5 Must-Use Features of Moodle Every Online Teacher Should Know
I have been taking Moodle training courses since the fall of 2009, co-facilitating and presenting in Moodle courses and conferences since 2010. For the last three years, I have both helped move a small online school from PBWorks to Moodle as well as started teaching courses on my own Moodle installation with my live classes presented on the WizIQ social media teaching platform. On this journey, I have gained deep appreciation of Martin Dougiamas, his team at Moodle.org and the army of volunteer developers who have created a wealth of customizable features to their wonderful constructivist course management system. Their collaborative work has made Moodle, by far and away, one of the most flexible, creative and easy-to-use teaching and learning systems out there.
A romp through the Plug-In Directory on Moodle.org always cements this notion for me. The list of great standard and add-on features is always growing. In this blog, I’m going to talk about the “must-have” three activities that I rely on in my teaching, and some features I am sure will join my “must-have” list in my next course.
The Activity called “Book” is described on Moodle.org as a “simple, multipage resource module.” But it’s one of those tools that can be used in a wide variety of different ways. In the last two adult education courses I team-taught online with my husband and primary colleague, Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado, I set up the Course Materials repositories for both courses using the Book activity. The book had a title page that described what was going to be available across the course, reiterating deadlines and other important information for the students. Then individual “Chapters” were set up, one page for each week, the top half of which listed required materials and the bottom half suggested materials. Each half page was loaded up with links to free online books and articles as well as to videos and websites that provided more information. Easy to navigate, I am planning to use the Book in other ways in future courses: as a handbook of academic policies, a repository of submitted assignments, an encyclopedia of biographies, research programs, theories or skills, for example.
A new activity module called Journal seems to have similar potential to the Book, but is editable by students. One of the suggested uses for the Journal activity is to use it as a student repository of reflections, that can be written and rewritten, or started and then added to over the duration of the course. Using both will greatly enhance my future courses, it seems to me.
The Glossary is another standard activity that has been available in Moodle for a long time. The Glossary allows the teacher to set up a resource that can pull together dictionary entries, or other types of specific materials for the students’ use, as a course-wide glossary or a course-specific tool. Entries can be made by students or teachers, accompanied by a comments page or not, and organized in a simple alphabetical scheme or by categories. Entries can carry the name of the author and date on which the entry was uploaded and can be interlinked.
This simple activity can be made creatively complex by an artful use of settings and options. For example, I have heard of glossaries set up so that each student can upload art work in completion of an assignment, or collect poetry or other writing samples either of their own or representing the work of favorite authors. Language teachers have used glossaries as a way for students to nominate their favorite phrases in the language they are learning, and include the phrase in a sentence to show their understanding of it. I know of one teacher of clinical psychology at the graduate school level who had a glossary set up in her course so that students could write entries about important techniques they might use when they set up their therapeutic practices. There is also a glossary plug-in called “Export to Quiz” that allows teachers to export glossary entries to short answer, multiple choice and matching question types, thus expanding the ways in which knowledge of a glossary’s content might be tested.
I confess it took me a while to love the Quiz, but now that I have used it in two courses as a combined teaching and assessment tool, I’ve begun to think the description of the Quiz activity on the Moodle.org site borders on extreme modesty. It is described merely as an activity that allows for a variety of types of questions, and provides for a question bank that can be built for single courses or for the course site itself. But the Quiz has so much functionality, and is so much of a flash point for continual updating, upgrading and expanding, that it could be described as the most important tool in the activity list.
The list of question types is always growing: they range from simple definitions to short essays to equation-based or complex matching question formats. Among the most recent expansion plug-ins for quiz types is Poodll, an audio/visual question type that allows students to respond to audio or video, or make audio or video responses of their own, or draw responses on the Poodll’s whiteboard. Drag and drop matching allows teachers to set up simple fill-in-the-blanks questions with a list of potential answers that a student can then drag and drop to the blank. The Correct Writing question type allows a teacher with a way to have students produce a text and the feedback feature provides specific corrections to spelling, word use and/or grammatical style. These three additions to the Quiz are the tip of the iceberg. There are question types that fulfill the needs of virtually anything a teacher might need to test, from mathematics to the sciences, from music to art, and more.
Even more useful, the Quiz activity also allows teachers to use settings and options to change the Quiz from a mere assessment to a teaching tool. For example, I prefer to set up a quiz that allows students three attempts, provides detailed feedback on both correct and incorrect answer choices, sometimes incorporating new concepts and information in the feedback. I also include hints for which course materials to review when a student gets it wrong. What happens is that my students tend to use the first attempt to review the scope of information needed to complete the quiz successfully, the second attempt to zero in on concepts or terms that are still problematic for them, and the third to put to good use what they’ve learned as they’ve worked through the quiz items and review materials. By setting it up this way, the Quiz becomes an active learning activity rather than a rote assessment.
The Poodll Repository
Speaking of Poodll, if you need a repository of student work in your Moodle course, the Poodll Repository provides you with a variety of really useful widgets. This is a feature that I’ve only just learned about and can’t wait to try. The developer, Jason Hunt, seems to have language learning in mind but in reality I can see how I can use the widgets for teaching psychology. I’m sure many of my colleagues who teach other subjects at other levels can also come up with some very creative ways to use this plug-in. It requires installation of the Poodll filter, but the pay-offs are very clear video and audio recorders and players, and all those nifty widgets, such as a stopwatch, a counter, a full whiteboard, a snapshot repository, and flashcards. Not only can these widgets add a sense of fun to a course of any level, they can also be used in discussion forums and assignments as well as anywhere else on the course site where the html coding block is available.
Certificates, Badges and Medals
There are a host of other core features in Moodle that most teachers will build their courses around—discussion forums, assignments, the label with its ultimate flexibility as a topic divider, a box in which to insert notices, messages, encouragement, videos or other materials that move the students across the course. There are schedulers, calendars, and a learning objectives box that can float along the course page as the student works through the materials. But in addition to these other features, Moodlers are also spoiled for choice when it comes to giving their learners that extra bit of recognition for their efforts.
For Moodle versions 2.4 and up, teachers can download and install the “Certificate” plug-in that, when customized, can be automatically awarded to a student when the course has been successfully completed. The Certificate is an attractive document that a student can print out and frame if the course represents a milestone in their training. For Moodle 2.5 and up, teachers can also create Mozilla Open Badge compatible badges to reward students for within-course or site-wide activities. Another option for student completion rewards is found in the GSB Benchmarking plug-in, that, once installed, allows the teacher to bestow Gold, Silver and Bronze medals for specific activity or course completion.
Some Final Comments
There are more customizations available of course, from reporting options to course formats and themes, not to mention administration and database updates and add-ons. But the features of Moodle I have outlined here are some of my current favorites and soon-to-be-favorites, if the list of ideas I’ve got for their use is any indication of how well they will serve me.
I recommend heartily joining us on the Moodle journey. Try the basics, and as you gain more experience teaching, start branching out, modifying settings, installing new plug-ins, and building up a course design and management style of your own. It’s all possible with Moodle!