Sunday, October 30, 2011

#Moodle for Dummies @moodler_radana


Over the last few weeks, I've been mentoring a colleague in a school district Human Resources department focused on Risk Management and Compliance Training. The tutorial sessions focus on the use of Moodle as a tool to facilitate self-paced training and certification. The courses being developed are fairly straightforward and simple, but plans are for more in-depth development. Through it all, I kept wondering, Which book would be good to share with her so she could get comfortable with basic Moodle functions? And, of course, this is already after she's gone through a brief 1-week introduction to Moodle in an online course.

Like an onion, Moodle's course management features can be slowly peeled back a bit at a time as they are needed. You don't have to start at the top level of complexity, instead starting simple and then adding on as you or your students need to. Radana Dvorak's Moodle for Dummies--which has taken some time to find itself into my hands since the DRM ePub version wouldn't work on my Nook, so they ended up shipping me a print copy which arrived last week--is actually a book I can see sharing with Moodle newbies. Unlike other intro to Moodle books I've review, Moodle for Dummies isn't necessarily oriented towards K-16 learners, but instead, eLearners.

The Moodle for Dummies book is intended for "instructors and trainers working in educational organizations or the business world who want to put their teaching content online." The book comes with a companion web site you can visit, too.
http://www.dummies.com/go/moodlefd

My Reflections on the Text: At $30, this is a straightforward "Moodle manual" you could give to new Moodlers to learn how to use it. Screenshots are illustrative without completely dominating the text. It's not school-centric, but rather, elearner-centric and provides an excellent how-to overview blended with eLearning principles from the get-go. I strongly recommend this book, not only for educators, but businesses interested in facilitating online learning using Moodle. The book occasionally slips into a listing of Moodle features, but that's hard NOT to do in a book for folks new to Moodle and Radana hits the fundamental Moodle group quite well. Another neat point about Moodle for Dummies is the price-tag, making it the least expensive text available on the subject (Packt Publishing usually runs $45+ for their books). It even provides some useful tips on Moodle administration, which can be tough to cover in a chapter or so. Kudos to the author for keeping a subject that could get pretty convoluted simple and to the point.

Nice job, Radana (shown below)! Catch her on Twitter at moodler_radana!



Here are some of my take-aways and comments from the book as I read it:
  1. The author describes Moodle as a learning content management system. That is, an LCMS combines the powers of CMS and LMS. An LCMS is defined as a system that creates, stores, assembles, and delivers eLearning content that can be personalized. It delivers the content in the form of learning objects. Though an LMS manages and administers all forms of learning within an organization, an LCMS concentrates on online learning content. I liked this definition that acknowledges Moodle as more than a course management system.
  2. The goal of an LCMS is to create small chunks of content to meet the needs of individual students or groups of learners and to offer capabilities to update and change the content as and when needed with ease.
  3. The book is intended to cover Moodle 1.8 through 2.x. The screenshots are really Moodle 1.9ish and I'd be concerned that Moodle 2.x version will be radically different from 1.9x...and 1.9x goes away in Summer, 2012, so the shelf-life of this book is limited. If you're using 1.9x, get it. If you're using 2.x, you may want to take a moment to reflect. If the latter, the online portions of the book provide some insights into what you need to take forward from one Moodle version to another.
  4. The author has a great chart breaking down instructional strategy, pedagogy, description, and the features of Moodle that can support 9 varied Instructional Strategies. For example, just to look at one of the strategies, consider the following example:
    1. Instructional Strategy: Brainstorming. 
    2. Pedagogy: Goal-oriented communicative and collaborative interactions effective for problem solving; using cognitive strategies such as understanding, analyzing, applying and evaluating.
    3. Description: Individual or group problem-solving where analysis, critical reviewing, and imaginative methods are used to achieve understanding and improvement to an agreed outcome.
    4. Moodle Features: Forum discussions, chat, wikis and databases.
  5. Unfortunately, the book references Digital Natives vs Immigrants, a dated conversation that has fallen out of favor in the last few years. Still, the conversation helps readers better understand what strategies are appropriate for use with the different groups.
  6. Course-building checklist (click the link to access it online)--from starting point, to organization and design to collaborative activities, course communication, assessment and evaluation, instructor feedback, and miscellaneous topics covers the gamut of questions Moodle designers--or any eLearning designer--needs to ask). Some of my favorite questions include:
    1. How will you engage learners in the course? How will they collaborate with other learners?
    2. When will you give feedback? How will the learners be informed that you have given them feedback through the duration of the course?
    3. How will you protect learner information?
    4. Has an email been prepared/sent to your learners informing them about how to gain access to your course? (typo on page 32 - question reads "about how to gain access your course?" when it should read "about how to gain access to your course?")
  7. Myth-busting, such as:
    1. Myth1: I have to be terribly techsavvy to use Moodle.
    2. Using Moodle effectively means being on the computer 24/7.
    3. Moodle is not designed for my group of learners or customers.
    4. and many others worth reading.
  8. Great overview--simple and approachable--of various course creation options. One piece that is seldom addressed is the PayPal enrollment plugin, that allowing you to charge for your courses and set up a payment system. The book explains how to accomplish this. 
  9. Chapters 4-5 really help a Moodle course creator get going with setting up and designing their course. Chapter 6 does a nice job of introducing Multimedia Plugins and discusses embedding content. Some other neat resources shared in Chapter 6 include the following:
    1. Richard Bryne's Free Technology for Teachers (great you were mentioned, Richard!)
    2. Kioskea.net - how to make a video clip tutorial
    3. Videomaker.com - lots of resources
  10. Discussion of various audio and podcast resources and tools.
  11. There's a discussion of tools like DimDim, Elluminate, GoToMeeting, Oovoo which appears dated, given the acquisition of Elluminate by Blackboard Collaborate, DimDim not being easily available, as well as lack of mention of BigBlueButton, Sclipo Moodle Add-on, and BigMarker.com. Still, the concepts are introduced!
  12. One of the tough things to discuss is how to grade assignments, use the grader report, and Chapter 7 does a nice job of explaining it.
  13. A discussion of Moodle "scales" is also had. Scales are a different way instructors can evaluate learners' performance instead of using traditional letter or percentage grades..scales can be completely nonnumeric, or without values attached, or you can attach values. The author walks you through creating scales of your own. Not having played with scales at all, I found the overview helpful.
  14. Lessons are discussed in Chapter 9 (so are wikis and other collaborative modules). The best discussion of lessons I've read so far has been in a Packt Publishing's book, so I was eager to see how Dvorak handled it in the Moodle for Dummies book. The book certainly doesn't go into as much detail as one would expect in the book, but provides an online component you can review that explains aspects of Lessons in 6 different documents centered on Flashcards, RolePlays, learning paths, and two path questions! The author did a nice job adding this extra resource online and "not scaring away" folks.
  15. Another challenging area for Moodle newbies includes quiz setup and Dvorak makes this straightforward and easy to understand. The author could have provided more helpful links on how to import questions from Blackboard and other CMS tools, but simply mentions there are imperfect solutions. 
  16. The author mentions Hot Potatoes (free) and TexToys ($32). Although I'd heard and used Hot Potatoes, I wasn't familiar with TexToys.
  17. It's apalling how many grown-ups and students don't know how to create and use databases to organize information, relying instead on spreadsheets. Moodle's database is a nice first step--as opposed to MS Access--for folks, and the author helps you get going with databases. Although the author does provide a list of some creative database uses, I was hoping for a bit more. Of course, you can always find lessons on creating databases online. (By the way, did you know about this free online Stanford University Intro to Databases course available?)
  18. Moodle administration is one of my favorite subjects and I was surprised to see it in Chapter 13 of the Moodle for Dummies book. The author does a nice job of hitting the high points of administration, including user authentication and a lot of other neat stuff.
    1. It's hard not to make a list of all the neat Moodle features available (there's so many of them) in a book like this, just to provide "coverage" but at least, they're not covered ad nauseum...just general stuff to help you make an intelligent decision about whether you should investigate more or not. 
    2. I'd probably want to invest in a Alex Buchner's Moodle Admin book rather than rely solely on this chapter, but it's enough to help you appreciate what you don't know!
  19. Chapter 14 really seemed like a catch-all section, but missed one of the important tips when re-using courses. Instead of backing them up and restoring them for a new course, just use separate groups.
  20. Little mention was made of how to extend Moodle via add-ons, mods/blocks, other sources for online resources, so be aware that Moodle.org has some great resources.
  21. My other complaint is that no mention was made of MoodleMayhem.org !! Or MoodleNews! Or MoodleShare.org! What's up with that?!?
    ;->
Full Disclosure: In the interests of full disclosure, please be aware that I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. Of course, if I thought it was poor or not worth reading, I'd say so. My thanks to the publisher for a copy and Radana Dvorak for her hard work!

Here's what the invite letter/email looked like:
I’m writing to offer you a free review copy of Moodle For Dummies – a new guide that provides the resources needed to take advantage of all the eLearning and eTraining possibilities that Moodle offers. Additional book details are below: 
Moodle For Dummies by Radana DvorakISBN: 978-0-470-94942-9; US $29.99Paperback; 408 pages; May 2011 
Moodle For Dummies uses simple language and fun humor to tackle the intricate world of Moodle eLearning and eTraining. While Moodle ForDummies will provide instructors of all sorts with the resources they need to maximize their Moodle experience, it does so by catering to the specific needs of teachers and business trainers. As primary and secondary schools, colleges and businesses continue to flock to the Moodle-enabled realms of eLearning and eTraining, instructors need all the tools necessary to exploit the advantages afforded by Moodle. This book provides educators with these tools while keeping readers engaged through a hands-on approach and accessible, entertaining information. 

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure