Archive for the 'Moodle' Category

Maths Bridging

Thursday, July 4th, 2013
Mathematical Bridge, Iffley Lock, Oxford

Mathematical Bridge, Iffley Lock, Oxford

We are currently working on a new course with Oxford’s MPLS division to help students coming to Oxford to study Physics, Chemistry, Earth Sciences and Materials ensure their maths is up to scratch.

This has been an interesting project for us in many ways, pushing the boundaries of our expertise in many directions, from Moodle’s handling of maths notation, to online assessment design, to embedding of externally hosted cc licensed videos in our materials.

We have updated our handling of mathematical equation rendering, enabling MathJax in Moodle 2.5 which allows us to include maths notation without rendering all maths formula as inaccessible images or requiring our students to download special plugins to use MathMl. This is a big win for us, as in the past pretty much every option for handling this kind of notation had significant downsides.

In terms of assessment design we have finally included some really useful feedback loops between diagnostic, formative tests, basic course materials and reinforcement and extension materials.  Depending on a student’s answer to individual questions they are directed to materials that should give them a basic overview of a concept, help them study it in more depth, and if they want to, explore the topic beyond the basic requirements.  Each section also finishes with  a short quiz so students can check their mastery and again revisit content if need be. Crucially this supports students who need lots of help, but also lets those who don’t establish they are up to speed and ready to begin their course, without requiring them to sit through lots of unnecessary material. This has been possible due to the excellent efforts of our author in MPLS who has done an amazing job writing content and authoring questions and, more significantly, feedback for the quizzes.  This is not a revolutionary approach, and we have had elements of this in our courses before, but the consistent and thorough application of this across all the materials is really gratifying and something that should result in a much more personalised and targeted learning experience for the students.

Lastly this is also a project that has benefited hugely from OER, in particular the wonderful resource sets developed by mathcentre and mathtutor. These have allowed us to produce a much richer course than we would have otherwise managed, by giving students choices about how they study specific concepts while removing the burden from a single author of writing multiple alternative explanations for each topic.  We are also able to present materials in a wider  mixture of formats than we have the resource to develop alone,  e.g. video, text etc so that students can choose the type they prefer.

From a learning design/OER research  perspective this has been a particularly gratifying experience as it has taken concepts we have discussed and modeled in theory for years, such as diagnostic testing with content linked to results and using  OER to enable greater personalisation for students, and actually implemented them in practice. Which I guess means we had better start measuring impact!

Image: bridge /

VLEs at the heart of curriculum innovation

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

In the latest JISC e-Learning Focus they are discussing VLEs at the heart of curiculum devlivery showcasing among other work our development of Moodle for online assignment submission during the Cascade project.  Inspired by the wordle used in the e-Learning Focus article, I decided to create one from the Cascade final report.  While this is obviously a very simplistic technique it does provide a surprisingly useful overview of the work of Cascade as below.  I think I may be using this again.

Cascade Wordle

Cascade Wordle

Enabling staff to easily use a VLE to support course delivery

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Aimed at e-Learning developers, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of designing tools, systems and resources to enable academic and administrative staff to easily use a VLE to support course delivery.

This suggests that using technology to support a course delivered either fully online, largely face-to–face or via blended learning, can provide real value to both staff and students.  However, it is easy to do this in such a way that it creates more work without fully delivering on the potential benefits.  Avoid this by:

  • Identifying where and how technology really adds value;
  • Developing tools and procedures that make it easy for all staff to set up and use a VLE;
  • Embedding support within existing cycles of work, wherever possible;
  • Ensuring adequate support and guidance is available to prevent basic barriers;
  • Providing cost- and time-effective options to ensure services are sustainable.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 4: Enabling staff to easily use a VLE to support course delivery.

Customizing open source software: benefits and pitfalls

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Aimed at e-Learning developers, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of customizing the Moodle assignment module, to highlight the benefits and pitfalls of working with open source software.

This aspect of the Cascade project had two key challenges: (a) to specify requirements for enhanced assignment-handling functionality in Moodle; and (b) to develop the code itself.  Both proved far more challenging than anticipated.

The experience of the project suggests that customizing open source software to meet the institution’s bespoke curriculum delivery requirements can result in the development of a robust system offering improved services to stakeholders, however there can be pitfalls.  Key recommendations for other developers considering similar projects are:

  • Define the processes involved before working on the development of software; a broken or unclear process cannot have an effective technological solution;
  • Keep all stakeholders informed of what the final result will be, providing updates when the requirements/functionality change;
  • Have everyone concerned with functionality and bug identification use an issue management system from the start of the project;
  • Use version control to manage code, but keep it simple;
  • Learn and work with the norms of the open source community for maximum wider benefit.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 2: Customizing open source software: benefits and pitfalls.

Piloting VLE support for F2f courses 1 year in

Monday, June 28th, 2010

As part of the Cascade project  one of the things we have been looking at is how to take the best of what we know about supporting our online distance learning students and use it to see how we should use a VLE to support students who are essentially studying face to face courses with the Department.  As part of this we piloted this activity with a few courses in  over the last academic year, including our Undergraduate Diploma in Archaeology and our Psychodynamic counseling Certificate, Diploma and MSc.  We’re still collecting feedback from our students (more on this later) but have finished our initial collection with staff.

Some of the findings have been reasonably predictable – using the VLE to easily contact students (especially during extreme snow) and to share materials are clear winners in the value stakes.  However some are slightly less so.  We have a lot of courses with many different sessional teachers, and while we did a good job at explaining Moodle to our core staff, piloting partners and students we did a less good job of engaging with these stakeholders, who often remained confused or oblivious about what Moodle was for and how they could use it.

So a new task for the summer to develop materials for this group.

Testing Moodle templates

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

In the Cascade project we are in the middle of an intensive period of testing Moodle templates with departmental staff.  In the terms of our project the “templates” are Moodle courses with certain core materials and structures already in place which hopefully offer the following benefits to our staff:

  1. Save them from recreating the wheel in terms of identifying resources, links etc
  2. Ensuring all expectation setting and contextual materials are in place – what is unacceptable online behavior? does an online course support site mean my tutor will answer my emails 24 hours a day?
  3. Improving chance of producing something which will be truly valuable to students from the start, rather than having to try and work out what might be useful from scratch.

We have shaped the templates from the results of our pilots over the last year or so as well as our experience in learning design and from the literature more generally .  With this in mind we were pretty confident that the elements we were including were likely to be appropriate and useful, however it is fascinating to actually work through the process with  practitioners.

I think what has really changed in the last few years is the baseline awareness of the sorts of things technology might be able to offer to support a course – this has moved on immensely even in the last couple of years – even if staff are not always confident of how to get the technology to do what they want.  It also feels like for many academics that their perceptions of their IT competence is often worse than the reality.  Moodle is easy enough to use,  that if you can add an attachment to an email you really should be able to get pretty far.

If Moodle worked like Facebook

Monday, October 6th, 2008

This morning I noticed David Whiley’s post If facebook worked like blackboard, which pointed out:

Imagine if every fifteen weeks Facebook:

  • shut down all the groups you belonged to,
  • deleted all your forum posts,
  • removed all the photos, videos, and other files you had shared, and
  • forgot who your friends were.

How popular or successful would Facebook be then? How popular or successful is Blackboard now? The closed learning management system paradigm is bankrupt.

This is particularly interesting in the context of our Isthmus project where we are looking at introducing user owned technologies into our courses here at the Department for Continuing Education in Oxford.  One of the real challenges for this project has been identifying what user owned technologies our students are using, as we have a majority of adult learners, in many cases the answer has been none.

As a result of this much of the project has been looking at ways to allow greater ownership of the learning, content, tools, through means that make sense to our students.  Yes feeding all your content in RSS is great, but not when 95% of your students have never heard of it, and more importantly don’t want to know (unless you can convince them otherwise, but that is the subject of another pilot, New media literacies…)

This has prompted one of the biggest changes in how we deliver our courses since TALL has offered online learning – namely (OK, only in the terms of David’s post) making our installation more like Facebook through the Persistent Identity pilot – which just this term went from a pilot to standard practice. To be basic we are now letting students access their course, materials, discussions, blogs….after the official course is over.   It seems an obvious thing to do now, and the fact that about 30% of the students who were allowed continued access have been back to the pilot courses once they were over suggests that this is something that the students value as well.

A small note of caution is that in scaling this up from 4 pilots to over 25 we have caused ourselves rather a lot of unexpected technical hassle, but that is for us to sort out and not  really a comment on the basic principle. Which so far seems to be proving sound.

Phase 2 plans for our Philosophers

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

We learnt a few things in the first phase of the Open Habitat project which have informed the set-up of our next pilots. I’m currently planning the pilot that will run with philosophy students in Second Life. The main challenge with the first pilot was the sheer speed of debate in SL. The experienced philosophy students are used to being able to gather their thoughts, write a paragraph or two and pop it into a forum.

Taking the time to reflect is important in any educational process but it is especially precious to the discipline of philosophy. Having said this, the students loved the vibrant, social feeling of SL and the sense of presence being embodied in an avatar brought. In fact they liked it so much they have continued to run non-tutored sessions in SL once a week managed via a facebook group. (This included giving the students building rights so that they could rearrange the environment each week to fit the topic under discussion)

For phase 2 it was clear that we needed to balance the reflective and the dynamic which we are planning to do by ‘bookending’ the SL session with Moodle. Here is a draft of how the pilot will flow:

Stage One (framing the debate):

  1. Marianne (the tutor) to post briefing page on Moodle
  2. students to post kneejerk response in blog
  3. Marianne to respond one to one
  4. students to reconsider in light of Marianne’s comments and prepare second kneejerk
  5. second kneejerk to be posted on Moodle
  6. all students to read, think and prepare third kneejerk for posting on whiteboard in second life
  7. third kneejerk to be sent to Dave for posting in world

Stage two (dynamic in world discussion):

  1. Everyone arrives in second life to find third kneejerk responses on board
  2. People read these and reflect as everyone arrives
  3. Marianne asks each student in turn to comment
  4. after everyone has responded people go into groups (arranged in advance), go to their ‘stations’ and prepare jointly a ‘final statement’
  5. final statements to be sent to Dave
  6. Marianne reconvenes students and the session ends with a final discussion.

Stage three (reflection):

  1. Marianne to annotate final statements, and add comments
  2. Dave to post final statements and the chat log on Moodle
  3. Students free to discuss final statements and Marianne’s comments by themselves.

It’s not rocket science but I think this really takes advantage of what SL is good for and is a genuine answer to the ‘user needs’ that came out of phase 1. We will then run this cycle a second time either continuing the same philosophical theme or starting a new on depending on how well it runs!

The other significant change to the pilot will be the use of edu-gestures which should allow for more non-verbal communication whilst the group is deep in discussion. We have a nice set (agree, confused, yes, no, I’m thinking etc) of gestures that the students can use during the sessions using a ‘lite’ version of the Sloodle toolbar generously created for us by the Sloodle project. I’m planning to introduce these gestures as a key part of the orientation session so that their use is seen as a ‘basic’ skill. In this way I hope we get the benefits of embodiment/presence as well as the benefits of non-verbal communication which is so important in RL but has not really developed in detail within SL.

It’s odd to think that an environment that renders you as an avatar (face, head, arms, legs etc) does not rely very heavily on non-verbal cues (apart from where you are standing and the biggie: what you look like). I’m hoping that this aspect of Multi-User Virtual Environments will develop as the language of communication (text, voice, visual) within virtual worlds becomes more sophisticated.

Most importantly the pilot has been designed in conjunction with the students who are going to advise on the layout of the in world environment and are enthusiastic about the changes to the format.

Hopefully the first of many…

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

One of the customisations we make to our Moodle installations has kindly been checked-in by Petr Škoda – thanks Petr!

Hopefully, we in TALL will be able to make lots of useful contributions to Moodle, giving a little back to this great project 🙂