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.

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.


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.

More on Mobile Moodle

In my last post mentioning some cool screenshots (posted by of an iPhone app for Moodle it was brought to my attention there are several Mobile Moodle projects.

Ignatia/Inge de Waard commented

hi all, the screenshots made available are in fact screenshots from a collaboration between the Institute of Tropical Medicine Alexander von Humboldt (IMTAvH) in Lima and the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp. We were working on it with a Peruvian/Belgian team. I posted the team effort and project here:

Check out  the blog post explaining effort!

Exciting possibilities with Mobile Moodle!

Today Moodle Monthly wrote the blog post “Mobile Moodle is COMING (screen shots available)” which showed some awesome screenshots of Moodle on the iPhone and gave a link to the official Moodle site with a discussion about Mobile Moodle.

“Martin announced at the #imoot2010 that MoodleHQ will be working on an iphone app once Moodle2 is finished.” – (via @moodleman on twitter)

I feel as though Mobile Moodle will create tons of opportunities for classroom and student use. Just a few ideas off hand include student response systems (instant feedback), no need for checking out computer labs and 24/7 connection with Moodle courses (if using an iPhone, smartphone..) for teachers and students.. extending the school day is always a plus.

Check out the full post at or join the discussion at!

Edit: There are several different Mobile Moodle projects, applications and discussions but the specific project mentioned and screenshots shown on are from the site:

Moodle User Groups – staff love them!

I decided to write about something that has gotten a lot of positive feedback from our staff and has been very helpful to Moodle users in our district. We called them “Moodle User Groups” (MUGs).

A little background on Moodle in our district: 2 years ago a grant was written to implement Moodle into our district. Since Moodle itself is free, the grant funds provided for the server hardware, training, staff development, etc. To make a long story short we made Moodle completely voluntary and available to certain groups of people (per the grant). All users who would be editing courses had to get mandatory training.

The Moodle User Group idea came after some of the initial trainings and we were trying to think of ways to support and help our Moodle users as they began their Moodle journey. We decided that the most useful thing we could give to users after the initial training was “time” and one on one support while they were working.

A Moodle User Group session consisted of

  • 2 or 3 hour paid “work time” session
  • no agenda
  • limit of 8 attendees
  • 2 Moodle trainers

All attendees must have gone through an initial beginner Moodle training before attending a MUG because these sessions were for users who already had an understanding of Moodle and how to edit a course, so they could just dig in and work on their course.  The reason there was a limit on the attendees was so we could be more one on one and help users with their specific questions. This was helpful for users because often times they would run into small (sometimes big) issues that prevented them from going on to the next step. With help right there for them they could quickly get their issue solved and move on, whereas if they were working at home or school they would’ve had to stop and email the question or just say whatever and not do it (which happens a lot!).

As teachers attended the sessions and found them useful they began signing up for dates with their colleagues who taught the same subject. This created a lot of collaboration and really helped spread the word about Moodle.

MUGs were not only great for staff, they were great for the Moodle trainers as well. As a Moodle online instant no fax payday loans admin, I don’t have the same experiences as a teacher since I do not actually have students, grade assignments, etc.  As I mentioned earlier many users run into issues that they just overlook and don’t inquire about because it’s not important enough, they don’t have the time or they think it can’t be changed. Throughout all of the MUGs I heard about issues that I wouldn’t have heard otherwise. And chances are if 2 out of 8 users have the same question or issue there are dozens more in the district with that very same question or issue.

The big “kicker” for MUGs is the “paid” part. Chances are we wouldn’t have had the same success if the sessions weren’t paid. We were able to pay staff with funds from the grant. Money is always an issue and it’s not always there but if you are planning a Moodle implementation I highly suggest planning for paid staff development like these MUGs.

Moodle Logo

As we all know many teachers nowadays already feel overwhelmed and like they don’t have time for anything new. Why would they spend time transferring lessons and course work that are already made into a tool like Moodle? We won’t go over that answer here as we all know the benefits of Moodle, but after the initial training and they see the possibilities the next step is giving them “time”. I think a tool like Moodle really needs some sort of small group work time. One reason is because Moodle is a very robust tool and it takes some time to get comfortable. Another reason is because it takes a bit of up front work and if a teacher doesn’t have the time or support to get started after their initial training it will be hard to jump back into it a month or two later.

So, to sum it up Moodle User Groups were a huge hit in our district and were very useful for our users. It created some great collaboration, enabled teachers to create well developed, engaging courses and they created some pretty advanced Moodle users as well. I will leave you with a quote from a teacher at a MUG who was half-joking as she said “Whoa! I just learned two great things! That’s more than any other workshop I’ve been to!

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.


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 Modules and Plugins
Mintranet Blog

Resources to use in Moodle Part 1

Moodle is great by itself but it can be even better when using other web 2.0 tools and resources. I know I will leave out many resources in this quick post, so I plan to write a “part 2″ of resources to use within Moodle.

Description: “Voki is a free service that allows you to create personalized speaking avatars and use them on your blog, profile, and in email messages.”

This is a fun tool for teachers to grab the attention of students and allow the students to listen rather than just read. This can also be a supplement, just another way, for teachers to give information to their students. Since we know that students learn in different ways, you can take advantage of a Voki’s audio feature.

It’s free to sign up and you can create multiple avatars. You can either use a microphone and speak for 1 minute or type in text, which will be translated into a “computer voice” (there are even different accents!). It gives you various types of embeddable code which allows you to use the Voki in your Moodle course.

This resource has been a big hit in our summer Moodle trainings. Spanish teachers like it because they can talk or type in Spanish. Some teachers have made a “Welcome” message Voki avatar and put it in their summary section on their course homepage. Some teachers have embedded it within a “compose a web page”. If your students have emails, they can sign up for a free account and even create their own! Tired of taking class time for oral exams? or you just want a fun, different way for students to do an assignment? They create a Voki and hand it in via Moodle!

Description: “A VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to navigate pages and leave comments in 5 ways – using voice (with a mic or telephone), text, audio file, or video (via a webcam). Share a VoiceThread with friends, students, and colleagues for them to record comments too.”

Check out Easy Moodle Embedding for more information

Other Resources

  • – Like YouTube, but with all Math videos – great quality.
  • TeacherTube – Like YouTube, but for the educational world. A great site that a lot of our teachers like to use. Embeddable code is available to copy/paste into Moodle.
  • YouTube – Although it contains some totally useless content, there are quality videos here. Embeddable code is available to copy/paste into Moodle. You can also choose to not have the “related videos” show up in the embedded video – which is good for because students can not click on it and go to the actual YouTube site.
  • – “A wholly owned subsidiary of Discovery Communications, is the award-winning source of credible, unbiased, and easy-to-understand explanations of how the world actually works.” [read more] Contains quality videos on all topics. Unlike YouTube, you won’t have to worry about students watching inappropriate videos because they all look educational and credible.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of Resources to Use in Moodle. Please leave any comments about your favorite resources you use in Moodle!

Tip: Flexibility with resource/activity links

One thing I had trouble with when using Moodle is getting it to look “nice” and laying out the middle content how I wanted. This was a bit tough when adding resources and activities because 1.) you had to use the icon set for that resource/activity 2.) I could not change the font size or color and 3.) I couldn’t lay out multiple activities on the same line which made for one long list.

Then I stumbled upon Moodle Docs: Course Homepage – Tips and tricks. Basically, that link gives the idea to make resources or activities in a hidden section, copy the link then use that URL somewhere else giving you more flexibility to link to your content. Here are modified instructions from that link which I have used:

  1. Set your weeks or topics to 1 more than you need
  2. Create the resources or activities you want in that last section
  3. Choose a resource or activity that you just created, open it and copy the URL (this is the direct link to that resource/activity)
  4. Navigate to the place you want to link to the resource/activity you just copied
  5. Insert a label
  6. Insert text or maybe even an image and make that a link using the URL that you previously copied
  7. Go back to your course settings and set the weeks or topics one less (hiding that last section with the stored resources and activities)

How can this be used? I have used this method when I wanted the activity link to be bigger, a different color, an image or when I wanted to make multiple activities be on the same line. I have also used this method when I did not want the default icon for a certain activity.

In my opinion this method gives you much more flexibility in formatting your links look and layout. You can also use the copied URL direct link in an HTML block, compose a web page resource or any place where you can make a link instead of the label resource which I mentioned in the above instructions.

Check out Tips and tricks from Moodle Docs for a more in depth and varied ways of this method. I would like to hear if anyone else has a different method of accomplishing the same thing or would like to add their two cents!

Moodle for the iPhone

Lewis Carr explains how he turned his Moodle site into a nice layout and format for the iPhone without having to change the core theme. Take a look at his slides showing this.

His hack is for his site only and would be useless to just copy and paste in yours. He replies to a comment:

The stylesheet I use is a modified CSS of my current theme, it would be useless for any other theme.  The hack relies on you modifiying your existing css to add the code.  However, I am createing a stand-alone iPhone theme to work on.. –Read more

Lewis Carr has many great Moodle developments, check out his (best I’ve ever seen) You can also  follow him on Twitter or take a look at his site.