Top Ten Things to Try in Moodle

“You’ve got 25 minutes to show them Moodle…”

Although I left my school, Our Lady’s Preston, 2 years ago, I still volunteer there from time to time and help out with their Moodle stuff. Last week, I met with the 8 new teachers who will be starting in September (two of whom I actually taught; that’s what happens when you do 3 decades  in one place.) They had an ‘Induction Day’, where they were zapped with all the protocol and procedures of the school so they’d be prepared for the first day back. My brief? Introduce them to Moodle – in 25 minutes.

On the understanding they’d get some hands-on training in the new term, I decided to make this more of a motivational, aspirational session, showing them Moodle’s potential, in the hope they might want to experiment.  Of course, you have to have a handout! Mine included a link to Learn Moodle, our August MOOC , a great place for teachers to start,  and a link to Mount Orange, our School demo site with example courses and data.  It being the week before the launch of MoodleCloud ,my lips were frustratingly sealed about the possibility of trying stuff out on their own free site, but if you’re reading this and you want to try Moodle, head over to MoodleCloud and get yourself signed up.

I began with two points I consider quite pertinent based on my experiences with Moodling teachers in UK secondary schools:

1. Yes, Moodle is the school’s VLE/LMS and yes, it is used in other schools in our area and in the country too – but actually – it’s not just something teachers use in schools – it is global, used by millions in every country, by huge corporates, NGOs and top universities.  When I threw in a few logos, they were surprised. If all these famous entities and more use Moodle, it must have something going for it beyond Mr Brown using it to store his Word document worksheets. Perhaps it’s worth thinking outside the box school.

2. Yes, there is an increasing number of cool sites, programs and apps you can use with your students. (Like many schools, Our Lady’s issues each teacher with an iPad. They started this the week I left :( ) Ipads are very popular, and several of my ex-colleagues are straying from Moodle into app-land – but using stuff that, actually, we can already do in Moodle. I suggested the teachers check out Moodle before creating  accounts for themselves and their class on some new place in cyberspace.

These days it’s all about Lists. “The Top 100 Comedy Sketches of 2014″; the “Top Twenty Tanning Sprays”; “The Top Five Fat-free Foods” … and so on. I’ve even been doing some lists myself for So I gave them …

The Top Ten Things to Try with Moodle

… but in reverse order, starting with the coolest. I hoped it might make them think a little about their own practice, particularly when the one area  many people remain stuck on is actually at the botom of the charts.  So here goes:

1. Peer (and Self Assessment)

You’ve just been practising the past tense in French. Each pupil writes a paragraph “What I did last weekend”. You make a note on the board about what to check -verb endings, gender etc – and the pupils swap exercise books and feedback on each others’ work. Very popular classroom activity. Well you can set it as a homework in Moodle – using the Workshop activity – giving them a chance to try an example assessment and self-assess too if you wish.

2. Collaborative learning

Each table in your classroom has a great big sheet of paper or a flip chart and students work together to add information to it. Use Moodle’s Wiki or Glossary – or use Moodle as a placeholder for Padlet, Google Docs or Office 365 where they can write collaboratively.

3. Reflection and debate

As teachers, we evaluate our lessons, look for ways to improve. Our learners should be doing the same. Moodle’s Feedback, Choice and Blog options allow for self-reflection, focused or wider-ranging, and Forums can spark off discussions on the topics you’re currently studying.

4. Independent/Personalised learning

Moodle’s not just for practice; it’s for teaching. The Lesson activity gives branching options allowing learners to select their own path, and Conditional Activities let you direct your class to different content according to previous performance.

5. Assessment

While many LMS have a quiz option, Moodle’s Quiz is not to be confused with a 10-question-multiple-choice- Get -the answers -at- the- end- and- that’s- it-Pub-Quiz.

Its many standard and contributed question types, behaviours and feedback options mean it can be a formative as well as a summative tool. You can teach through a Quiz, not just test.

6. Submitting work online

Again, worth mentioning that while those other sites, apps or VLE-lites that teachers may have encountered do allow pupils to send in work to be graded,  none offers the variety of Moodle’s Assignment  in both submission and feedback options.  Additionally, Our Lady’s  is a PoodLL school:pupils can speak or perform their homework and teachers can record their responses.

7. Progress tracking and Rewards

Two “quick fixes” for motivation here: enabling Activity completion checkboxes  means your class (and you) have a clearer view of where they are up to. And awarding cool-looking Badges to 15 year old disengaged Johnny when he finally gets over 45% in your Quizzes might just be the turning point he needs.

8. Multimedia

Moodle makes it very easy for people who don’t want to fiddle with code to embed video and audio. YouTube videos display in a label or a page; you can even set the start time.

(At this point, I happened to mention that we seemed to be moving from getting the students actively involved to having them passively watch a video or listen to a podcast. I had an agenda…)

9. Online text books

Perhaps this is unfairly in 9th place,  but I was duty bound to include it as the school has invested in these commercial SCORM packages manufactured by text book authoring companies.  The MFL ones offer listening activites which may be done for homework for example. Another department couldn’t afford a text book for each child, and so buying the VLE package was a sensible solution.  However, in essence they are simply the online version of “turn to page 43 and do exercise 2a and 2b”

10. Share  Powerpoints and weblinks

So we get to number 10 (number 100 in some people’s book) Time to make the point that – of course – having a space to store and share your wonderful slideshows and the worksheets your learners dropped in the gutter on the way home IS a useful feature, but it will hardly tap into their higher order thinking skills, or even stretch your own teaching techniques.


In the last five minutes, we made the connection between Moodle and Bloom’s (which many have made before.)

Lo and Behold -the higher the number in our Top Ten, the higher up in Bloom’s. Our Peer assessment, Reflection, Collaboration – slot neatly into the Analyse, Evaluate, Create, while  the Videos and Powerpoint sharing are down in the Remember, and (with luck) Understand. The learners are going down from actively engaging in their learning to passively taking it in.

So the message in the 25th minute was: if you really want Moodle to help enhance your teaching and their learning, make Dr Bloom happy and aim for the Top :)

Mootieuk15 – Moodlefairy goes to Dublin (again!)

Dublin again! Happy memories of the 2012 and 2013 Moodlemoots in this fair city (which, in fact, I liked so much I am returning to next week with my son for a mini-break). Magnificently organised once more by  Gavin Henrick supported by Dublin City University and the National Institute for Digital Learning, this year’s Moot trod new ground in that it had an HQ input courtesy of our Research Director Michael De Raadt. The idea was that, before  the regular two day conference with keynotes and presentations (short ones –  I like short presentations!) there would be Working groups where interested parties could discuss  improvements they would like made to core Moodle – and the day after the conference, the usual developer “hackfest” would prioritise making those improvements happen.

So- on Monday 11th May, I joined the “Dashboard” working group ably chaired by (the now bearded) Mark Glynn, while in the room next to us, discussions were being had over how to simplify the many forms admins and teachers have to complete during user, course and activity creation. I found my working group a very valuable experience because those present were happy to share their own organisations’ dashboard (“My home”) customisations, and for someone who has only ever seen Moodle’s default, I learned a lot, and we came up with a number of good suggestions.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the two days of presentations were possibly some of the best I had ever seen. I think one reason for this could well be the judicious choice of keynotes (Dr Bart Rienties of the OU on Learning Analytics and our very own Dr Michael De Raadt on Personalised Learning and Moodle. Oh and there was also @moodler himself, Martin Dougiamas who included in his presentation information about the new Moodle Association. A meeting was held later about this too. A second reason for the quality of presentations might be the fact that they had to be 15 minutes long -no time for waffling! I found this very refreshing. I was also impressed to note how few presenters just “read their bullet points” and how many had useful screenshots and key points to elaborate on. Pecha Kuchas were certainly a popular choice despite their scary nature – Petrify- Kuchas as Eamon Costello dubbed them. I enjoyed them all, especially the ones where you laugh and learn.. No doubting they are an excellent way of getting across your message concisely. I did a Pecha Kucha on the new improved Lesson activity – slideshare here:

along with a 15 minute presentation on What We are Learning from Learn Moodle, the HQ-run MOOC Teaching with Moodle: An Introduction. We’ll be starting up again on August 9th so if you know any beginners, please tell them to sign up.

Photo from Twitter courtesy of Dr Jane Holland

Rather than listing all the presentations I saw or regretting the ones I couldn’t see because I was in the other stream, I will simply mention a couple of things which according to  tweeters and attendees were the Moot highlights:

  • great stuff being done to make Moodle attractive and (dare I say it) less “Moodley” looking. One in particular is the stunning United for Wildlife site.
  • DCU’s purpose built Relative grades feature – something discussed in our Dashboard working group and presented during the main conference too. I can see this being extremely useful in all stages of education, to teacher, student or both.

Photo from Twitter courtesy of Jessica Gramp

In terms of extra-curricular highlights – the endless pastries with morning and afternoon coffee, free Irish chocolates, Jelly Beans and the superb Gala Dinner at the Crowne Plaza hotel all made for an excellent atmosphere in which to network, talk Moodle and generally add extra inches to the waistline. I appreciated the chance to meet up with HQ people I don’t often see – as well as  Martin, Michael and Business Analyst Danny Bonta, there was Plugins Liaison Manager David Mudrak (pictured below in front of a top class infographic ;) ) and Integrator Dan Poltawski who actually only lives 20 minutes away from me but whom I think I haven’t met in person since 2011. David and Dan both gave interesting presentations on plugins and continuous integration respectively, valuable insights into the workings of Moodle HQ.

Photo from Twitter courtesy of David Mudrak and taken by Tim Hunt

It was also good to meet up with other Moodle people whom I only see at Moots, and to make new friends. If we spent some time chatting, you know who you are, and it was great to talk to you :)

I left a lunchtime on Thursday, mid-way through the hackfest but for the rest of the day I was watching Moodle being literally improved tweet by tweet. Kudos to all, and especial thanks again to Gavin Henrick Mootmeister General, and the kind, capable and extremely clever Karen and Jane :)


Moodlefairy’s Magic Sound Box

I love making screencasts. In fact, whenever anyone in my family has an IT problem, my first move is to make them a screencast and let them work their way through it. I’ve always been conscious of the sound quality of such videos however, but when it was still my hobby, it didn’t really matter. I’d use the built in mike of my laptop and it worked OK. But since I started making screencasts as part of my Moodle work I’ve become much more aware of my sound inadequacies. At first I thought I needed a decent microphone – following the advice of Leon Cych I got one – a Samson Go Mic - and I am very happy with it. However, the sound’s still not right.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to work in a professional recording studio and I asked the tech guy there about my problem. He said basically that you can have the most state of the art 2000 dollar mike, but if the rooom you are in is not suitable, it won’t make any difference. My issue is that (to me) I always sound as if I am in some  cavernous Victorian room with high ceilings. Probably because I am. I’ve tried taking my laptop out to the garden shed, narrating in the illegally low-ceilinged basement box room and even recording with a velvet curtain wrapped around me – but still not satisfactory. Then by chance, a few months ago, Moodle HQ developer Andrew Nicols pointed out a Kickstarter project for a portable sound recording booth and I thought: that’s the Solution! Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest, and this is simple in its conception: it’s just a padded box, thickly covered in material on the outside and with sound proofing padding on the inside. You can either put it on a table or a stand, and use it with your microphone or smartphone.

To be honest, Mr Moodlefairy could quite easily have made one for me but, impatient that I was, I figured that ordering myself one would get it to me sooner… how wrong I was. Delays dogged the construction and delivery process and it eventually arrived from the USA last week,  5 months late, with an unexpected customs delivery charge  and just after I’d finished my latest batch of Moodle screencasts – but I’m not complaining! The sound is better than I currently have, and it’s so simple to operate. I just put it on the big table in my workroom, put my microphone in it  and off I go.   And when I’ve finished, I just put it away out of sight until next time. And the best thing is – we no longer need to move house to get me better sound quality :) :)



Looking for Arthur? He’s teaching languages on Moodle..

Just before Easter I went to Edinburgh for a mini-break with my son and amongst our many enjoyable outings we ascended Arthur’s Seat, thought by some to be the site of Camelot, the legendary castle and court of King Arthur.

It reminded me, with my #mfltwitterati hat on (Guardian article here) of a great webquest on Moodle that I’d heard about which was designed and developed to make the teaching of English in France more exciting….

The webquest is hosted on a Moodle site called Looking for Arthur and is aimed at pupils in 5e and 6e (11-12 years old) The classess sign up and are presented with, at regular intervals, several “énigmes” which they must undertake, earning points and competing against each other as they go along. At one stage, 180 classes were working through the puzzles, learning about King Arthur and improving their English as they played. The final culminates each year in an exciting day out in the spirit of Arthurian legends (see the 2014 winners here) The webquest even won a prize for its innovative approach to language learning.

Set inside Moodle, the puzzles don’t only use Moodle but also external activities such as Content Generator games, videos and Hotpotatoes exercises, all designed to motivate the pupils whilst also teaching them English and Arthur :) Unfortunately for privacy reasons (there are hundreds of pupils on there!) we can’t look inside the Moodle site, but its creator Mélanie Auriel  English teacher with the Conseil Général du Morbihanhas kindly sent screenshots of some of the activities. So for example here is a vocabulary exercise learning about rebellions against Arthur:

And here is a video activity: watch the video, listen to the lyrics and then do the crossword:

Mélanie is a frequent presenter of free MFL teacher webinars organised by Jürgen Wagner so I do suggest you check them out and be inspired by her next one :)

The Ten Commandments of the VLE

This morning I went to my old school to talk to a group of trainee teachers about making the most of online spaces for teaching and learning. My old school is now a training school for student teachers, and is the Lead School in the local Catholic Teaching Alliance, a group of schools who provide school-led training through School Direct.

This year’s intake for Secondary trainees delightfully included several former pupils of mine, who’d been my guinea pigs in my early Moodling days. However, I’d gone back to talk in general about teaching online, e-Learning and VLEs – but without the online, the e and the V  since, as many have said before, the internet is now so embedded in our day to day experiences in and out of the classroom that it’s ALL learning, wherever we are, and whatever we’re using. We began by talking about how, as a modern teacher you’d never dream of inflicting on your students a  ”Death by Powerpoint” session – so why should you think it’s OK to do it on your learning platform? It’s not.

Image Zac Martin

They then got together in pairs and discussed what they understood by certain key terms and current “buzz words” they’re likely to meet.  For my part, I was interested to learn that they were aware of “open source software” (gratifyingly from their schoolday ICT lessons) and “Flipped learning” (as they’d had a session on it previously elsewhere), but they were a bit unsure about “MOOCs” and didn’t even know how to pronounce “gamification”, although the concept appealed when they found out more. They made a valiant stab at “App smashing”  and even “Social constructionism”, which I threw in as a teaser for later on.

Following a five minute dash through 20 years of internet-based education, from early LMS incarnations such as WebCT to modern “lite” versions like Edmodo, I then asked them to think about what they might include in whatever online space they might have in their future school. It might not be Moodle; it might be a different learning platform, or they might  even end up going it alone…but what did they think would be useful?

“Putting on past papers and revison materials”, “uploading the worksheets we did in class so they don’t lose them”, “showing them videos” and “linking to  useful websites for our topic” were the (fairly predictable) suggestions from the group. This lent itself beautifully to my explaining the difference in Moodle between resources and activities, the former  being the worthy materials they thought their students would appreciate, and the latter providing  the interaction which could actually develop learning. So we looked at what VLEs and their little siblings typically offer, from discussion tools, to homework tools, to quizzes, all to a greater or lesser extent of complexity. I then  asked them in their pairs to think of examples of how using those tools in their subject might extend the learning done in their shiny new classrooms.  Self-marking quizzes were considered to be a quick way of testing subject knowledge, summative assessment, not much effort needed by the teacher….hmm… so to shake things up a bit, and add some confusion-based hilarity,  we looked at how poorly designed quiz questions can give students an unfair advantage and how to design smarter quiz questions instead.  They had ten  minutes to do that famous “context-free quiz” and justify their responses.

You too can answer this question!!!

Of course, along with designing good questions, you need to have informative and detailed feedback. (In fact you need feedback everywhere, on everything – check out this slide from Martin Dougiamas’ recent keynote speech  ”Give feedback on the feedback” )

slide – Martin Dougiamas (click to see keynote as pdf)

Moodle’s quiz lets you give detailed feedback and more; to misquote insurance companies, “other quizzes are available” – but probably with fewer features. Which led us on to how our teachers of tomorrow planned to use their online space. If the height of their aspiration was  putting on their lesson presentations and worksheets, while that was valuable in itself, it wasn’t going to move the students forward online. If they didn’t want to move them forward online, then fine. But if they hoped to use the power of the internet to draw in  their students, engage them and get them continuing their learning once they leave the classroom, they needed to focus on stuff that gets them (as I call it) “typing and swiping”.  Cue the so-called “Martin’s Five Laws” of Social constructionism and a chance  to explain that the Moodle, at the very least, was purposefully designed to get learners building their learning together.  In their face to face environment, learners are involved in group work, pair work, collaborating on a project, presenting to the class, reflecting on their progress, giving and receiving constructive feedback. So why not also online?

Dutifully at the end of the session, I reminded them they’re training in Catholic schools in a Catholic Teaching Alliance and are hopefully a tiny bit holy… so for their deliberation and well-being we finished by considering the Ten Commandments of the VLE and why it’s in their interests to keep them: