Moodle for Business Category

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Moodle 2.0: Availability Settings for Resources and Activities

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Construction sign board reads Big Changes AheadIn versions of Moodle prior to 2.0, activities such as assignments and quizzes could be made available to students any time, any time after a certain date, until a certain date, or within a window of time.  However, resources were either available or hidden.  This is problematic when the course design calls for material being “released for viewing” throughout the course instead of all at once in the beginning of the course.  The burden falls on someone (usually me) to “unhide” the content on the specified date.  I have forgotten to do this a couple of times, which led to a flood of emails from panicked students. Oops. 

I am thrilled that Moodle 2.0 will allow resources to be set up with a “show” and “hide” date, just like we’ve enjoyed with assignments. If you’re unsure about the difference between a resource and an activity, check out this earlier post. 

As if this isn’t exciting enough, 2. 0 also adds contingency option settings for both resources and activities.  

Now, in addition to date restrictions, the course creator may limit access to a Moodle activity or resource based on: 

  • A minimum grade received in one or more other activities within the course
  • Completion* status of one or more other activities within the course 

If the activity or resource is not available for any of the above reasons, the course creator has an option of showing it with restriction information or hiding it completely.  When the conditions are met – whether it is a date or status of other activities – the activity or resource will automatically become available.  No more setting the alarm to “unhide” the pages at midnight.  Yeah! 

OK, so what does all of this mean to you?

If you are offering continuing education units or courses that are governed by certification requirements, such as time spent, all material viewed, minimum grades, etc., you are in a better position to demonstrate that those requirements were met.  Even if you don’t have to answer to anyone, but you have certain learning objectives in mind that require a structured journey through the material, these new options are very beneficial.  

  • Students won’t be able to jump straight to the test or the assignments without reviewing the content.
  • All activities and resources may be marked complete, so you’ll have some good data to see what students are viewing – and not viewing – without having to grade everything.
  • You’ll be able to direct students to different materials within the same course, based on their performance of prior materials. If a student fails to view a page or complete an activity to your satisfaction, you can allow access to “remedial” materials, but not the next topic or exam.
  • You will never have to worry about whether the material is hidden when it should be showing, or showing when it should be hidden. 

While I think these new options are awesome, my fear is that this will add confusion for Moodle rookies.  This type of “if…then” logic can become very complex and will require some strategy to employ reasonably.  My even worse fear is that some course creators will go wild with it, with so many contingencies that it might as well be a “view next slide” course.  I can only hope that course creators will default to no restrictions, using the conditional availability only when it supports learning objectives.   

*There are several options for determining the completion status of various resources and activities.  I will cover those in a separate post…

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Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Looking Ahead: Web Accessibility and How It Will Affect eLearning Content

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Looking Ahead...I used to have eagle-eye vision.  One day, about 10 years ago, I was having trouble reading the mint stamp on a coin.  I assumed it was a double stamp.  My husband said it was perfectly clear. 

Huh? 

My eye doctor laughed and said there was more to come.  Sure enough, I began to have difficulty distinguishing between the shampoo and conditioner bottles in the shower.  Why are they making those labels so small these days?  It didn’t take too long before my computer monitor had vibrating fuzzies instead of words on it. Who changed my display settings? 

I can still see a bird in a treetop a half mile away.  But without computer-reading glasses, I can’t see what I’m typing right now.  

Imagine if special glasses didn’t help. 

Imagine if you could not see what was on your monitor, your iPad, or even a large screen.  Imagine not being able to read an email, see what others are saying on Facebook, get directions to wherever you’re going, or read this blog.  This isn’t just annoying, like having to put on glasses just to read a menu. It limits one’s ability to interact, share, communicate, and learn

Thankfully, there are people who came to this revelation long before I did - and they’ve been doing something about it.  They are creating standards for technology that will not only help the vision-impaired, but those who can’t use a mouse, combine keystrokes, or are otherwise restricted in their use of computer technology.  

The W3 Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative “works with organizations around the world to develop strategies, guidelines, and resources to help make the Web accessible to people with disabilities” and has developed guidelines to support this mission.  Other guidelines exist throughout the world, some of which are legally required.  

How can any of this possibly affect your eLearning courses? 

If eLearning is a component of your business, regardless of what that business is, you should be thinking about how what you do will fit with these standards. 

To give you just a hint at how what you do can affect the ability of your potential client base to use and/or enjoy your eLearning, read this great white paper from the Sloan Consortium that examined Moodle for accessibility.  A seemingly innocuous Moodle text string, “This quiz is limited to 1 attempt(s).” would be read by a screen reader as “This quiz is limited to two attempt open parenthesis ess close parenthesis.”

Yikes!  I had no idea!   

I encourage you to read the entire study; you will probably be shocked with the things that you take for granted.  I was.  I don’t have anything to do with the programming of Moodle, but I do create course content in it.  I have always taken learning styles into consideration, but I hadn’t given that much thought to how a technological interface meant to help someone with a disability might not be able to “get my meaning”.  I will from now on. It isn’t enough that the application you use is web accessible; the content must be as well.

Why should you care?

  • You could be missing a large number of potential clients - either for your eLearning or the products and services you sell that depend on online training.  Not to mention that in order to provide training (much of which is online) to any US Federal agency, that training will be required to meet Section 508 standards.  Similar government requirements will soon be in place throughout the world.
  • Depending upon your business, you could be opening yourself up for legal actions and bad publicity by creating learning (or any web) content that isn’t accessible to everyone who needs it.
  • The best reason:  It’s the right thing to do.   

I hope that I never need a screen reader, but I do appreciate web designers who use readable fonts and stick to non-vibrating colors.  I am most definitely going to make every effort to build my eLearning content in a manner that not only meets these guidelines and standards, but provides quality information that is as interesting and engaging as it is for those without disabilities. 

Please follow me on Twitter and/or subscribe to my RSS feed and newsletter.  I will be covering web accessibility in many posts to come…

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Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Creating Customized Moodle Functionality

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I have a client who put this on his Moodle wish list last fall: some way for the participants to keep track of where they are in the course.  You see, this client (a big company) has a few hundred students in a completely self-paced course.  These are working adults, involved in a training program designed to span weeks or months.  There are no graded assignments, but there are dozens of tasks to be completed.  There are a number of pages to read and videos to watch.  It’s easy to lose one’s place. 

I found a couple of modules in the list of third-party contributed code that might fit the bill.   The client’s Moodle site is hosted and supported by ClassroomRevolution, so I asked Thom Caswell for a “background check” on these modules.  One, called Checklist, came up “clean”.  We decided to give it a try.  

The client was very happy with our initial testing of Checklist, but it still wasn’t quite what he wanted.  I said I’d see if the developer was willing to do some customizations. It couldn’t hurt to ask! 

I sent Davo Smith (the contributor of Checklist) a message through Moodle; I heard back from him within a few hours.  A few emails back and forth were all it took to explain what additional functionality we wanted and for him to begin working on it.  He had the first iteration to me in about a week.  With each iteration, ClassroomRevolution installed the module (which required some code knowledge), the client and I tested it, and Davo made the necessary tweaks. 

Despite the time of year (holiday season), it took only six weeks to have a fully functional Checklist installed on the live Moodle site.  It automatically brings in all resources and activities in the course, automatically checks off those resources and activities that the student has viewed, displays a list and a progress bar to both student and teacher, and gives the student control over several features.  Very cool.

To make a great story have an even better ending, this customization was not exclusive to the client.  It is available to the Moodle community, in versions compatible to Moodle 1.9x and 2.0.

I encourage all small businesses (and big ones, too) using Moodle to take this approach to customization.  It is a much faster and cost-effective way to add functionality than to hire a programmer to start from scratch to make something that is one-of-a-kind and proprietary.  (Unless selling software is your business, there’s no competitive advantage in having secret Moodle code all for yourself).  Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Search through the third party modules. If you can’t find exactly what you want, find something close. If you have engaged a Moodle Partner and/or a Moodle expert course designer, you can ask for help in the search.  Very often, they’ll already know about something that does whatever and you won’t have to search at all. 
  2. Read the reviews and comments made by other Moodlers.  I avoid the ones where users have posted comments such as “I installed this and now my pages are blank”. Yikes!  If you’re going this alone, make sure you are able to install the module yourself.  Some require code tweaking.
  3. Even if you are a brave soul and can install a module on your own, if you took my advice on hosting, ask for help.  Most Partners offer services that include installation of third party modules and other integrations.  They make sure you have compatible versions and that the installation is done properly (it works and doesn’t break your site!)
  4. Work with the module developer to modify it to your needs if necessary.  Don’t let time zone differences scare you but don’t expect overnight results, either. Many (most?) of these people have “day jobs” so consider that when setting expectations for turn-around time.   
  5. Be collaborative.  Allow the developer to post the modified version back to the third party contributed code.   

For a relatively small amount of money, you’ll have all the functionality you ever dreamed of and you can give back to the Moodle community by contributing that modification.  Everyone benefits!

If you’d like to contact Davo, his email address is moodle@davosmith.co.uk.  To learn more about Moodle hosting and support, visit ClassroomRevolution.com.

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Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The Year in Review – Using eLearning and Moodle in a Small Business

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The needs of a small business are different from that of a big business, and different still from those of a university.  Unlike accounting and human resources, eLearning functionality has not been used in small business applications for very long.  Consequently, service providers, advice, and options are much harder to come by.  Even understanding how eLearning can work in your business might be difficult to envision.  

These posts from 2010 offer some ideas on how to use eLearning in general and Moodle specifically, in your small business.  They also provide some guidance on what to look for and what to avoid. 

My picks for best small business advice:

Here’s hoping for a safe and happy 2011. Happy New Year!

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Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The Year in Review – Moodle Tips for Everyone, especially Small Businesses

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In the first year of Penny For Your Thoughts, I shared many of my “ah hah!” moments about Moodle.  The following posts share tips and advice on using some of Moodle’s many features.  Hopefully, they clear up some common points of head-scratching with Moodle.  Watch for more in 2011! 

My favorite source for Moodle happenings:

Here’s hoping for a safe and happy 2011. Happy New Year!

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