Practical Moodle Tips for Technology Administrators

Copyright 2009 Miguel Guhlin

NOTE: Be sure to check out these great Moodle resources! (ok ok, I made most of them)

In Moodle-izing Your Education Enterprise, you read about how Moodle course management system could be used to facilitate online professional learning, facilitate campus communications, and much more. How Moodle will be used will also depend on your expertise in setting up Moodle to allow for maximum educational use. This article seeks to share several practical tips for enhancing your Moodle for K-12 District use.

Here are some of those tips:

  1. Mapping Out Your Moodle Implementation
  2. Installing and Expanding Moodle's Capabilities

MAPPING OUT YOUR MOODLE IMPLEMENTATION
When I first implemented Moodle in my K-12 learning environment, I was exploring how I could use Moodle and encourage others to use it. This resulted in one Moodle installation with a multitude of courses. This can be problematic, especially if you plan to grow your Moodle implementation. With any technology program, especially one that is web-based, remember that you will have to update it on a regular basis. Like a poorly planned city, you can end up with a series of Moodles that are running different versions, have various components and the whole enterprise quickly becomes confusing to maintain. To avoid this confusion, I urge you to map out what you hope to accomplish. Below is a sample concept map of a Moodle implementation:

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As you can see from the diagram above, my school district's Moodle is organized into the following sites:

  • Professional Learning Center (PLC) - This is where adult learners can participate in either instructor-led or self-paced, 100% online courses and earn Continuing Professional Education (CPE) and/or Gifted and Talented credit hours. The GT credit hours are done in collaboration with our district's Advanced Academic Services Office, and the partnership with them has been well worth the investment of getting their staff trained in online learning. We are also working our Office for Professional Learning to consider what additional courses should be available to the entire district. District level teacher specialists are developing online courses for publication and use within the Professional Learning Center.


    Below are some specific examples of how Moodle is being used to enhance professional learning opportunities for educators:
    • Bluebonnet Conference 2008 - http://www.edlink12.net/moodle/course/view.php?id=5 - This is a virtual learning space to enhance the Bluebonnet Conference held in 2008. Some conferences are now enhancing what they are doing face to face with online learning opportunities available through Moodle. This makes it possible to offer your campus, district, regional conference online as well as face to face with discussion forums, wikis, audio/video podcasts of presentations. Like Bluebonnet Conference Moodle, you can require people to login so you can easily track visitors and keep them up to date via the News Forum.
    • Lackland ISD - http://lacklandisd.mrooms.org/ - Note that I would avoid grouping all the content for K-12 students and adult learners in one Moodle, as this site has done. However, it's not uncommon to see new implementations of Moodle in K-12 display this organization. At first, we all fall prey to "One Moodle to rule them all," if you'll forgive the allusion to Lord of the Rings.
    • Southern Education and Library Board - http://clounagh.org/
    • San Antonio ISD - http://intouch.saisd.net/plc
  • K-12 Open Campus - The Open Campus facilitates teachers as well as impacts students who are participating in online literature circles, classroom specific courses being facilitated by teachers, and more.The focus of Open Campus is to enhance classroom teachers' ability to create online learning environments that complement their teaching. Some of the exciting ways that Moodle is being used in K-12 are exemplified in the links below:
  • iTech - This is the Technology Center, a place where support areas and online communities for technology department initiatives are facilitated. There are many examples of Moodle being used as a "support area" where you can facilitate sharing of frequently asked questions and ideas about a particular initiative. In my district, for example, information is shared about our district's electronic gradebook.

Mapping out your Moodle implementation is an important step to take BEFORE you start creating Moodles on a server. Another point to consider is how you will enhance that Moodle installation. There are many modules and enhancements you can use to make Moodle even more versatile than it already is.

EXPANDING MOODLE'S CAPABILITIES
Expanding Moodle's capabilities can seem a daunting task. To help you accomplish this, here are some Moodle Tips organized according to these areas: 1) Moodle Tips and 2) Moodle Modules, Blocks and Filters.

#1 - Moodle Tips
Note: Since these tips are too long to include in this short article, links are provided where you can find more information.

Administration
These tips help you better administer Moodle. You might also consider purchasing a book on Moodle, such as William Rice's Moodle 1.9 from Packt Publishing. I recently reviewed this book (
http://tinyurl.com/dhqcfv) and found it accurate to the process you will follow in setting up Moodle.

End-User
These tips focus on enhancing the end-user's ability to accomplish more with Moodle.

  • Adding a Photo Gallery - Walks through adding a photo gallery to your Moodle. Quite easy to use and impressive tool available.
  • 3 Tips for RSS Feeds - Want RSS feeds for your discussion forums? Want to remix Moodle Feeds or pull in remote RSS feeds? This is the entry to read!
  • Free Themes for Moodle - As soon as I installed Moodle, I started looking for ways to "liven" it up and found a treasure trove of free themes.
  • Enabling Embedding of Video Playlists - This tutorial shows you where to click to enable TeacherTube, YouTube videos, etc. and videos from various providers in your Moodle sidebar (or anywhere).
  • Embedding FLV Videos in Moodle Labels, HTML Pages - This tip documents how to enable the multimedia filter so that FLVs can be embedded in Labels and HTML Resources.


#2 - Moodle Modules/Blocks/Filters
Moodle can be enhanced in variety of ways. Essentially, you can add what is known as a block, a module or a filter to your Moodle installation. Here are some of my favorite ways to enhance Moodle:

Top Moodle Modules
(a Youtube video on how to install modules)

  1. Assignment Rubrics - Allows you to grade assignments using a rubric.
  2. Book - Multi-page resource with a book-like format
  3. DimDim - Dimdim is the friendly Open Source web meeting. With Dimdim you can show Presentations, Applications and Desktops to any other person over the internet. You can chat, show your webcam and talk with others in the meeting. All this is possible without the attendees installing anything.
  4. Certificate - Prints student's name, date, course name, activity or course grade, other text, a code number, the teacher(s) names. Can choose to add images such as seals, logos and watermarks. Can be delivered in the browser, via email, or downloaded. Email alerts can be sent to teachers or others when certificates are issued.
  5. Exabis ePortfolio - This module enables both Professional and Student Moodles as a repository for users' to store top projects and more importantly, to allow file-sharing to classmates/teacher for review, collaboration or comments. Check it out for broader use across courses. It allows for collection of files, notes, hyperlinks, etc. and exports to SCORM. Items can be shared to all site users, only those in a common course, or individuals.
  6. Feedback - "The Feedback module allows you to create and conduct surveys to collect feedback from students. It is smaller in scope and easier to use than the Questionnaire module, and unlike the Survey module allows you to write your own questions, rather than choose from a list of pre-written survey instruments" (Source: Kineo).
  7. Group Selection - allows students to select the group they want to be members of.
  8. Learning Diary - This module is used to combine the many Reflections into one ongoing diary, a much more efficient and appealing approach for adults. There are so many individual activities in each section that the list appeared exhaustive. It's a 3rd Party Mod not hosted on Moodle.org.
  9. Lightbox Gallery - This resource allows you to create 'Lightbox' enabled image galleries within your Moodle course.
  10. OU Blog - Provides user and course blogs with comments.
  11. OU Wiki - Simple, easy to use alternative to standard Moodle wiki
  12. Questionnaire - Allows you to create custom surveys with graphed results pages.
And another one that looks interesting but I have yet to try - OpenShare.

Top Moodle Blocks

  1. Analog Clock - Displays an analog clock.
  2. Birthday - Displays today's birthdays for Moodle users.
  3. Course Management - Block used to schedule backup and restores and delete multiple courses
  4. Course Menu block - Adds the folder navigation hierarchy on left of the course ~ big advantage on courses with a lot of topics and/or scrolling.
  5. Course Size Report - List of courses with disk usage
  6. iTunes University - Access iTunesU podcasts from Moodle; Allows for direct links to podcasts stored in an iTunes University space to be accessed from Moodle in a block using a configured iTunesU login.
  7. Login/Logout - Block to login and exit moodle.

Top Filters
  1. MultiMovie Filter - This filter allows to display inline videos from youtube, google and teachertube using one easy wiki-like syntax inside every Moodle content (see README.txt for info about the syntax).
  2. Topic Tabs - Displaying courses in tabular links, also grouping all blocks and administration into one tab,
  3. VoiceThread Embedding for Moodle - This plugin provides a simple, clean way to embed VoiceThread content in Moodle resources, pages, etc. It has full supports for VoiceThread sub-sites (i.e. you school's own site).

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Often, technology administrators ask questions like the following; those are included below with possible responses:

  1. Is Moodle a district subscription type site or can one teacher subscribe?
    Response: Moodle isn't a district subscription type site, although you can certainly go through a 3rd party hosting provider that will setup the Moodle for you and then help you get going. You can find some of them online at http://tinyurl.com/d75lpv . Please be aware that there are usually costs for doing this. I would encourage you to work through channels in your District and setup a server and get it installed. It's definitely worthwhile to have your own server. In my situation, we have active Moodle running on servers that do other things. The servers we buy are about $6-7K each. You can also take advantage of a Moodle hosting solution.
  2. What does free, open source mean in regards to Moodle?
    Response: The word "free" does not mean "no cost" but refers to the ethic of free software(http://tinyurl.com/4zrk3). The distinction to keep in mind is that while this is Free, Open Source Software (FOSS), there are costs in implementing the solution as measured by capital outlay (e.g. server(s) to host it), technical support personnel, etc.
  3. Could you share your favorite place for getting free content/curriculum in Moodle format?
    Response: One of the daunting tasks of using Moodle is course development. Whether you are designing for educators or students, knowing how to start and where to start is important. Yes and here are a few of those: 1) SOS-SIG's Collaborative Moodle - http://sos.tcea.org/coloodle/; 2) K-12 Open Source Ning - http://community.k12opensource.com/forum/topics/moodle-courses; 3) Learning ISD - http://moodle.learningisd.com/moodle/course/index.php; and, 4) Moodle Commons - http://moodlecommons.org/
  4. How can Moodle be used to prevent FERPA issues and ensure overall security problems are taken care of?
    Response: While Moodle can be used to teach teachers about FERPA--we do it by hosting a video that shares key FERPA information and then have people register for the course, view the video, and complete a quiz that is graded. If they do well enough, they pass. If they don't, back to the video--Moodle can also be setup to minimize the risk of security problems. Frequent updates to Moodle are shared and discussed online.
  5. Can I transfer all that I have done in Blackboard to Moodle?
    Response: Yes, you definitely can transfer content from Blackboard to Moodle. I encourage you to read this paper (this one, too) on the subject for starters. Not having had to endure this transfer, I have no more to offer on the subject.


CONCLUSION
Moodle can be used in a variety of ways to enhance teaching, learning and leading environments in K-12 education. I encourage you to explore this solution and embrace Moodle as a one-stop shopping way to introduce yourself, colleagues, and your students to engaging learning in a safe online learning environment.