my life, our conversation moved onto other pastures. I was able to ask her about her philosophy toward education. Her reply came instantly, backed with the most heartwarming story of somebody she taught who returned home to his village in Nepal as an ayurvedic doctor – that teaching, and education, has to be child-centric. Given that I plan to work with the Law, I’ve always wondered how this is possible at higher education. How is it that you can make a mark on somebody who comes to learn from you pre-moulded? Her advice is something I’ll keep with me for a long time: learn their stories.

I look back at my own University years now, fresh from completing them, and all good faculty learned our stories. Each of us developed a rapport with the faculty that sought out information about us – and tried to encourage our individual potentials. I aspire to do that one day.

Similarly, though, she reminded me of how crucial it was that I engage in improving access. I instantly thought of one of my batchmates who has practised this for the past five years. As part of Community Outreach programs at school, I taught English and Math at a Government School, but only when provided the opportunity from school. Ever so often, I’d see posts on social media from this batchmate of mine about his experience teaching at a school close to our campus, and how rewarding that was. It was only in our final year that I was able to ask him a little bit about it – and learn a little bit more about how he put it into practice so early on in his life. His reply is in my memory: education is a goal that’s bigger than ourselves.

My roommate has told me something consistently since our first year. All of this education stuff, all of these degrees, they’re all things we’re getting for ourselves, but in a way, society is entrusting us with this knowledge in the hope that we can improve society in some way.

For the past two days I’ve been stirring my own thoughts about education – led by memories of this batchmate, my roommate, and my high school Principal. That’s what led to this post – I thought it was a worthy place to come back to if I ever had doubts about teaching and lost sight of the idealism I possess today. I know I want to join the academy – I want to read, research and learn continuously. I’d like to teach courses that leave students as enthralled by my favourite subjects as I am. My outlook to education, and to learning, at this point, is that, humans are born learners. It’s why we smile, for example, when we learn how to walk as babies, or pick up new skills when we’re children. It brings us joy. Somewhere in our lives, something makes us forget that. As a teacher, I’d like to try reminding people of that joy.

Most of my teachers did that for me. They crafted this atmosphere in which I loved learning. So much of what I want to do is derivative of how I was taught things – at school, at University.

But I want to engage with school students as well, if I teach at the University level. I’d like to work on improving access to education – which isn’t something I can do in theory if I’m just at Universities, there’s such a high barrier to access. I think I want to volunteer in schools more, and help in whatever way I can. Right now, I’m teaching a module on Constitutional Law and Civics to high schoolers at my alma mater, but that’s just a trial run. I’d like to expand that and teach it in my regional language, Kannada, to as many schools possible.

I only hope people don’t sleep in my class because they’re bored. If they’re tired, perhaps.