Configuring your Moodle Course

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(For more resources on Moodle, see here.)

From curriculum to courses: What counts as a Moodle course

Let’s start this section with me describing the course I’m going to be converting to Moodle as we work together through this book. The course is called “Backyard Ballistics” and it’s a science course that forms part of an applied physics qualification. The course is all about the art of firing weird objects through the air with chemicals and equipment that you will find in your average domestic kitchen and garden shed.

 

There are certain aspects of this course that I can’t convert to Moodle. I want my students to get an appreciation of energy and dynamics by “doing” (kinesthetic learning) the science using everyday items you’ll find around your house. But there is a good deal of support material, handouts, diagrams, and quizzes, that currently I try and distribute electronically using a “shared drive” on the college server. However, my students can never find the materials I tell them to go and look for. At least, that’s their excuse. But I’ve got to admit that after a few years of use our shared drive is starting to look a bit of a mess.

But where do I put these resources in Moodle? The answer is that you put them into a Moodle course. And here is a screenshot of just a fragment of a Moodle course:

(Move the mouse over the image to enlarge.)

I’ve divided my course into six topics:

  • Getting Things Flying ‹
  • Lighter Than Air: Hydrogen Filled Balloons
  • Fire Kites ‹
  • Basic Rocketry: The Match Rocket ‹
  • The World Famous Tennis Ball Mortar! ‹
  • Backyard Ballistics: End of Course Project

The reason why I’ve chosen to convert Backyard Ballistics into topics is partly because that’s how I teach it and partly because I am happy for the students to “dip into” the resources and activities I have converted to Moodle. Before we look at how we can get a course and start adding content to it we really need to understand what Moodle considers to be a course and how Moodle organizes them.

What is a Moodle course

You can clearly see now that, at its most basic, a Moodle course is a placeholder for resources and activities. Obviously it’s much more than this, as you’ll be learning as you work through this book. One obvious advantage Moodle has over a shared drive is that links to resources and activities can be interspersed with text and graphics to make the experience more visually appealing and engaging, and the resources I upload easy to find (I don’t accept any excuses these days).

How Moodle organizes its courses

Let’s take a quick look at how you can organize courses in Moodle.

To help organize courses, Moodle has the idea of categories and subcategories:

Remember that you’ll only find resources and activities in a Moodle course. Categories and subcategories are only there to help you organize and manage the organization of courses.

So how does that work in practice? For example, I work in the Physics department, part of the Faculty of Science. My Backyard Ballistics course supports the Applied Physics qualification. Here’s how we’ve got our categories and subcategories arranged:

I’m sure you could think of examples for your subject area. You could have a category called English that contained two subcategories, Literature and Language. Within literature you could have short courses on particular aspects of the set text you are teaching. You could have a category 20th Century History containing subcategories for Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and USA. Each country subcategory can contain further subcategories called Politics, Society, and so on.

Because this is such a key issue when you first start using Moodle, let’s spend a little time investigating the more common approaches taken when converting face-to-face teaching to Moodle.

Breaking up is hard to do

How you break up a face-to-face, traditionally taught course, depends on the age group and the subject area you are working in, so let’s study some examples.

Often younger children will have the same teacher for all of their subjects. Schools in this situation usually categorize Moodle courses based on year groups, and within the year group each teacher will have their own subcategory in which they are free to create and delete courses as they wish:

Each teacher having their own Moodle course means it is much easier for the children to find the resources that have been uploaded and activities created for them.

As the children get older you can start running different Moodle courses for different subjects depending on that child’s age and ability. Now I could have a category for each year group, and within them categories for each subject area:

Instead of a mathematics teacher having just one course they may instead have a course in Year 9, two in Year 10 and another one in Year 12. As the subject areas begin to broaden and the amount of material you need to get through increases, you might need to think about having Moodle courses for particular subject areas, especially those areas that students tend to struggle with.

As students become older, things tend to become easier, because qualifications examined by external examination bodies will have their own syllabus. Read the syllabus carefully and you will often be able to see immediately how to break the subject down into Moodle courses. Mathematics, for example, naturally falls into categories, namely:

  • ‹ Number
  • ‹ Algebra
  • Geometry (shape, space, and measure)
  • ‹ Data handling and statistics

Within each category there is then a natural divide between subject areas. See whether you can spot a similar pattern in your subject area.

For students who are older still (that is, college or university age), subjects are most often taught in units anyway. A short 10-week unit, for example, is an ideal candidate for a Moodle course.

To close this section, I will leave you with just a few more thoughts. One is that Moodle courses can also be created to develop a student’s key skills. Examples of key skills could be:

  • Communication
  • ‹ Application of number ‹
  • Information and communication technology
  • ‹ Problem solving
  • ‹ Collaboration

Another is that Moodle courses are not set in stone; once they are created they can be changed as you require. You will also see later in this book that responsibility for different aspects of your Moodle course can be delegated down to your students, enabling you all to work together developing your page.

Have a go hero – developing key skills

Try identifying courses that support developing one of the key skills. If key skills are a priority in your school or college, then no doubt you will have lots of skills-based teaching materials already to hand that you can convert into Moodle courses.

If in doubt, hold a meeting

In this section we’ve been investigating how we could break up traditionally taught, face-to- face courses and identifying what might be converted into Moodle courses. You can do this along traditional lines, or you can approach the problem by looking at key skills or learning styles. It is an extremely complicated issue and will undoubtedly involve discussions with your department colleagues. I strongly suggest you hold a Moodle meeting to discuss which courses are going to be created, initially. Use the opportunity to discuss who is going to teach them, and what categories they are going to ft into. Plan as much as you can before you start doing anything in Moodle.

Remember to involve your Moodle administrator in those meetings, especially if they are the one responsible for creating your categories and courses.

Now that we know what Moodle categories and courses we’re going to need, we can focus on creating and running those courses.

Let’s get started: Setting up the course

The remainder of the book will focus on just one course. If you’re putting your whole department into Moodle then you’ll have lots of courses to work through. That’s why it’s so useful to assign other teaching staff to course creation, and let them share the work. We’ll show you how to do that too.

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