Book Review: #Moodle 2.0 eLearning Course Development

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Note: This blog entry includes my reflections and my notes about Packt Publishing's Moodle 2.0 eLearning Course Development book by William Rice. In the interests of full disclosure, please be aware Packt Publishing has provided ample no-cost access to their ebook titles. That said, my reflections are my own and I share what I think about the books (as any blogger should).
Sitting down with a 313 page tome by William Rice can be daunting. Having read Rice's work before, I have high expectations for top-notch work! The title of this book has set certain expectations for me. What are my expectations for the book? That it will teach me something new about eLearning Course development rather than be a walkthrough Moodle 2.0. I am ardently hoping for a book that blends those principles that I learned in various online facilitator training courses into Moodle course design and development. Alas, it was not meant to be, but an author like Rice can take you where you weren't planning to go and you enjoy it!  Fortunately, that's exactly what happened!

Rice explains what his book is about in the preface:
Moodle 2.0 E-Learning Course Development shows you how to use Moodle as a tool to enhance your teaching. It will help you to analyze your students' requirements, and come to an understanding of what Moodle can do for them. After that, you'll see how to use every feature of Moodle to meet your course goals. Moodle is relatively easy to install and use, but the real challenge lies in developing a learning process that leverages its power and maps effectively onto the established learning situation. This book guides you through meeting that challenge.
What Moodle's help files don't tell you is, when and why to use each feature, and what effect the feature will have on the students' experience. That is what this book provides. 
That's a pretty powerful statement, isn't it? The effect that Moodle's feature-set will have on students' experience, both individually and collectively. As a result of that, I began to look for answers to questions like those posed in research and connections to Moodle. For example, consider the following:
  1. What are the underlying processes of collaborative of discourse and how can Moodle help support those processes?
  2. How can you use Moodle to ensure collaborative work is relevant and learners understand the relevance?
  3. How can Moodle facilitate establishment of learning teams who can work on projects?

As I worked my way through the book, I had to revise my expectations. Rice does a phenomenal job approach Moodle 2.0 from an administrator perspective looking out for teachers, course creators and the other roles, but I kept wanting to see him hit these types of questions shown above a bit harder. I found myself sympathizing with that vision of Moodle administration.

Once I shed my expectation that this was about course development, how to facilitate online learning, it was easy to see Rice's latest work as a must-have book for Moodle administrators. Rice goes into exquisite detail on the right things to focus in on.

One of those details is a question that often arise with "new" Moodle instances; here's an actual issue. Rice deals with this is simple, understandable language. It is a model of straightforward, approachable explanations...and he does it again and again through the whole text.

One of my favorite examples is his use of Workshop Content pages to highlight William Wallace's life:
In this content page, each link could be an aspect of Wallace's life: historical achievements, personal beliefs, family, and the world in which he lived. At the beginning of the lesson, the student would choose a branch to explore. At the end of each branch, the student would choose between going back to the content page (beginning of the lesson), or exiting the lesson.

My Notes:
These are my notes, take-aways and questions as I read the book. They are intended to pull out parts I find interesting and ask questions.
  1. The phrase "online learning experience" connotes a more active, engaging role for the students and teachers. It connotes web pages that can be explored in any order, courses with live chats among students and teachers, forums where users can rate messages on their relevance or insight, online workshops that enable students to evaluate each other's work, impromptu polls that let the teacher evaluate what students think of a course's progress, and directories set aside for teachers to upload and share their files. 
  2. ...the My private files page doesn't display files that the student has uploaded to specific courses. The files here are, literally, private. However, when the student submits a file to a course, the student can select a private file and submit it to the course.
  3. Rice does a great job of quickly providing a tour of Moodle, discussing server side stuff in a way that's not intimidating and is straightforward. I especially like his discussion of Fantastico and one-click install options offered by web hosting services: "hosting services simplify the installation and thus provide a fast, inexpensive way to get a Moodle site up and running. Automated installations are not always the latest version. Check with your hosting company to determine when they roll out new versions."
  4. Rice discusses web hosting, providing some screenshots of how things look. I haven't seen this in other books, so kudos to Rice for raising this topic and addressing it. His screenshots involving cPanel control panel use to manage a Moodle are really essential for many folks. Often navigating cPanel is a maze depending on your web hosting service provider and Rice helps users understand it.
  5. Mentions to get no-cost software.
  6. Treasure trove of great information regarding interacting with a Moodle instance.
  7. In previous versions of Moodle, a Group existed only in the course in which it was created. Now, Moodle enables you to create site-wide groups. These are called Cohorts.
  8. Rice's background in Moodle Administration comes through loud and clear but he's hitting the essential points for overcoming time-outs and upload sizes. 
  9. Discussion of the CRON job (BTW, I notice a typo in a heading. "SETING UP THE CRON JOB" has "setting" mis-spelled.
  10. This is a must-have book simply for Moodle 2 administration information it shares right up through page 128.
  11. Chapter 6 is where Rice finally gets into Assignments and Lessons for creating an interactive course. The journey has been pleasant, wading through Moodle Administration and server-side topics, but where's the eLearning course development connection?
  12. "You might want to use a label to indicate that the assignment is something that the student should do. You can also label the individual activities with an imperative, such as "Read about the plants around you" or "Answer a survey question about your experience with edible plants."
  13. Typo on page 192...usage is spelled "usag" in sentence 1 under the heading of "The flow of pages"
  14. Use of lessons to add interactivity, taking the place of static material. Great walkthrough of Content Pages in a lesson activity:
    For example, Wallace's historical achievements would fit well on a timeline. But a timeline might not be the best way to teach about Wallace's personal beliefs and religion. Wallace's family might fit well on a timeline, but background information about the culture and society in which he lived might not. A straight-through lesson might not be the best way to present Wallace's life. Instead, you might use a content page.
    In this content page, each link could be an aspect of Wallace's life: historical achievements, personal beliefs, family, and the world in which he lived. At the beginning of the lesson, the student would choose a branch to explore. At the end of each branch, the student would choose between going back to the content page (beginning of the lesson), or exiting the lesson.
  15. Using the CHOICE activity: ...useful for having a structured, ongoing conversation between the students and teacher. If you publish the results of the Choice, then you can then choose whether or not to publish the names of the students who have selected each response. In the example at the beginning of this section, Privacy of results was set to Publish full result, so a student completing the Choice could see who had already selected each response.
  16. Moodle does not have a module specifically for sending email announcements. So when you want to send an email to everyone in a class, you can use the default News Forum that is automatically added to every class.
  17. On wikis: Making a wiki editable by only a single student appears to turn the wiki into a personal journal. However, the difference between a single-student wiki and a journal is that a journal can be seen only by the student and the Teacher. You can keep a single-student wiki private, or, you can open it for viewing by the student's group or the entire class.
  18. Workshops: A workshop provides a place for the students in a class to see an example project, upload their individual projects, and see and assess each other's projects. When a teacher requires each student to assess the work of several other students, the workshop becomes a powerful collaborative grading tool.
  19. Four questions Rice encourages you to ask and provides some examples...not a bad way to get Moodle course designers thinking! 
    1. What will you have each student do? Create a file offline and upload it to the workshop? Write a journal entry? Participate in an online chat? Perform some offline activity and report on it via email or Wiki? Although the workshop window allows the student to upload a file, you can also require any other activity from the student.
    2. Who will assess the assignments? Will the Teacher assess all assignments? Will students be required to assess other students' assignments? Will each student self-assess their work?
    3. How will the assignments be assessed? You can determine the number of criteria upon which each assignment is assessed, the grading scale, and the type of grading.
    4. When will students be allowed to submit their assignments and assessment? The assignment becomes available as soon as you show it. However, you can require students to assess an example before being allowed to submit their own work, and you can also set a deadline for submitting assignments.
  20. In his chapter summary on blocks, Rice makes the following point: Experienced web surfers are adept at ignoring information they don't need (when was the last time you paid attention to a banner ad on the Web?). If your students are new computer users, they may assume that the presence of a block means that it requires their attention or interaction. 
Image Reference
William Wallace.

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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


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