Book review: Science Teaching with Moodle 2.0

I have in front of me a copy of Packt’s Science Teaching with Moodle 2.0 by Vinny Stocker (If you’d like a taster of the book, then you can download a free chapter, on monitoring your students’ progress, here)

But first, a disclaimer: Vinny very kindly asked me to write a Foreword to his book, which I was honoured to do. However, I did not expect to have the publishers splash across the front cover that I am a  Moodle trainer and consultant – I am not !!  Trademark rules state that only Moodle partners can call themselves Moodle trainers, so although every week I show people from schools, universities, businesses, charities, etc etc, how best to use Moodle,  I don’t have the privileges to use that term. (So please, Moodle HQ and Moodle partners, don’t blame me for that bit!)

The rest of the book is much more accurate and useful however; so let’s take a look. Kudos to Daniel Grycman, Julian Ridden and Ian Wild who did the technical reviewing, which would have been behyond the skills of an Arts student like myself.

Chapter 1 is a brief intro into basic course management, from uploading files using the new Moodle 2.0 file picker to adding pages (much better than uploading documents if you simply want to present information), from sending out announcements  to organising your students into groups and backing up your courses. So you are ready to go, so to speak, from chapter 1. Vinny approaches the book from the point of view of a teacher, rather than an admin, so certain settings will need to be enabled by your site admin. This approach is beneficial to the reader though, because it means Vinny can concentrate on the actual course creation rather than the technical admin settings.  In chapter 2 he covers the important element of making a course attractive to the user by changing themes (if enabled) and adding images  and video through the tinymce editor.  He mentions Wikimedia as a useful source of images, another Moodle 2.0 repository that admin can enable. Blocks down the side, especially the highly customisable HTML block are  explained too. Incidentally, while this is not a criticism, I feel sometimes that in his desire to keep the book moving at a motivating pace, the author doesn’t always explain settings thoroughly enough for the reader to achieve them if they are following the instructions step by step – searching for and displaying youtube videos, for example, or uploading and unzipping folders. On the other hand, the reader gets to achieve a good standard of “moodling” within the first two chapters, so that can’t be bad!

In Chapter 3, we are walked through forums, chat and messaging, all ways of learning through communicating, while in Chapter 4 we focus on assessment.  Vinny mentions allowing students to rate forum posts (although you would need to give them the relevant permission for this; they don’t have it by default) and how to set up a custom rating scale and then explains the 4 different types of assignment, all with their own individual advantages.  The rest of the chapter is taken up with the Quiz module, which has been significantly enhanced in Moodle 2 , and this leads us nicely onto Chapter 5 ,where the author discusses monitoring students’ progress. (This is the free chapter I mentioned at the start of the review, if you’d like to follow along!) We learn how to mark activities as “complete” which then allows us to set the conditions upon which a whole course can be marked “complete” – another new feature of Moodle 2.0 Again, while there is information here for the reader to get started with activity and course completion, I am uncertain  as to whether there is enough information for them fully to understand it – or is that just me? (For example, he says “if there are prerequisites for your course, you can set them  here” But what is a prerequisite? Do you need one?If so, how do you set it? (I do know the answers by the way, but I am not sure it is clear here though.) I liked the sections on quiz analysis and assignment feedback -isn’t Moodle so priceless for the average teacher, giving them such an array of useful statistics? Finally in this chapter, we get to learn about organising the gradebook, a powerful beast and one which I am still trying to get my head around. With Chapter 6 come wikis, glossaries and workshops, all tried and tested tools for collaborative knowledge building and peer assessment. From the point of view of my own “knowledge building”, I found Chapter 7 the most valuable, as it offers an insight into TeX and DragMath equation editors and ways to embed 3D molecular structures and displaying live graphs. As a linguist, I have little experience of such features and enjoyed learning about them. On the other hand, blogging is something I am familiar with -  and this is is one of the subjects of Chapter 8. The Moodle blog has been much improved in 2.0; it is now possible to attach a blog to a course – although – it is still visible in the site blogs AFAIK, so it’s not totally course-centred. As Vinny points out, you can now comment on blogs, a very long awaited enhancement. The other aspect of this chapter is an overview of the Lesson module, which Vinny explains is a perfect solution for providing personalised learning opportunities. Chapter 9 looks at ways our students can give feedback, from Google Docs or Survey Monkey to the actual Feedback module. This is disabled by default so admin needs to “open its eye” . (I think it’s disabled because it is a temporary measure as we await the all new bright and shiny super survey module that will rise from the ashes one of these days. ) Vinny also talks about how students can add content via glossaries, databases or role tweaking to allow them to create quiz questions. Chapter 10 is basically a housekeeping exercise, showing the reader how to reset their course ready for the start of a new academic year. The final chapter, Chapter 11, is a bit of a tease: we discover web 2.0 applications such as  Tagxedo, Animoto and that will add flair to our course and also find out about some non-standard modules we might want our admin to install. Rather brave on Vinny’s part I thought, as many modules are still not upgraded for 2.0 -although Positive Thinking can work wonders :) He introduces the reader to the Book and Games modules (which do have  2.0 versions) and Hot Potatoes, which has now become a contributed module and has a 2.0 download. Others he suggests, such as Nanogong, are a way off yet, but here is hoping!

In conclusion ,this is an easy to read, easy to follow book. In parts I think the explanations are a bit cursory but the payback for this is that a teacher reading the book won’t be overwhelmed by non-essential technical detail and can simply get on with their job. (The Foreword was quite nice, too!)

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