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A key component of any quality educational program is its ability to facilitate communication among all of the parties involved in the program. Communication and the subsequent relaying of information and knowledge between instructional faculty, administrators, students, and support personnel must be concise, efficient, and, when so desired, as transparent as possible.
Using Moodle as a hub for internal information distribution, collaboration, and communication
Moodle’s ability to facilitate information flow and communication among users within the system, who are registered users such as students and teachers, is a capability that has been a core function of Moodle since its inception. The module most often used to facilitate communication and information flow is the forum and we will thus focus primarily on creative uses of forums for communication within an educational program.
Facilitating intra- or inter-departmental or program communication, collaboration, and information flow
Many educational programs comprise sub-units such as departments or programs. These units usually consist of students, teachers, and administrators who interact with one another at varying levels in terms of the type of communication, its frequency, and content. The following example will demonstrate how a sub-unit—the reading program within our language program example—might set up a communication system, using a meta course in Moodle, that accomplishes the following:
- Allows the program to disseminate information to all students, teachers, and administrators involved in the program. The system must, of course, allow for settings enabling dissemination to only selected groups or to the entre group, if so desired.
- Establishes a forum for communication between and among teachers, students, and administrators. Again, this system must be fine-tunable such that communication can be limited to specific parties within the program.
The example will also demonstrate, indirectly, how a meta course could be set up to facilitate communication and collaboration between individuals from different programs or sub-units. In such a case, the meta course would function as an inter-departmental communication and collaboration system.
Time for action – setting up the meta course
To set up a communication system that can be finely tuned to allow specific groups of users to interact with each other, follow these steps:
- We are going to set up a communication system using a meta course. Log in to your site as admin and click on the Show all courses link found at the bottom of your MyCourses block on the front page of your site.
- At the bottom of the subsequent Course Categories screen, click on the Add a new course button.
- Change the category from Miscellaneous to Reading and enter a Full name and Short name such as Reading Program and ReadProg. Enter a short description explaining that the course is to function as a communication area for the reading program.
- Use the drop-down menu next to the meta course heading, shown in the following screenshot, to select Yes in order to make this course a meta course:
- Change the Start date as you see fit. You don’t need to add an Enrollment key under the Availability heading to prevent users who are not eligible to enter the course because the enrollment for meta courses is taken from child courses. If you’ve gotten into the habit of entering enrollment keys just to be safe however, doing so here won’t cause any problems.
- Change the group setting, found under the Groups heading, to Separate. Do not force this setting however, in order to allow it to be set on an individual activity basis. This will allow us to set up forums that are only accessible to teachers and/or administrators. Other forums can be set up to allow only student and teacher access, for example.
- Click on the Save changes button found at the bottom of the screen and on the next screen, which will be the Child courses screen, search for all reading courses by entering Reading in the search field. After clicking on the Search button to initiate the search, you will see all of the reading courses, including the meta course we have just created. Add all of the courses, except the meta course, as shown in the following screenshot.
- Use the short name link found in the breadcrumb path at the top-left of the window, shown in the following screenshot, to navigate to the course after you have added all of the reading child courses:
What just happened?
We just created a meta course and included all of the reading courses as child courses of the meta course. This means that all of the users enrolled in the reading child courses have been automatically enrolled in the meta course with the same roles that they have in the child courses. It should be noted here that enrollments in meta courses are controlled via the enrollments in each of the child courses. If you wish to unenroll a user from a meta course, he or she must be unenrolled from the respective child course. In the next step, we’ll create the groups within the meta course that will allow us to create targeted forums.
Time for action – creating a group inside the meta course
We are now going to create groups within our meta course in order to allow us to specify which users will be allowed to participate in, and view, the forums we set up later. This will allow us to control which sets of users have access to the information and communication that will be contained in each forum. Follow these steps to set up the forums:
- Log in to your Moodle site as admin and navigate to the meta course we just created. It will be located under the Reading heading from the MyCourses block and titled Reading Program if you followed the steps outlined earlier in this article.
- Click on the Groups link found inside the Administration block.
- The subsequent screen will be titled ReadingProg Groups. The ReadingProg portion of the title is from the short name of our course. From this screen, click on the Create group button. Title the group Teachers and write a short description for the group. Ignore the enrollment key option as enrollments for meta courses are controlled by the child course enrollments. Leave the picture field blank unless you would like to designate a picture for this group. Click on the Save changes button to create the group.
- You will now see the ReadingProg Groups screen again and it will now contain the Teachers group, we just created. Click once on the group name to enable the Add/remove users button.
- Click on the Add/remove users button to open the Add/remove users window. From this window, enter the word Teacher in the search window and click on the Search button. Select all of the teachers by clicking once on the first teacher and then scrolling to the last teacher and, while holding down the shift button on your keyboard, click on the last teacher. This will highlight all of the teachers in the list. Click on the Add button to add the selected teachers to the Existing members list on the left.
- Click on the Back to groups button to return to the ReadingProg Groups screen. The Teachers group will now appear as Teachers(20) and, when selected, the list of teachers will appear in the Members of: list found on the right side of the screen, as shown in the following screenshot:
- Next, navigate to the front page of your site and from the Site Administration block, click on the Miscellaneous heading link and then on the Experimental link.
- Scroll down to the Enable groupings setting and click the tickbox to enable this setting. This setting enables you to group multiple groups together and also to make activities exclusively available to specific groupings. We’ll need this capability when we set up the forums later. For a more detailed explanation of the groupings feature, visit the associated Moodle Docs page at: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Groupings.
What just happened?
We just created a group, within our Reading Program meta course, for all of the teachers enrolled in the course. Because the enrollments for a meta course are pulled from the child courses associated with a meta course, the teachers are all teachers who are teaching reading courses in our program. Later in this article, we’ll see how we can use this group when we set up forums that we only want our teachers to have access to.