Teaching with Moodle

Teaching with Moodle appears to offer an exciting way of extending the classroom both geographically and metaphorically. Its potential can usefully be explored by examining (some) of what Moodle can do and considering how best to use it to enhance my teaching and the learning experience of my students. This blog will discuss Moodle’s capacities for storing and sharing resources, for enabling communication and collaboration and for evaluating student’s work and providing feedback. I will also consider how Moodle contributes to making education accessible and whether there are downsides to using Moodle as opposed to traditional methods of teaching

Storing and Sharing

The obvious and most frequent use of Moodle is that of resource sharing. Moodle allows the teacher to create and manage content and make it accessible to students in a way that truly reflects the way people access information in the modern world. Teachers can upload, store and share files, class notes, templates, powerpoint presentations, documents, videos, podcasts and links to useful websites. Once uploaded these resources remain available for the student throughout the course. A course Moodle page can effectively form the course syllabus. Gone are the days when teachers needed to follow students around (or vice versa) to ensure they had the information they needed. Course reading can be incorporated into a folder and can also be linked to individual topics or classes in an extremely convenient way for the student.

Needless to say this also represents a considerable environmental saving in terms of paper and photocopying. Resources are available to the student wherever they are and whenever they require them. The fullest use of Moodle means that much of the drudgery can be taken out of record-keeping and teachers have a one-stop-shop to refer students to. An additional advantage is that teachers can ensure that students are using appropriate and approved resources in their learning. A simple role-change facility allows the teacher to view what the students can see on the site.

Moodle Users

There is quite a clear divide among older and younger students in my teaching areas with regard to using technology and specifically Moodle in their learning. The ‘digital natives’ who comprise most of a Sports Psychology class expect that all information will be available to them on Moodle. The disadvantage of this is that they are less inclined to take notes in class and less scrupulous in terms of class attendance. My Child Development students are adult learners whose level of comfort with technology declines in inverse relation to their age. Some of these students have been known to say that they do not like reading online and that they much prefer to have hard copies of class notes and other reading in their possession.

Nevertheless all students, even those wary of technology, get great satisfaction from accomplishing something new in the digital world and learning to use Moodle, even to a limited extent, has been empowering.

Communication and Collaboration.

Moodle enhances communication between teacher and student and also between students themselves. Forums provide a powerful tool that allow students to participate in collaborative endeavors such as group project discussions, to brainstorm, and to post interesting subject matter for the group to consider. This facilitates a move away from didactic teaching and allows students to be active and engaged in their learning. Peer to peer learning is greatly facilitated in this manner and it offers shyer students as well as students for whom English is a second language a chance to participate in ways they might be reluctant to do in class. Cole (2005) suggests that these students are more willing to participate in asynchronous communications as they have time to formulate their replies.

Chat rooms are another very useful facility provided by Moodle although these require simultaneous log-on. Chats may be one-off or scheduled for a specific time every week. They are recorded and the content can be made visible. Child Development students in the Further Education setting in which I teach are required to carry out work experience during which they conduct a series of child observations in preparation for a major course assignment. They can use a forum or a scheduled chat to keep in touch and to ask questions of each other and the teacher. Moodle allows the teacher to determine how the forum should be used and it is possible to enhance or limit participation as necessary.

Depending on the permission levels granted students may be restricted or enabled with regard to the number and content of their posts. The announcements forum is ‘read only’ for students and allows the teacher to keep students informed of course events, dates and changes. Subscription can be forced which ensures that all students are emailed with announcements, but it is also possible to enable voluntary email settings. Another useful forum for both teacher and student is one which answers frequently asked questions concerning course administrative matters and thus reduces the need to continually repeat information. Students can check this forum for example to find out about the requirements for Garda vetting or the format of the exams.

Online and Flipped Classes

Moodle makes it possible to hold classes online and also to engage in flipping the classroom so that students watch video lessons at home and use time with the teacher to engage in other activities such as discussions and problem solving. Online classrooms are an invaluable aid for distance learning and can be effective in encouraging student participation. Both these teaching strategies allow learners to progress at their own pace as recorded classes and online resources can be replayed as often as is necessary for understanding.

Moodle supports communication and collaboration in a variety of other ways. The calendar block, included by default in every Moodle course, allows users to keep track of due dates and scheduled activities as it automatically links to these functions. Moodle wiki enables the creation of collaboratively authored web documents although wikis can also be individual. Permissions are variable so that a wiki can be edited and visible to the teacher, selected students or groups, or to the entire class. A useful purpose for wiki in my teaching areas would be to ask groups of students to compose revision documents on different topics in preparation for examinations. Each wiki would be visible to all groups (and monitored for content by the teacher) but only editable by students assigned to that group. Students can insert images, media and links onto the wiki page.

Moodle also makes it possible for the teacher and student to develop glossaries or dictionaries of terms and embed them in the course. Students can participate in building and amending them which makes this tool a powerful learning activity. While the main glossary is editable only by the teacher secondary glossaries can allow student entries and comments. When the glossary auto-linking facility is enabled entries will be automatically linked where concept words or phrases appear within the course.

A more complex facility within Moodle enables the creation of workshops in which students can submit work for peer review. Students can submit files and or text and these will be assessed by their peers using a multi-criteria assessment form which has been configured by the teacher. Submissions and reviewers may be anonymous. In addition the teacher can offer sample assignments for evaluation in order to allow students to practice critiquing. Students can receive separate grades for both submission and review. This is a facility that might be better suited to post-graduate study rather than the Further Education setting where students may prefer not to see their work assessed in such a public manner (despite the facility for anonymity).

Evaluation

The assessment of learning, both formative and summative, as well as the delivery of feedback are other tasks made easier by Moodle. Quizzes can be customized in numerous ways to assess and reinforce learning at regular intervals or following completion of a topic.

The question bank enables constant updating of questions which can be randomised even if students are taking the quiz at the same time. In addition the number of allowable attempts can be configured and time limits set. In terms of formative assessment allowing students to retake quizzes until they reach a satisfactory level promotes better learning. My younger students in particular appreciate the novelty of an online quiz and are considerably less resistant than is the case with traditional class tests. However, although it is possible to formulate answers that search for key words or phrases, in general Moodle quizzes seem most appropriate for the kinds of questions that require straightforward or simple answers.

Assignment briefs can be displayed on the course page with accompanying information about learning outcomes, assignment objectives and due dates. In addition to the communication of assessment information Moodle allows students to upload assignments in digital form such as essays, spreadsheets, presentations or audio and video clips. Submission deadlines can be controlled as can the number of draft submissions a student is allowed to make. Teachers can check for plagiarism by configuring the submission settings so that assignments are submitted through Turnitin. Feedback can be provided on reviewed assignments or marked up student submissions can be uploaded. A considerable benefit for teachers is that all assignments can be downloaded in a single file and can be saved so that they are accessible for grading when convenient. The teacher’s comments will also be saved on the file in a very straightforward process. Students receive an email notification when work has been graded and can immediately access their feedback instead of waiting for the next class. Additionally any work that has been submitted online, together with activity in forums and wikis is conveniently available for inclusion in a portfolio.

How accessible is Moodle?

The online classes, forums and activities supported by Moodle remove any physical barrier to the learning environment and allow all students with computers to access the classroom. In addition the provision of accessible course materials for students is facilitated as the teacher can ensure that all reading materials are electronic, with text that can be recognised and read using assistive technology such as JAWS. This supports learners with visual impairments or literacy difficulties. When using an image in Moodle a description can be added that enables people using screen readers to know what the images are and Moodle chatrooms also offer the choice of a more accessible interface to the user. In addition an accessibility block can be included on the course page with a tool bar that allows the user to change text size, background colours and fonts as well as convert text to speech. Moodle enables the teacher to allow students to learn (and also submit) their work using a variety of digital forms. This enables students with different learning styles to demonstrate their knowledge without being disadvantaged by the constraints of one particular form such as the traditional essay.

Disadvantages?

Using Moodle in a learning environment requires digital access and a divide does exist whereby some of my students do not have access to computers and the internet at home. It is important to make computer rooms and library computers as available as possible within the school particularly at times designated for online chats and classes. The further divide between digital ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’ can also disadvantage some students. Incorporating the undeniable advantages of using Moodle in my teaching and learning requires that significant attention and effort must be paid to familiarising learners with Moodle. Devoting several classes to learning about Moodle during the introductory period of the course will pay dividends throughout the year. Once these factors are born in mind disadvantages to teaching with Moodle are difficult to come up with. Its possible that a teacher might get carried away with the enormous potential it offers and incorporate features just because they are available. Also Moodle pages, if not carefully and cleanly structured, can appear messy and difficult to navigate.

Having engaged more intensively with Moodle for the purposes of this report then I ever had previously, I have been very impressed with the opportunities it offers to vary and extend my teaching. Moodle adds an interactive element to teaching that enables learners to participate more fully and promotes more independent and self-directed learning.

References

Cole, J. (2005) Using Moodle. Sebastopol, CA. O’Reilly Media Inc.

Hampshire College Teaching Learning and & Technology. 7th Mar 2013. Teaching with Moodle: Conversation with Jenifer Hamilton. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcP5Dvtsg2o

www.moodle.org

www. umass.edu/it/moodle