Review of Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

I have just finished reading Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques by Susan  Smith Nash with William Rice and published by Packt as one of their Moodle book series. I confess to having a sentimental attachment to this book as its original version was both the first book on Moodle I ever read (and I never thought I would end up writing one myself!) and the first book I reviewed in my first  blog post on this blog. The book has been updated for Moodle 1.9 – you  might wish to read my original review first.  I had initially planned to deal with it as a brand new book and review it as such – but certain aspects prevented that, as I will outline later on.

Susan Smith Nash is an expert in online course development  -indeed, she is the e-learning queen -  and what I liked about her update was the way she blended her ideas and suggestions both theoretical and practical with William Rice’s original “solutions”. This is not a book for beginners in Moodle, although it does give some step by step instructions. What it does that makes it different from many software books is that it gives a pedagogical background to what is done in Moodle: you aren’t just making forums or choices because they are there – you get explanations as to why and how they will help your students develop their skills or knowledge and examples of Best Practice.

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques follows a very methodical structure, starting  the reader off with  the fairly simple forum  and leaving him empowered at the end having gained an understanding of the Lesson module and Workshop module, two of the most (I think) challenging modules to set up. On the way we investigate chat, quizzes, choice, wikis and glossaries , learning ways to use them where are students are “in charge” and we are the facilitators. (One slight point of issue by the way – I am not sure you can use  the “single simple discussion” forum type with separate groups in the way suggested here as a method of students and teachers having their own private communication area; I don’t think this works?) Likewise, there seems to be an assumption that the reader has an admin role rather than a regular teacher role – the reader is shown how to override student permissions for example to prevent them starting new forum threads but this is not normally available to a teacher unless admin allows it – a possible source of confusion?

Susan Smith Nash has added an extra chapter to the original, building on William’s solutions for the workshop module where she offers ideas for using it as a portfolio/gallery where students can showcase work, collaborate and comment on each others’ items all within a positive and encouraging environment. Susan has also elaborated more on the detailed instructions for setting up Lessons and workshops, which I think readers will appreciate as they are so complex. Indeed, the workshop in 1.9 is actually not recommended for use – although I use it! – as it has been totally revamped and simplifed ready for Moodle 2.0. Many people will still be using Moodle 1.9 for a long time yet and so this will be helpful to them.

Different versions of Moodle (and indeed books) is something I will come back to now. I mentioned at the start I had planned to deal with this book entirely separately from its original version, published in 2007 but am unable to. Much of this book is the same as my first copy back then -which is fine as the activities and pedagogy still apply – but I was puzzled a few times by the screenshots which didn’t tie in with my own Moodle – until I realised that the gradebook used in this book is actually a Moodle 1.8 gradebook and not the current one. This is disappointing, as using the gradebook is such a vital part of Moodle and it has undergone a number of enhancements during Moodle 1.9 which simply aren’t reflected in the screenshots of this book.  Readers not used to the gradebook might be confused by this.

Overall then – and with the above mentioned caveats – this is a” teaching solutions” book, a book to spark off inspiration, rather than  a how to Moodle book – and if you are competent with Moodle and lacking in ideas – perhaps this is a book for you!

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