Was MoodleMoot Japan 2017 worth it?

Let’s face a few facts; the distance between Sydney and Tokyo is substantial. It’s 7800 km and change. It’s about 9 and a half hours by plane. It’s winter in Tokyo when it’s summer in Sydney. And, probably the largest gulf is the language and culture between the cities is completely foreign. Traveling to Tochigi, Japan – just north of Tokyo on the Shinkansen (or the bullet train, if you’re like me and too timid to even give the pronunciation a go) for a weekend conference might not have been the wisest thing for me to do, in some people’s opinion. Of course, these people are all wrong because Moodle Moot Japan 2017 was awesome.

Utsunomiya from the station
Utsunomiya isn’t a large city. But it’s still pretty big and crazy.
Let me run down why you should go to Tokyo for next year’s Moot.

First, it’s the organisation. The Moodle Association of Japan is the body behind the moots in Japan. This is a little unusual, most of the moots I attend are either organised by a partner or by Moodle HQ themselves. The Moodle Association of Japan is kind of a unique thing. It’s a not-for-profit organisation in Japan trying to build and support the Moodle community here. Association members can apply for R&D grants, and MAJ runs their own Moodle HUB and encourage members to upload courses to be shared. That’s a pretty cool thing when you think about it, and while we have the Moodle Users Association, I have to admit, I am jealous there isn’t a Moodle Association of Australia.

Secondly, there were some terrific presentations at this Moot. There were some great uses of the LTI tool demonstrated that has given me some wonderful ideas for some of the work I do with Pukunui clients, some imaginative ways to gamify courses (and even the MAJ HUB itself), and I got to see a little bit more about some of the plugins being developed here in Japan, like Poodll. And Martin was here in person to deliver two keynotes and chat with Japanese moodlers. It was also good to come and speak about IoT and competencies and CBE. I felt like I was introducing some of my audience to new topics and I received some great feedback too. It’s always great to feel like your peers value your expertise.

Snow in the trees!
It snowed early Sunday morning! This taken during my walk from Jichiidai station to the conference.
Third, it’s the people who come to their moots. The association is roughly half native Japanese speakers and half expats. Most of the English speakers who attend are in higher ed (university level) and they’re teaching English to Japanese students. So, at first I thought I had no connection to these people; I teach web and database. I teach in the VET sector. And I don’t even teach any more. (This is a little bit of a lie, I’m actually working for SWSi TAFE on a few projects).

But the people here are very knowledgeable about Moodle. They are plugin developers. They are translators. They are community builders. They are doing some of the most amazing things with Moodle I’ve seen, especially in the field of language teaching.

And I have to say, I deliberately didn’t say “the association is divided into these two groups” because it is not divided at all. This is not two cliques. I think I was maybe one of two people there who couldn’t speak Japanese. I won’t even say there is respect for each community because this is one community. This is a bilingual conference and it is fantastic to see. In fact some of the most fun conversations were when I got out of my comfort zone and spoke to the Japanese delegates and asked them how they moodle.

And from a personal perspective, as an expat in Australia, it’s awesome to hang out with other expats. There seems to be a shared connection; we love our new homes, but there is that challenge of being away from home. And being around some Kiwis, Aussies, Brits, Yankees, and a few other Canucks this weekend was great.

A plate full of gyoza.
Some of that gyoza Utsunomiya is famous for.
Which brings us to the fourth reason this is an awesome Moot – the culture. Japan is amazing. It is crazy, hectic, insane, but also it’s respectful, spiritual, polite. You will find the massive crowds and crazy techno neon lights everywhere, but you will also find interesting cultural sites, and very helpful people. You will be challenged, but you will enjoy it. The Moot was held in Tochigi, and everyone stayed in Utsunomiya, the capital of the Tochigi. Utsunomiya is famous for gyoza, a food I had never eaten and probably wouldn’t be keen to try. And yet, last night I was hanging out, eating some wonderful gyoza, drinking some sake, talking to friends about Moodle and edutech.

Finally, the last thing that makes me know this trip was worthwhile? Let’s talk about cost… conferences are expensive. It’s the elephant in the room, right? It costs a lot to run a conference, so please don’t think I’m saying all these conferences in Australia and New Zealand are ripping us off. But it does add up quickly to attend. Surely adding airfare to Japan would tip the scales.

The building on campus where Moodle Moot Japan was held.
Moodle Moot Japan 2017 was held at Jichi Medical University in Shimotsuke.
Well, airfare to Japan isn’t cheap, but it’s not crazy either if you shop around. It’s maybe double, but less than triple the cost to fly to New Zealand or even Perth. So, yes, the cost of flying is more. But the MAJ runs the Moot from their home universities during periods when the rooms are free anyway. The venue cost is very small. The conference dinner is fun, but modest, and the Moot itself is ¥10,000. That’s about $100. Airfare + registration for MootJP is comparable to airfare + registration for many conferences around Australia & New Zealand.

Of course, the problem is you won’t want to leave this beautiful country.

What a wonderful trip it has been, and such great presentations. I’ll see you back in Australia!

I have also written about Moodle Moot Japan on the Pukunui blog.


Kenneth “Scott” Huntley is an Instructional Designer, LMS and WordPress consultant, EdTech conference junkie and all-around general tech nerd.

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