Tag Archives: moodle

Moodle pilot update

There are four faculty members in our Moodle pilot group this term. They’ve been charged with the task of using some or all of the Moodle features and helping our campus decide if Moodle is worth pursuing further.

One of the attributes of this pilot program is that no integration work has been done to sync enrollments in Moodle with class rosters in Banner. I’ve had to manually import users and assign them roles in each Moodle course. This isn’t too bad when done in bulk using a CSV file, but when students are still adding and dropping classes it is a bit cumbersome. I can see that this roster sync will be at the top of my list if we stay on board with Moodle next term.

A couple of our faculty have already had their students working in Moodle, submitting assignments and accessing course resources through the Moodle course instead of our traditional MyIWU course tools. The others are working with their courses a little further before bringing the students in. I haven’t seen anyone make use of the gradebook yet, nor have there been any quizzes (this is the first week of classes, so a quiz could be seen by students to be an act of war).

I’m thrilled with the look and content of our active courses. They look as good as any I’ve seen from other institutions. I’m looking forward to hearing about student response – either way they go, I’d like to present a summary of our experiences sometime next year.

Moodle plus portfolios?

The MoodleMan blog recently ran a post on the integration of a new third-party tool with Moodle. Be sure to check out the embedded video at the bottom. The tool in question is an e-portfolio tool called Mahara. We have a number of groups on campus who have various portfolio needs – Art, Career Center, Ed Studies, and probably more I don’t know about. These folks have different requirements but the core need is the same. They want to collect student work over a span of time, and allow that work to be stored and displayed. Some students may need to showcase their growth as a writer or artist over four years. Others may use this as a supplement to a resume. In short, Illinois Wesleyan could use a system like Mahara.

Why does Moodle have anything to do with it?  Well, if we began to use Moodle as the course management system for campus it would be very easy to take work already handed in via Moodle and drop it into a portfolio. Presumably the Moodle courses would be wiped clean each term, so this is a way of preserving select content over a longer span of time.

I’d like to give it a try, but I think we’ll have to wait until our Fall term Moodle test is complete before we can add in another component to the mix. Moodle 2.0 is supposed to have improved APIs that will make the Mahara integration tighter anyway.

More Moodle

Last time I posted about Moodle I mentioned my plans to test a third-party quiz application, and to try out the “database” activity within my fake Moodle class. I did both of these things and will now provide a brief recap.

Hot Potatoes is a quiz application that is probably mostly used in elementary and secondary ed. It generates quizzes and exercises of different formats. I tried making a crossword about potatoes.

Spud Crossword

This worked out nicely after I figured out the right format to save the crossword. The Hot Potatoes app doesn’t automatically plug in to Moodle, so I had to export as a SCORM package (SCORM is a standard e-learning specification). From there it was easy to get it into Moodle. I need to add more words next time – people seemed to think it was too hard since there weren’t a lot of words crossing.

I also created a “Database” in my Moodle course. This is really just a customizeable construct for your class. I created fields like Title, Genre, Picture, Date, and Description. Then each student enrolled in the class could add a record comprising all or some of these fields. In other words, this tool could easily be used to hand in complex assignments. Databases also allow the class to post comments on each record. This means the Database can also function much like a blog.

So far everything about Moodle suggests that it will provide an excellent set of tools to our Faculty for managing their courses. We still need to make progress in integrating Moodle with our Banner database, especially in order to synchronize class rosters.

I’ll be gone next week at a conference learning more about Luminis Content Management. I’ll try to post some interesting tidbits about LCMS while I’m there.

Moodle for Fall?

So we are working on a plan to pilot-test Moodle in the upcoming Fall term. Patrick and I are trying to learn the software now so we can support a few faculty in trying it out. Then we’ll make a decision about whether we will make Moodle a supported service, perhaps even an opt-in alternative to the Luminis course tools we have now.

Today Patrick and I looked at the Assignment module. There are a few different options for teachers to select from. Students can type text directly online (called “Online Text”). This is very easy for students to use, and it allows a teacher to grade them directly online as well. There is another option called “Upload a Single File.” This is simply a hand-it-in tool. “Advanced Upload” allows students to hand in multiple files along with notes for the teacher. Here is a screenshot of a teacher grading a student’s submission and providing feedback. Notice that I have the option to turn the files back over to the student to redo (“Revert to draft”):

Grading an Advanced Upload

 Finally, “Offline Activity” is a tool for any assignment that needs a grade. That way you could assign a presentation, or give credit for going to a guest lecture and continue to use Moodle for grading.

A few notable details regarding these Assignment options:

  • The teacher can set start and end dates for submission, and disallow late submissions entirely
  • It is possible to allow resubmission – so draft papers can be handed in, responded to, then handed in again
  • Students can include web links in the notes on “Advanced Upload” assignments
  • Files don’t have to be Word – you can upload movies, audio, pictures, whatever – as long as it is not too big

We’ve tried this a few times along with a few quizzes. Moodle does a nice job of collecting everything into a central gradebook which can then be downloaded in Excel or Text format.

Next I’m going to play with a module called “Database” and try importing a quiz from third-party software called Hot Potatoes.

Online quizzes!

Last week I took a look at Moodle and tried creating a quiz using the “regular” method – using menus and buttons to navigate graphically through the process of making categories for questions, then populating these categories to form a test bank, then actually putting questions together. It turns out that this is a slow process. I thought that there would be a better way, especially since most teachers already have questions defined from past terms.

There is indeed a faster way. Moodle can import 12 different types of quiz files, including Blackboard and WebCT. The quickest way to go, however, is probably the GIFT format. This is a simple text-based format that uses a variety of delimiters for different purposes. For example, if I want to create a multiple choice quiz I could start by making a plain text file like this, indicating correct answers with “=”:

How many glasses of water per day should a person drink?{~15 ~0 =8}

What is the best type of donut? {~sprinkles ~jelly-filled =eclair}

The GIFT format allows a wide variety of questions: multiple choice, true/false, “missing word”, short answer, even essay. If your answers are numeric you may provide a margin of error. In my first example, for instance, I could say that any answer within 10% of the correct answer would still be graded as correct. 

Here is another example question, this time in matching format:

Match the following IWU departments with their corresponding buildings. {

    =Theatre -> McPherson

    =IT  -> IT House

    =Admissions  -> Holmes

    =Mathematics  -> CNS


There are also provisions for feedback to be given for certain question types, describing why an answer was correct or incorrect.  

It wouldn’t take a lot of work to reformat an existing quiz in Word to fit these patterns. It is also possible that existing test banks that come along with textbooks may already be formatted in one of the Moodle-compatible formats. Once the questions are inside a Moodle course page you can add a quiz wherever you’d like in your course outline (Week 8, topic #4, etc). Next week I’ll add a quiz and get my IT House colleagues to try it out!

evaluating Moodle

I’ve spent a little bit of time evaluating a test installation of Moodle, the open-source course management tool. This tool is becoming quite popular at institutions similar to Illinois Wesleyan, but we still don’t know much about what it offers.

The basic idea is that a teacher will get to create a web space for each course, accessible only to students enrolled in the course. The web space can be structured in a number of formats. The most popular seem to be either “weekly” or “task-based”, which divide your course up either chronologically or topically. Here is a screenshot of a Moodle course homepage, from the teacher’s perspective:

a course page in Moodle

There is an overlap between the tools available in Moodle and those within the MyIWU course tools, such as news and calendars. On the other hand, there are some features that are quite nice. For each week or topic in my course I can create “activities” or “resources”. Here is a screenshot displaying available “activities”:

a course page in Moodle

 As you can see, the array of options is dizzying. I haven’t tried them all, but I did try adding a quiz. I had to first create a test bank of questions, then set up quiz options (how many points, can a student retest, etc). I plan on learning ways to import test banks from other formats soon. I also plan on asking some of my IT colleagues to try taking a quiz to test the usability from the student perspective.

Here is a screenshot of available “resources”:

a course page in Moodle

I created text pages and web pages using Moodle and was pleasantly surprised with the final product and the usability of the tool. It was fast and easy to create a simple document for students that included images. This would be an excellent way to deliver an online handout related to a reading assignment at a particular point in a semester.

Next time around I plan on trying a wiki and importing quizzes into Moodle!

Outsourcing Moodle: a viable option?

Moodle is a leading open-source learning management system that is fast becoming a common alternative to Blackboard and WebCT on college campuses. While a free, open-source package sounds wonderful, it is never truly free. If Illinois Wesleyan decides to go with Moodle on our own, we have many costs. First, it would need to reside on a server with adequate storage and bandwidth. Second, we would need to integrate it with existing systems. Third, we would need to provide adequate resources to maintain the server and software, ensuring reliability and security. Fourth, we would need to provide training and support to our community. So, with a shortage of people and money, what to do?

Well, there are a number of firms that provide hosted Moodle solutions, some of which also provide integration services. Some will even train our staff to prepare us to work with users.

With that in mind, I’ve done a cursory look through some of the offerings. Again, the criteria are:

  1. Hosting (price, storage, bandwidth)
  2. Integration (price, Banner, Luminis portal)
  3. Support (maintenance agreement)
  4. Training

Here are the major players measured against the criteria above:

  • Remote Learner – adequate hosting for $1500 on up, server support for $2000-3500 annually which would probably include help with integration. It looks like we would be largely on our own for training – they have some affordable options but they are far away and limited in scope.
  • Moodle Rooms – adequate hosting for $1500 on up, with “customization” on a call-for-a-quote basis. They have done a Banner/Luminis integration project before. Training is expensive at $2500+ per class. 
  • Classroom Revolution – adequate hosting for $1299 on up. Support is limited without an additional contract ($60/hr or $800/year for online support). They will do “customization” but don’t note any experience with Banner/Luminis on their website. They do offer a more affordable online training option ($500) along with an expensive onsite one ($2000+).

Please remember that this is a quick summary based mostly on websites. When I say “adequate” hosting I mean generally “one notch above the minimum”, or something that we could start with and scale up a bit with no additional upcharge. Support and customization are an unknown quantity since I haven’t seen any Service Level Agreements from any of these firms.

technology we are thinking about

I’d like to share with you a few things that we are checking out in the Office of IT. These aren’t things we are committed to at this stage but if you have an opinion I’d like to hear it!

  • Moodle, an open-source alternative to Blackboard or WebCT. Moodle provides a set of course tools that include wikis, online quizzes, and grade books.
  • RSS Feed readers like Bloglines, Google Reader, and Mozilla Thunderbird. Check out the great video explaining the meaning of RSS.
  • web meeting capability, using WebEx or Adobe Connect
  • Confluence, a wiki-based tool for managing shared online workspaces.