Review of Moodle 2 Administration by Alex Büchner

In its original version, this book was one of the first Moodle books around, and I devoured it cover to cover in the same way I used to read page by page my Harraps French-English/English-French dictionaries as a teenager. I’d been teaching myself Moodle admin for a couple of years previously and this book filled all the gaps in a very readable and thorough way. So I’m happy to review its updated version, Moodle 2 Administration by Synergy Learning’s co-founder and technical lead Alex Büchner.

Comparing it with Moodle Administration the 1.9 version, I see the initial section on the Moodle’s rationale, the Moodle model and VLE administration has gone, replaced by a short mention in the preface. This is probably right, given the wider acceptance and understanding of Moodle in the last four years. Instead, the book gets right into action from Chapter 1 with instructions on  installing Moodle in different environments and updating either manually or via CVS or GIT. Chapter 2 explains how to find your way around from the point of view of the site administrator and also explains the new (and controversial)  file management interface. I loved the simplicity yet pertinence of the author’s wording: (quote) In Moodle, a file is always connected to the particular bit of Moodle that uses it. Says it all really! Alex puts to rest the worries of  habitual FTP’ers by explaining the file system repository here.

. We then move on to Chapter 3, dealing with courses, users and  roles. You can read this chapter for yourself as it’s a Packt freebie available here In Chapter 4 we learn about course management, enrolment plugins (including Paypal), cohorts and meta-courses and in Chapter 5 Alex takes the reader through the essential areas of user management – ie, how to  add and edit them :) I have to say that although this is a book for administrators -  for the” tech guys” basically – its language is simple and easy to understand. I’m not a “tech guy” but I can get to grips with Moodle quite confidently with this book. For me, one of the most important chapters is Chapter 6, Managing Permissions. Every other day you get desperate messages on the forums of www. from people who have been “just playing with permissions” on their site and now find Moodle doesn’ t do what they wanted it to. Fortunately the worst of this (completely losing your admin rights) is no longer an issue in Moodle 2, but it’s well worth taking the time to read and digest this chapter to have a better understanding of the consequences of your role-related actions! Making your Moodle look better and customising the users’ experience of Moodle is the subject of Chapter 7, dealing as it does with the front page, blocks, MyMoodle, themes and accessibility. As a totally hopeless designer I really appreciate the new and easy way to enhance standard themes in Moodle and this is outlined clearly here. Resources, activities, blocks, filters,  repositories and portfolios come in Chapter 8 -Plugins  with helpful links to Moodle docs for further information.

In  Chapter 9, Alex looks at actual use of some of Moodle’s optional system settings such as blogs, comments, tags,messaging, grades, progress tracking etc Although this is an Administrator’s book I think it is vitally important that the admin understands the consequences to a teacher  of switching on or off a certain feature. Similarly, Chapter 10 is essential for both admins and -at the course level -teachers in terms of Moodle’s reporting facilities. Back to main admin jobs in Chapters 11 to 14 regarding security, performance  and optimisation , back up and restore and adding third party modules. And at last (for me!) a chapter going into detail about Moodle integration via Web services in Chapter 15 – something I have little experience of and a great need to explore. Networking is covered in Chapter 16 ,with information on MOOCH and Mahara SSO. (It was thanks to reading step by step Alex’s instructions in the first editon of this book that I networked my first Moodle and Mahara so a bit of nostalgia and gratitude here!) And finally, if you really want to be thorough, there is an appendix with various configuration settings.

Conclusion?  The first edition of this book is described as the “de facto standard on the topic” and I see no reason for that to change with the 2 edition. It is an easy read with clear screenshots and where more depth is needed, it references other books or the main Moodle documentation. It’s like that woodstain commercial : it does what it says on the tin.  If you are a Moodle 2 admin and like having a book to hand, buy it.

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