Category Archives: Features

Moodle 2.4 is out – What’s new?

It’s been awhile..a long while! I’ve still been working with Moodle but within the past year we switched from using a paid-for service for our district web site to using Drupal. I’ve been living in the Drupal world and love it. Looking at ways to integrate the two–but that will be another post. I’m very excited to upgrade our 2.3.3 Moodle server to Moodle 2.4 I’m looking over the release notes and I wanted to jot down a few items that caught my eye.

Significant size reduction of navigation widget – this caught my eye. I wonder if this is just for admins or everything? One thing that annoys the heck out of me is that dang navigation block. It’s so long! And honestly there is only 2 links on it that are useful. And unfortunately they are useful so i can’t remove the whole block :/ . I’m crossing my fingers this improvement reduces my annoyance.

Plugin updating from within Moodle – Say whaa? Awesome! Thee may be some set up or something? I’ll have to take a look at it. Only thing to be careful about is if there is customizations within the plugin. It will overwrite them. We have a few modified plugins. But what a great new feature!

Course Format Plugins – “Moodle has always supported pluggable course formats, but now we’ve given developers even more flexibility than before. Course formats can now provide their own settings for courses and sections, and they can also have a lot more control of all the pages in a course.” – This sounds interesting. I really haven’t looked into it. I want to see who sets this up, admins or regular teachers? I need to look more into this but from it’s description it’s exciting.

New Icons – Well about time : ) We have a custom theme with custom icons but I’ll have to see if these core ones are better.

Editor improvement – “New TinyMCE editor settings allowing an admin to customise the toolbar, enable/disable icons such as insert equation and insert emoticon.” Small but nice.

Integration of external calendars – You can now integrate other calendars, like Google Calendar, and have it flow into your Moodle calendar.

Users can set the order and number of courses displayed on their My home page – YESSSS.

Last but certainly not least..

Performance – We concentrated on improving server performance in this release, and there are many small improvements all over the place.  The biggest single change is a new caching system called MUC (the Moodle Universal Cache) which allows Moodle admins to tune their servers with a variety of fast caching solutions.  We’ve only started to see the benefits of this – future Moodle releases should continue to get faster and faster as we apply MUC to more Moodle code.

I truly hope so..

Going through the release notes I’m seeing some little but awesome updates. I would recommend going through them if you’re a Moodle Admin. Happy upgrading!

And now for a totally non-Moodle related video…love this little kid : ) it’s worth a watch!

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques – Book Review @packtpub

Moodle 1.9 Teaching TechniquesI recently read the book, Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques by William Rice and Susan Smith Nash which was published by Packt Publishing. This book discussed creative ways to build powerful and effective online courses.

When I began reading this book I was expecting to learn a bunch of “real-life” classroom applicable examples of using specific Moodle features. While it did list many of those examples, it really focused on learning theory and creating a positive learning experience and community. The book mentioned many educational psychologists and philosophies of teaching and learning. Each time the authors explained a feature or gave an example of classroom use of a Moodle feature they also reminded the reader to make sure the activity was tied with the course outcomes and the learning objectives.

I thought the discussion about learning styles and effective teaching practices was interesting as my education has been in technology and not k-12 education. One thing I liked about the book is that for each feature example the authors gave a variety of ways to accomplish the same thing, giving the reader an option if they prefer one way or the other. Another thing that the authors provided were tips or recommendations on using each feature. For example, effectively running a chat and chat etiquette, taking the fear out of assessments, how to create and maintain exciting and engaging forums, etc. I guess you can call it “best practices” of the Moodle features.
Paths

As I mentioned before there were some awesome ideas on using Moodle features – without going into detail here are a few:

  • Using the Chat module with a guest speaker
  • A self-assessment practice quiz using the Lesson module
  • Creating a flash card activity with the Lesson module
  • Guided note-taking with the Wiki module
  • Using the Glossary module for student submitted quiz questions

One note to mention is if you’re expecting to come away with created activities as you follow this book you should have some basic Moodle experience.  This book does not go into step-by-step, detailed instructions for most of the modules. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know Moodle already in my opinion. This book did a good job of convincing the user that Moodle can create a learning community that is easily adaptable to different learning styles and offers some great teaching strategies to accomplish this.

Drawbacks

As with all of the other Packt Publishing Moodle books I’ve read I wish the screenshot images were in color. Another thing I noticed is a difference in our district’s Moodle (v 1.9.7) settings page for some modules and the screenshot images in the book (I believe the Choice activity looked a *bit* different). I was also made aware that the Gradebook is out of date. As always, take into consideration the frequent updates.

Wrap Up

In the end, I enjoyed the book and learned the most about having an “effective” course and what that even means. As I mentioned earlier, I am a techy person not a teacher, so I am at a point where I need to understand more about theory and teaching and learning strategies. This book had me nodding a lot and just “made sense” (if that makes sense!). It put things in perspective as each and every activity was tied with the course outcomes and made me aware of some of the things that are needed to create an effective learning community such as student confidence, fear of assessment, feeling comfortable with their peers, etc. And don’t get me wrong I am talking about the “theory” stuff becasue that is what interested in but there are many cool ideas and tips to using the modules. I only listed a few above. Visit Packt Publishing for more details on the contents of Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques.

Moodle Nanogong Assignment

I found this great blog post and screencast from Mary Cooch on her Moodle Blog explaining a new Nanogong assignment.

Similar to the “upload a single file” type where students can browse and send you their work for marking , the nanogong assignment presents them with a little sound recorder into which they can record themselves , play back to check and then send to you. read more

I just wanted to post a Generic Cialis quick link to her post and screecast. This looks like a great module that I know the teachers in our district would use! I hope to test this out soon and possibly add it to our Moodle site if I get some time for it. Thanks Mary!

Read the full post and watch the screencast explaining how to install and use it.

Related Links
Mary Cooch
Moodle Blog
Follow Moodlefairy on Twitter

Moodle Activity Module: Focuspad

I was recently (well actually quite awhile ago but I’ve been so busy) asked by Ryan Chadwick to take a look at a recently developed Moodle Activity Module called Focuspad by Mintranet.

Focuspad is a Moodle module/activity aimed at encouraging and supporting creative writing. Pieces of writing are saved as posts and managed through the library. read more

Here is some “about” information for this Moodle activity taken from the ‘find out more‘ page on the module’s official site.

Focuspad is similar to blogs and assignments that are already in Moodle but differ in a few key ways that make it a cleaner solution for a lot of tasks.

  • Unlike blogs, Focuspad posts can be graded.
  • *Unlike assignments, Focuspad allows you to submit multiple items.

Focuspad also has these features:

  • Word limits on posts.
  • Time limits on posts.
  • Autosave of documents every 5 minutes.
  • Templates on posts so that you can guide students writing.
  • Notes area so that you can encourage students to plan their work before diving in.
  • A streamlined marking process. Run through the posts smoothly as you mark them.
  • Pause posts. For some students with special needs it is not uncommon for them to be allowed to pause their assessments. Focuspad allows for this.
  • An editor designed to maximise focus and minimise distractions.

*I think the standard assignment activity, “Advanced uploading of files”, does allow this

What can you do with Focuspad?

  • Basic Blogs – but in a more localised, managed manner.
  • Essay based assignments and assessments.
  • Learning Logs/ Journals
  • 25 word or less style competitions (works great in conjunction with a specially set grading scale).
  • Allow for a fun component in student election campaigns.
  • Guided learning on how to write essays or reports (by use of templates).
  • Open creative writing (let the students form their own targets).
  • Fill in the blanks, use a template to provide the framework for a story and let the students expand on it.

Review

I played around with Focuspad as a student as well as a teacher. At first glance it looked very elegant and smooth but it seemed a little confusing as to what everything was meant for and did. For example, I didn’t know if this was public or only the teacher saw it, I was unsure if clicking “done” meant I could not edit it again and I was just unsure of how the whole thing operated. It took me only a few minutes to get the hang of it and now it seems pretty darn easy! It is a one time cost of $99.95 (for every Focuspad sold $5 will be donated to Moodle). You are able to put it on as many installations in your organizations and you have access to any upgrades.

There are two elements to Focuspad: the library and the editor. The library is open source and the editor used is what you have to pay for. The general idea of Focuspad is a Moodle activity where students can write (within Moodle – no uploads of Word files) an essay, fill in blanks from a template, fill out a learning log, etc. and hand it into the teacher. It is a very slick and attractive activity. It works very much like Microsoft Word and it’s really cool because the students see the entire piece of paper and layout. It’s not like Moodle’s WYSIWYG editor, where you see a small box with some buttons in the middle section of a page.

What I liked:

A student can make their post public or private. This is a great option to allow a teacher to make an assignment for their eyes only when students should not be able to see other student’s work, but you can also choose to make it public to share their work and findings with their classmates.

The ability to edit multiple times within Moodle (if that setting is set) is a real convenient feature in my opinion. A student can start an assignment and finish it later or add on to it later like a journal.

The ability for teachers to create templates. This is a pretty awesome thing to be able to do. If there are guidelines or a certain format the teacher wants students to use they can create a template. The only drawback or issue I see is I was able to edit the template, so students could accidentally (or on purpose) edit the template. There may be a lock on this but I did not see it.

Everything is done within Moodle!!! This is the best part of the module. Kids do not have to have a word processing program or worry about uploading files. No worries about versions of Microsoft Word or viewing PowerPoints.

In Conclusion

I think this Moodle Activity Module is a very smooth, easy to use and useful feature. It sort of combines the blog, the journal and the advanced uploading of assignments into one. The fact that a student can work on an assignment, stop, come back the next day and finish it and then hand it in – all within Moodle is great. Moodle does have an “online assignment” but it does not compare to Focuspad. I think teacher’s would love this activity. I haven’t seen any other comments or reviews on Focuspad but I would be interested to see other reviews. In conclusion, after playing around with this Moodle activity I see it as a very useful tool that is more enhanced and robust than any standard writing assignment activity. I will be interested to see what upgrades they have to this activity and any other resources they come up with. Before actually purchasing and installing this feature I would have to test it out and see if there are any bugs but it is something to definitely take a look at.

Related Links:
Find out more
Moodle Focuspad Playground
Download/Buy Focuspad
Discussion about Focuspad
Focuspad on Moodle.org Modules and Plugins
Mintranet
Mintranet Blog

Moodle Playpen

Brought to you by the Moodleman Blog, The Moodle Playpen is a demonstration Moodle site that allows users to explore Moodle’s possiblities. There are demos of standard features, advanced features, layout examples and discussions.

This site has been around for awhile and is maintained by Julian Ridden (follow him on Twitter!). Whether you’re looking for a new look or a way to spice up the functionality of your Moodle site, The Moodle Playpen is a great place to get ideas for your own Moodle site. One of my favorite demos is the Accordion Course Format layout! Check out The Moodle Playpen for more ideas!

Links:
The Moodleman Blog
The Moodle Playpen
The Moodle Playpen – 2.0 Alpha
Using Moodle: Accordion Discussion

Moodle Slider

Patrick Malley created a Moodle Slider for the front page of a Moodle theme. I think it’s pretty cool! It’s pretty slick and can save some space. I think it makes it feel a little more like a regular website.

The only problem, on our district Moodle site, is that we force our users to use My Moodle. When they log in they do not ever see the front page, they only see the front page when they are not logged in. Therefore, putting any important information there or spending a lot of time working on that may not be worth it if not many users see it.

Moodle + Google Apps = : )

Google Apps Education Edition is coming to an open source learning management system near you. Moodlerooms, a Moodle partner, is launching a new enhancement to the open source LMS in collaboration with search giant Google to provide access to the application suite using a single sign-on. [read more]

This really excites me! Our district has been looking into student email possibilities and a way for students to collaborate. Google Apps Education Edition seems to be a top choice for secondary students. This would be an awesome integration for us! In the article, I think this is the most important reason why I like the idea of a Moodle/Google App integration:

“This greatly simplifies the task of implementing a collaborative suite, as well as enables institutions to leverage the work they’ve already done integrating their platforms with their other systems. From a teacher’s perspective, this provides an easy way to assign students to collaborative tasks without having to worry about the students having different operating systems or incompatible software or being unable to access an online system. From an IT staffer or CIO’s perspective, this provides an integration tested with large-scale data loads and built on industry standard SAML 2.0 and OAuth protocols for secure single sign on and information transfer.” [read more]

Easy integration, fewer logins and “places” to go seem to be very important for teachers. If our district does decide to go with Google Apps this is something really look into.

Source: http://campustechnology.com/articles/2009/02/20/google-collaborates-on-moodle-integration.aspx