Note: This blog is in two parts – the first about Moodle and Language teaching, the second only about Language teaching. So read one, both or neither, depending on your interests!
While British, Russian and American politicians engage in serious handbag flailing, ordinary people in each country are getting on with each other and with their lives. Thus it was that I arrived in St Petersburg last week to attend a conference on English for Specific Purposes at the prestigious ITMO university. Several of the English faculty completed our Learn Moodle Basics MOOC in January (Quick plug: sign up now for the June 3.5 MOOC!) and so I was invited to give an overview of Moodle and its possiblities for teaching English. Apart from a brief time during my student days, I have never actually taught English to non-native speakers, but I have taught foreign languages to native English speakers, and as I discovered, the skills are very transferable. So transferable in fact, that by the second day of the conference I began to think I’d taken the wrong career path thirty years ago – but it’s a bit late now!
I started by explaining the background to the Moodle open source software, as the conference participants ranged from those whose universities used it fully to those who’d never heard of it, from those who used it on their own within a higher education establishment to primary and secondary school teachers who saw its potential for their classes. This is where Moodle has real value: with technical knowledge you can install it and maintain it yourself, for free; as an individual teacher you can use MoodleCloud offerings where the hard work is done for you, or if you have money and specific needs you can engage a Moodle Partner. See all three options here.
I then went on to highlight the benefits of Moodle when teaching languages, be that ESP, as at the conference, or other Modern Foreign Languages, as in my own experience. For ease of explanation, I divided it up into four areas, and below is a summary. I chose to talk only of standard or free plugins, although I do know there are some very good paid options for language teaching with Moodle as well.
- Easily drag and drop your reading materials (such as PDFs) onto the course page in seconds
- Make your readings more accessible to mobile app and device users with Moodle’s Page resource and Book resource. (I was keen to point out how Moodle’s mobile app allows students to access all standard activities and offers offline access if the internet is poor or costly)
- Use Moodle’s superior quiz features: while many learning platforms, apps and sites offer different quiz question types, none offers the number and functionality that Moodle’s quiz does. Worried your students might benefit from guessing in multiple-choice quizzes? Use the Certainty based marking feature. Need to control the order in which students answer questions? Use Conditional questions. Not satisfied with the standard question types? Choose from the many contributed question types (such as WordSelect from Titus Learning’s Marcus Green)
- As with your documents, easily drag and drop your own sound and video files, and remember too that Pages and Books display external media such as YouTube videos very well….
- as do Assignments. Offer a student an embedded YouTube video to watch/listen to and set them a writing task to summarise it
- Use the popular, free and trustworthy RecordRTC plugin to record extracts of poems which students must respond to in quizzes: UPDATE: This plugin is now standard in Moodle 3.5 in the Atto editor!
- Video conferencing. There are many options out there. Big Blue Button, the open-source video conferencing system integrates beautifully with Moodle if you wish to communicate with your learners out of class – or if you want them to communicate with each other remotely…
- and if you want to set a speaking homework, RecordRTC’s video option allows your learners to make a mini-presentation as an assignment. (I did a demo of this too but I’m not going to display myself here!) UPDATE: This plugin is now standard in Moodle 3.5 in the Atto editor!
- For non-graded or collaborative writing, Moodle’s wiki activity serves you well. Or why not embed a Google doc (or Microsoft equivalent)?
- For graded written tasks Moodle’s Assignment activity offers a rich variety of features – too many for the time I had. Did you know you can set a word limit, allow groups to submit, annotate and comment directly on submissions, use percentages, letter grades or any complex rubric you choose?
- Need a template for scaffolding with less confident students? You can upload an additional file to aid students in an assignment but you can also provide a template in the Quiz essay question
- Want Moodle to do your essay grading? Sadly we’re not there yet! But there are some options worth exploring, which go some (small) way towards it. These contributed plugins rely on the teacher inputting key phrases, words, expressions which the student should include, and the essay is graded according to how many are included. The most powerful (and complex) of these is the UK Open University’s Pattern Match . I have also heard of, but have not personally tried, Gordon Bateson’s Essay auto-grade, only available on Github. (Gordon moodles in Japan, and a couple of years back, I was lucky enough to attend the Japanese Moodle Moot where I spent several blissful days in the company of English language teachers using Moodle. They’d get on well with ITMO university English teachers ) I chose to demo the Essay question from H5P – a free open source product that also integrates with Moodle. Explore the H5P Moodle plugin here. Here’s a really basic example:
Some ideas for all subjects, not just English and other language teachers:
- Use activity completion to allow visible progress tracking for students and teachers
- Consider the checklist activity (part of MoodleCloud) or the popular completion progress block for more detailed (and motivational) tracking
- Use gamification strategies to motivate students, such as a Leaderboard with the standard Activity results block, or experience points XP with the LevelUp! block (again part of MoodleCloud) or a treasure hunt in your course with the Stash plugin
- Consider competencies for really matching your activities with learners’ targets. Now…
.. that leads neatly into a Competencies and Learning plans in ESP courses workshop I was fortunate enough to attend on the second day of the conference. This was run by John Kuti of ITMO and was in the style of a worldcafe, where we sit in groups at different tables, explore an issue, move around, and so on. We did it as a kind of Musical chairs with added Learning! (Hence the triangle…)
We looked at the Common European Framework Reference for Languages and how it could be enhanced for ESP teaching, and how such a competency framework would fit into a Moodle course. John helpfully had a sample learning plan and competencies set up in a course on his Moodle site for participants to explore. (Download the CEFR as a Moodle Competency framework from Moodle.net here.)
In Part 2 I’ll focus on the other sessions I attended, not directly Moodle -related, but putting me back into Languages Heaven