Tag: moodle elearning

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Jazzing Up Your Moodle Courses with Collaborative Activities

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Many of my clients are new to eLearning.  Some have 200 page books (all text) while others have material that is mostly video or slides.  Hardly anyone starts out with a blended learning syllabus that perfectly balances individual learning with group activities.  The hardest thing to do when converting these materials to eLearning is to keep the students involved and interested. 

Here are some ideas of how you can use Moodle collaborative activities to engage your students and provide opportunity for interaction with other students, without costing you a dime or adding more items to your to-do list: 

  • Instead of creating a glossary of terms for your students, assign them the task!  Give them a list of terms to define; let them choose a few or require them to define every term.  Allow duplicates and allow ratings.
  • Do the same thing with the Moodle wiki.  Assign students a list of topics – tell them to come up with their own – relevant to the course subject matter.  Grade them based on their writing skills, the quality and number of citations, or anything else you think is an important measure.
  • One of the best ways to learn a topic is to explain it to someone else. Instead of answering questions posed in forum posts right away, wait some predetermined time (48 hours?) until students have had a chance to help their classmates.  Or, assign a team of students to respond to forum posts for one week.  (You can always jump in and set the ship right if they get off track).
  • Even better, ask students to start discussions.  Have them monitor the replies and respond to questions.  Suggest that they “ask questions” that will bring out the most common misunderstandings of the topic so that the discussions will further reinforce the right interpretations.  I did this when I wrote my first Moodle courses in statistical analysis.
  • Hold a panel discussion each week (or month) using the Moodle chat.  Set a time and choose a general topic.  Have some things to say to get the ball rolling before anyone asks a question.  Don’t make the mistake of going in unprepared.  This chat should have a purpose, which generically, is to further facilitate learning.
  • Even better, ask students to be responsible for these panel discussions.  Let them choose their own topics or assign them.  Either way, explaining something is a great way to learn it
  • You can do the same thing with web meetings within Moodle.  There are several options that are free to use.  The advantage a web meeting has over a chat is that you can display anything from a histogram to a Rembrandt; from a map to a color wheel.  If a visual is important to your discussion, this would be better than a chat. 

In case you’re new to all of these, some quick descriptions of Moodle activities: 

  • Glossary: Dictionary of terms, with definitions.  Can included pictures, audio, etc., but typically the definitions are relatively short. This is an asynchronous activity.
  • Forum:  Threaded discussions that allow replies and ratings.  This is an asynchronous activity. 
  • Wiki: More like an encyclopedia than a dictionary. Wikipedia is the granddaddy of all wikis. This is an asynchronous activity.
  • Chat:  Online typing of questions, answers, and ideas.  Users are identified on the screen and what they type appears much like a movie script. 
    • Penny: I said this.
    • Pitcher73: I agree
    • Scarymary: I think it’s all very cool
    • Etc.

In Moodle, if at least two people “chat”, a transcript is saved.  This is a synchronous activity.

  • Web Meeting: More than a chat because there is typically audio as well, plus a virtual whiteboard (some or all of the participants can “write” on it and it is displayed on everyone’s monitor), a screen presentation, or video.  This is a synchronous activity. The free versions don’t always offer a recorded transcript, but this isn’t always necessary. (Confesssion: I never listen to or watch recorded transcripts of meetings, especially if I wasn’t there to start with.)  

For more on web meetings and other collaborative features, check out my previous post.  

Let me know if you have any other ideas to get people involved, interested, and talking!

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Monday, September 27th, 2010

Demystifying Applications, Themes, and Content for Moodle, etc.

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Last week I used a hotel as an analogy to explain the concepts of account creation, authentication, enrollments, payments, roles, and permissions in Moodle.  In this post, we’ll stick with the hotel (a really nice place, in a location you love) to talk about applications, themes, and content of a website.  They are the major pieces of any website, overlapping and interacting to create what you see on your browser.  If you are not 100% sure of the definitions of a website, a webpage, and a domain name, read this first.

The Main Structure

The application that runs a website is much the same thing as the hotel building.  This includes the walls, the roof, the frame that holds them together, the plumbing, the wiring…things that are not easily modified and that take some specialized knowledge to maintain.  Examples of Internet software applications include WordPress, Drupal, QuickBooks Online, Zen Cart, and of course, Moodle.  This site is run by the application, WordPress.  Desktop applications include Word, Photoshop, and Quicken. 

Applications govern the functionality of the website: financial, learning, writing, shopping, etc.

Major applications that control the website have their own set of rules, so a plug-in that works in WordPress is not going to work in Moodle.  Plug-ins and modules are similar to electric appliance cords.  What plugs into and outlet in  the UK won’t fit in a Canadian outlet.  Many applications, such as PayPal, MailChimp, and Facebook, are offering new plug-ins every day that will work with various other applications, such as Moodle and WordPress, but each plug-in is specific to website application.

Desktop applications are not displayed through your Internet browser, so the user must have a device (computer, iPad, etc.) that has that application (or its viewer) installed on it. This can be a nightmare because of the different versions and formats that exist.  Also, it prohibits many types of device-users from accessing the document, such as from a public computer.  This is why I don’t build e-Learning where the content resides in linked files.

The Style

The theme of a website, much like that of a hotel, is the presentation…the style…the tone of the site.  It includes the carpets, paint colors, styles of furniture and fixtures. A theme controls the look and feel of every page on the website such as background image, bullet styles and colors, fonts, and much more.  In a hotel, a theme is intended to provide visual continuity and appeal to a targeted group of guests.  In a website, this is also true, but the theme has an additional benefit:  It tells the browser how to present (display) each page on the website, without having to repeat those instructions for each page.  This saves a lot of space and redundant programming.

WordPress has more flexible themes than does Moodle, in that the layout of a page (number and position of columns, footers and headers) is somewhat controlled by the theme.  WordPress is like a building where some walls are movable.  Moodle is more like a building that would require complete renovations to change the floor plan, but where rooms can be closed off to the public.

Back in the Stone Age (early 1990s), or maybe as late as Medieval Times (circa 2000), each page on the Internet had a full set of code:  every color, position, image, and font style for displaying the content plus the content itself was in the code for that page. 

Nowadays, themes are written in CSS.  The theme of this website is Blossom.  The content is separate from the theme.

Modifying the theme requires some knowledge of programming script, some artistic ability, and some courage.  It is very much like revamping the look of your house; it isn’t cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper than building a new one (modifying the application).  More and more themes are being written by developers to include easy ways to modify them.  I expect that in a very short while, this will be the standard and no one will need to modify style sheets.

The Interior Decorations

The words and images displayed in all of the pages and posts are collectively known as the content.  These are the decorations and guests’ personal belongings scattered throughout the hotel.  It is easy to remove these and change them.  In a website application, there are some content items that regardless of what they looked like going in, they are presented by the theme in a particular manner.  The pink hyperlinks and bullets on this site are an example of that.  The theme tells the application what styles to apply for all of the content.

Adding, deleting, and changing content has been generally available to website owners and users for several years.  Every time you add a comment to a blog or a product review, you are adding content.  WYSIWIG editors are better and more prevalent with each passing day and can be highly effective for those who are less than comfortable “using a computer”.

The Final Product:  The Best Combination of Application, Theme, and Content

My words of advice to all small business owners to produce the best final product, especially when it’s a Moodle eLearning site:

  1. Concentrate on your content.  Make it the very best you can, whether it’s a course in table setting, a certification for nurses, or a blog on fun things to do with the kids. 
  2. Find a theme that can be easily modified to represent your business; make it your own.  If needed, spend a little money on a graphic artist.
  3. Choose a course designer, Moodle Partner, and/or a web designer who knows the application inside and out and is able to find the right plug-ins that meet your functional requirements without modification of the application.

 Good luck!  If you would like additional clarification, please contact me.

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Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Where in the world is the Internet? Can a small business with global clients still use Moodle?

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Last week I was asked if I could burn a CD with a Moodle course on it, because there was concern that people in Asia-Pacific wouldn’t have reliable internet access.  

Uh, no”, I said.  

For a brief time, I was speechless, which is a rare condition for me.  There are two huge misconceptions embedded in this question, which I absolutely must write about! 

  1. Anything online can be copied onto a CD or DVD because “electronic is electronic”.
  2. Internet access is available only in the US and Canada; maybe England.   

Electronic media is a broad category, not a single characteristic.  The “power of the Internet” requires the Internet.

No, you can not burn a CD of Moodle! The explanation will have to wait for another day.  But even if you could, here’s why you would not want to: 

  • A CD can not be updated, edited, or controlled.  Once it is delivered into the hands of the user, it is what it is.  If an error is discovered, a change in policy or technology occurs, or any other reason to change the content comes along, the content of that CD can not be changed.
  • You can’t track the usage.  A CD running on a device isn’t traceable.  As the teacher or administrator, you have no idea if the content was viewed, where it was viewed from, or by whom.  You have at least some ability to obtain this information within an LMS.
  • There is no feedback.  Even if you have a fancy CD that is “interactive”, only the program interacts with the user.  The teacher (consultant or trainer) does not interact with anyone.  There are no chats or forums.  Students do not interact, and therefore, don’t learn from each other.
  • There is no other advantage that an LMS has to offer. There’s no “My Moodle” or other customization at the user’s end.   

In my opinion, a printed book is better than a CD.  It’s a little bit larger, but doesn’t require a computer to run, and I can sit under a tree with it. 

OK, so those are just a few of the advantages of online learning.  Not only is online better, there’s no excuse not to have it.  Internet access is ubiquitous. Perhaps we need to revamp Where In the World is Carmen Dandiego to… 

…Where in the world is the Internet?  

When I was an employee at Time Warner Communications in the mid 1990s, all the buzz was about broadband, a wild, new concept.  The vision of our company was to bundle cable TV, phone, and Internet access into one service. There was even talk of a “library of movies that a user could just watch whenever desired”.  Revolutionary!  Almost as far-fetched as indoor plumbing!  Of course, these ideas are very much reality 15 years later.  

What was also reality then – and still plagues us today – is the very difficult  task of dealing with legacy systems – not just computer programs, but with the infrastructure itself.  In parts of the world where reliable phone networks had never been put in place, it was easier to install fiber optics and cell phone towers than it was to replace the old for the new in many parts of the US.  Cell towers are often a source of community disdain because they ruin the view.  Back then, cellular phones were as common in parts of Africa as in Colorado.  

That was a lifetime ago (in technology years), so I did some quick Googling and came up with some interesting statistics on 2010 Internet usage: 

  • Three-quarters of a billion people use the Internet in Asia, according to Internet World Stats.  I don’t know how fast their service is, but it doesn’t take much bandwidth to run Moodle.   
  • Chinese is the second most spoken language on the internet, according to this Wikipedia article.  
  • Another Wikipedia article states: Singapore, as a small densely populated island nation and a pioneer, continues to be one of the few countries in the World in which broadband Internet access is readily available to just about any would-be user anywhere in the country, with connectivity of over 99%.  
  • The Agoda hotel in Thailand has an internet café. I’m willing to bet that there at least as many hotels in Thailand with internet access as in many North American locales.   
  • With XMGlobal, you can host your own hot spot just about anywhere in the world. So if you’re not lucky enough to be in Singapore, you can still Moodle! 
  • Registered Moodle sites exist all over the world.  Presumably, those places have Internet access reliable enough to use their Moodle sites. 
  • My favorite myth-dispeller from WebsiteOptimization.com:  Japan and Korea are way ahead of the pack in percentage of subscribers who have fiber (faster and more reliable than the wire that hangs in the air along my street).  The US is 11th in fiber penetration and 22nd in broadband speed.  

In my post about how small businesses (including authors, consultants, trainers, and other entrepreneurs) can expand their client base by using eLearning, it was implicit that this expansion was limited only by the size of your imagination and the value of your services to people worldwide.  A lack of access to the Internet should not be a concern!   

Last year, I built and hosted a Moodle course for a cruise line.  We trained 2000 employees, while they were onboard ships that were sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the open Atlantic.  Not one person had an issue with the accessibility of the Moodle site.  Not one.  

So, if you are being held back by the notion that Moodle won’t work for your business because your clients are “around the world”, let go of that idea.  Moodle is available everywhere…

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Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

In the News: Moodle 2.0

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From the June 2010 issue of Penny For Your Thoughts newsletter…

in the news

Moodle 2.0 (scheduled for release next month) is a big change from version 1.9x. I’ve had a chance to play around with it for a couple of weeks now, and the one thing that strikes me hardest is this: a lot of what I thought would be easier, isn’t. I thought it would be more “intuitive” or easier for a novice to create content. It isn’t. I think this is a good thing. Over the past 30 years I’ve seen some really great software applications die because some easier (albeit mediocre) version came out. Easy is usually at odds with powerful; it might be easier to create charts in that oh-so-popular spreadsheet program, but most of what comes out is junk. What we want is an LMS application that is powerful in its ability to produce high quality output, yet easy for the student to use. So far it seems that Moodle is more powerful… on the creation side and easier on the student side.

One of the best new features of 2.0 is the ability to create conditions for every page or activity created. It is possible to build a complex relationship amongst pages and activities within a course, such that each appears only when other conditions (grades) have been achieved. While this is a very cool thing to do, and truly an enhancement to the instructional design capabilities of Moodle, it is certainly not easier. To use this feature effectively will require even more planning and an even deeper understanding of how people learn.

A new block, Private Files, promises to make the students’ lives a lot easier. It provides a place for storage and retrieval of one’s own personal files within any Moodle course (or site). I can see this as being huge for on-the-go learning, especially for mobile devices without the storage capacity of laptops and desktops. The students will be able to access their work from anywhere and have a super reliable storage medium.

I am continuing to work through the “new Moodle” with a fine tooth comb and will be regularly posting reviews of each feature (new and lost) over the next few weeks. I had been waiting for the new release to do some long-overdue upgrading of my existing courses (first written in 1.6). That was really just an excuse to procrastinate because I never upgrade to anything new when it first comes out! It will be awhile before we know which modules and plug-ins will work with 2.0, what new ones will be released, and just how to use them all to our advantage. Keep up to date on my Moodle 2.0 reviews by following me.

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Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

My Moodle site is up and running. Now What?

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OK, so let’s say you have followed all of my advice:

  1. Registered a domain name exclusively for your Moodle installation
  2. Hosted it with a certified Moodle Partner
  3. Hired a course designer to build it
  4. Launched a GREAT Moodle eLearning site

Now, it’s six months later (or next week or next year) and you want to make some minor changes.  Perhaps you want to update a quiz or edit some text.  Maybe you want to embed a really cool video you just found on YouTube.  You might even find that some of your external links and RSS feeds are broken.  (This will happen eventually, as the owners of those sites move things around). 

Who is going to do this?

If you’re anything like me, your first thought is to contact your course designer.  And, if your experience is anything like mine (with other such professionals, not course designers specifically), you’ll find that because she is in the middle of another large project, your request seems like a buzzing fly in her ear.  Not only does she find you annoying, but you feel like you’ve been swatted away.

So (again, if you’re anything like me), you decide to try it yourself.  Of course, if you knew how to do these things, you probably would’ve done them yourself in the first place!  But you try.  Maybe it takes you less than a day to do a 10-minute task and if you’re lucky, you didn’t break anything.  Maybe you took all day and maybe you broke a lot.  Now maybe someone will think your job is big enough to care about…

How can you avoid being a pest, wasting a lot of your time, and/or damaging your content? Some choices:

  • When you are choosing a course designer, make sure you ask about “going forward”.  Will she help you with that?  If so, what are the terms?  Get a Service Level Agreement (SLA) as part of your initial contract.  This document should define what it will cost you and what you will get in return.  One option  might be a flat monthly rate to check your entire Moodle site for broken links and incoming RSS feeds, as well as applications that are no longer optimal or viewable (because of upgrades to flash, Adobe Reader, etc.), and a stated amount of time making changes to your content.  (Remember, your Moodle host will do the back-ups and upgrades to Moodle so this should not be included in this SLA).  Another option would be an hourly rate, with a fast turnaround time, for changes to your content.  You would then be responsible for periodic checking of links and applications.

Or…

  • Find someone else whose business it is to do just these things.  Maybe your course designer can recommend someone.  There are many online “classifieds” where just such people post their skills and rates.  Search “Moodle”.  You can hire this person by the hour or on retainer.  If your business grows enough, you can hire a full time person to do this!

Or…

  • Take a course or two from a Moodle Partner.  Learn the basics.  Now that you have a working, revenue-generating site, you should have time to do this.  I’m not saying you will ever be a great Moodler, or that you even want to be, but you’ll be able to fix yourself a sandwich or heat up a can of soup (metaphorically speaking).

It’s easy to forget the need for ongoing maintenance of content when you’re all caught up in the initial phases of the project.  You don’t have to have all the details ironed out before you launch, but you should be thinking about it right from the start.  Good luck!

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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Moodle 2.0: Is it good for business?

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I’ve had the chance to evaluate the “new Moodle” for about two weeks now. I don’t know what I was expecting, but as is so often the case with new stuff (like CDs and Windows®), I’m not sure I like it. My emotional side usually lets my analytical side take over in times like these, so over the next few days I’ll be posting my analysis of each of the new (or changed) Moodle features, as they apply to business uses.

Each feature will be evaluated on how well it:

  • Solves a Moodle for business problem, as defined by various posts, questions, and my own experience.
  • Focuses on the needs of students in a business training curriculum, (which are very different than those of students in an academic institution).
  • Improves the ease with which a small to medium business can create or edit content and administer the site (enrollments, payments, registrations, roles) without a dedicated IT department or Moodle expert.

I also plan to assess what functionality is missing; modules and plug-ins that will not be upgraded, core features that are no longer available, and changes of core features that affect the functionality. I am holding my breath in hopes that those wonderful people who contribute the code for these awesome add-ons have the time and energy to upgrade them for 2.0. Some, I just can’t live without!

Stay tuned and please send me your thoughts, impressions, and questions on Moodle 2.0 for business uses.

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Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Client Spotlight: Charity Uses Moodle to Reach More People

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From the April 2010 issue of Penny For Your Thoughts newsletter…

spotlightSmall businesses are not the only entities that can benefit from eLearning.  In this post, our spotlight is on how Moodle has enabled a charitable organization to continue to offer their grief counseling workshop, even in tough economic times.  The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) was founded in 1997 by Dr. Wallace Sife, author of The Loss of a Pet.  For many years, he had delivered his 10-hour workshop, Pet Loss Counselor Training, in the New York City area.  As travel became more difficult and budgets were cut, Dr. Sife began to search for an online alternative. Reliant on volunteers and donations, APLB could not afford an expensive IT solution.

In 2009 he selected Moodle as his delivery platform; Albany Analytical created the course and managed enrollments.  The first two sessions (summer and winter) have seen participants from more than a dozen states/provinces and three continents; such diversity would likely not have been possible without the online solution. 

Relying more on solid content than whiz-bang bells and whistles, the APLB course successfully graduated 33 in its first year.  With Dr. Sife’s commitment to excellence, each participant’s competency was assessed on an individual and thorough level.  Because of the nature of the material, all testing was accomplished through submitted essays, designed to measure understanding and ability to perform pet loss counseling.  The Moodle features of a participant forum, live links to relevant sites (such as the APLB newsletter archive), downloadable documents, and a calendar to remind participants of impending due dates, all supported the learning experience.

Dr. Sife plans to conduct these online workshops twice a year, as well as his traditional face to face session every other year (the next one is May 21). Many more people were able to participate in this workshop this past year as would have without the online version.  Moodle eLearning has allowed the APLB to continue to offer this important training even though a tough global economy prohibited travel by most potential participants.  We look forward to the continued success of this program.

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