In this article, we take a turn from work I hand out to students to look at how to manage online work that they hand to me.
Currently, in my Backyard Ballistics course, I set two major end-of-course projects:
- A poster on energy sources
- A PowerPoint presentation to the group on how energy is transferred when objects are sent flying through the air
Both tasks are graded separately.
For me, the final project has always been a major headache: PowerPoint presentations go missing. Students claim they have emailed me files that never reach me. The school technician is wary of students bringing in work on memory sticks because of the threat of viruses. Marking the posters involves me having to make notes on paper, and having a system to associate those notes with digital photographs of the posters stored elsewhere. I want a system that allows me to manage student submissions in one self-contained tool—one that can be used to exchange files between my students and me without having to resort to other, far less reliable, means. Also, wouldn’t it be good to have a tool that allows us to comment (and include photographs, videos—in fact any digital file we liked) and grade work all under one umbrella?
Added to that, my course specification also demands that I grade students on key skills: numeracy, literacy, and the use of ICT. And that’s not something I specifically set a project for. I need a way of grading students on those aspects of their work separate from any specific project. That’s another headache.
That may seem like a lot to worry about, but (as you’ve probably already heard) by converting to Moodle, we can easily find answers to all of these issues, and more.
So let’s get on with it, and make a start with converting my poster project and PowerPoint assignments to Moodle…
Converting Projects and Assignments
Moodle provides four types of assignment activity, and they well match any kind of project that you are likely to set for your students. Turn editing on, go to any topic, and click on the Add an activity list. In this list, you will see the four different assignment types Moodle supports. They are:
- Offline activity—If your student projects can’t be uploaded into Moodle because the student submission isn’t electronic (just like my poster project), then you can manage grades and your notes on the students’ work using this kind of assignment type.
- Online text—Students are going to be creating the assignment submission using the text editor built into Moodle. That’s the one we’ve been using to create our course so far.
- Upload a single file—Does what it says on the tin. Students can only upload one file.
- Advanced uploading of files—Students can upload more than one file. As a teacher, you can also use Moodle as a mechanism for exchanging files between students, instead of using email (unreliable) or a memory stick (virus risk).
Don’t be afraid to have a look at these assignment types now. With editing turned on, click on Add an activity… and select any of the assignment types. That way you can get a feel for the kinds of settings we’ll be dealing with before we start.
Remember: if, while you are trying out different assignment types, you mistakenly add an assignment to your course, you can easily delete it by clicking on the delete icon next to the assignment name.
How to Structure Converted Projects and Assignments Online
For larger projects or assignments, it is often preferable to have a self-contained topic containing the actual assignment itself, together with any supporting materials. You could include exemplars (e.g. work from previous years) and give students the opportunity to discuss them together. Having the assignment, and all of the supporting materials, in a single topic means I can hide the assignment from students until it is time for them to attempt it.
To demonstrate how this would be done, firstly we need to add a new topic to our course, and then we can add in an assignment activity…
Adding a New Topic to a Course
I’m going to add a new topic to my course specifically for my student projects. Then, I’m going to hide that topic until we have covered the course. I’m going to do the same with my projects and the support materials associated with them. You don’t have to treat assignments in this way: as you work through the settings for a Moodle assignment, you’ll notice that you can specify a time period that those assignments are available for (it’s a setting we’ll talk about shortly). I’ve decided that I want to ensure that my students focus on the preliminary work before they start attempting any assignments by completely hiding them from students.
Time for Action – Add a Topic to a Course and Hide It
- Return to your course front page and choose Settings from the Administration block.
- Scroll down to the number of weeks/topics setting and change the number in the drop down-list to add another topic to your course:
- At the bottom of the page, press the Save changes button. That’s it, we’re done—and now there’s a new empty topic at the end of your course.
- For the moment, I want to hide this topic from students. Click on the eye icon on the right-hand side to hide the topic:
- It depends on your theme but, to show that a topic is hidden, two grey bars are shown on the left- and right-hand sides of the topic:
What Just Happened?
We’ve now got a new, empty topic added to our course. I don’t want students to be able to view the assignment until we are all ready, so I’ve hidden this topic from them for now.
Which Assignment Type?
For the purpose of my project I’m only going to be looking at two different assignment activity types—but by looking at those two we’ll gain the skills and confidence to be able to use all four quite happily.
Converting a Project to Moodle Example 1 – Using an Offline Assignment
The first project—the poster project—is going to be converted to use the Offline activity assignment type. I’m going to use Moodle to manage student grades and to organize my notes and comments on their work. Let’s see how easy it is to add an Offline activity…
Time for Action – Add an Offline Activity Assignment
- Make sure you still have editing turned on. In the topic you want to add your new assignment to (in my case my new, hidden topic) click on Add an activity… and choose Offline activity from the list. You’re now taken to the Editing assignment page.
- Give your assignment a name. Enter in a brief description of the task in the Description box. Don’t worry if the box looks a bit small. We can include all of the supporting materials in the topic together with the assignment activity itself on the course front page:
- Use the Grade setting to specify the maximum grade you are going to give for this assignment. I’m going to leave the Grade setting at 100 (meaning I can grade this assignment out of 100). Maybe your assignment forms part of an overall mark and you need to mark it out of less. You could choose to mark your assignment in this way. You can even choose to create your own custom grades (e.g. A, B, C, D, E, or F), which we learn how to do later on in this article.
- Choose when you want the assignment to be available. I want to hide both the assignment and the supporting resources and materials, so this option is redundant. I do have the option of disabling this setting so this is what I’m going to do, in this instance. If you aren’t hiding the assignment, the Available from and Due date settings are a useful way of preventing students handing work to you before you are ready:
- That’s it! We’re done. Press the Save and return to course button. A new assignment has just been added to the course:
What Just Happened?
Converting my poster project to Moodle was as easy as adding an Offline assignment activity to my Backyard Ballistics course. Click on the assignment now to see what happens. You’ll see a screen displaying the task you’ve just set, and in the top right-hand corner you’ll see a No attempts have been made on this assignment link:
Click on that link now. You’ll be taken to a list of students who are enrolled on your course. If you don’t have any students enrolled on your course, then this is what you will see:
I don’t yet want students enrolled on my course until I know it is set up to be just how I want it. The solution is to introduce a “control student” on our course, and later in this article we’ll see how. Before we do that, I’m going to think about the second assignment I need to convert—where students are required to produce a PowerPoint presentation.