Nine years ago, in Australia, a Computer Science graduate named Martin Dougiamas was trialing a web tool he’d developed to help teachers create lessons online. Inspired by his own experiences with the outback “School of the Air”. Martin’s Modular Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment offered tutors a way to connect remotely with their students in a collaborative and supportive workspace.
Did any of us foresee back then just how global a phenomenon Moodle would become? Now used by over 31 million students in over 44 thousand sites in over 200 countries, Moodle has truly changed the face of learning.
With improved access to the internet, and with commercial companies being quick to spot a potential money-earner, many such Learning Management Systems have arisen since then. What makes Moodle special, however, is the fact that it has remained as Open Source technology. Anyone can use Moodle; everyone can make Moodle better. While offcial Moodle Partners will give you peace of mind if you want Moodle installed at your establishment, you are also entirely free to go for it alone. If you need advice, whether of a pedagogical or technical nature, ask in the forums at https://moodle.org/ where the doors are never closed. If you spot an error or a bug, then someone (perhaps even you) will fix it. If you have an idea for a “plug-in” that might be useful for other Moodlers worldwide, you can put forth your suggestion to the community. The world changes constantly and Moodle changes with it.
Since its official “birth” in 2002, Moodle has gone through several full versions and a number of stable releases in between. You can even catch up on all the bug fixes and minor tweaks by downloading the weekly stable “+” build. This year, however, sees the advent of the latest, biggest, and most enhanced version: Moodle 2.0. It’s a new “take” on an established package. It is rich with new features, and it retains all that was good from Moodle 1.9, blended with new ideas and improvements, suggested and developed by the huge Open Source community. Moodle 2.0 has been a long time in the making. Its arrival became somewhat of an in-joke on the forums of www.moodle.org. Over the last couple of years, the answer to many a query would has been “You can’t do that yet, but you will be able to in Moodle 2.0” prompting one Moodle Partner to comment that alongside better navigation, cleaner appearance, more controlled activities, enhanced modules, and improved interaction, Moodle 2.0 was expected to “sort out wars and world famine”. Well, they haven’t quite managed that, (Although there’s still time for Moodle 3.0!), but there are suffcient new features in Moodle 2 to warrant a close look.
Looks cleaner, moves faster
Previous versions of Moodle came with pre-installed themes, such as Cornfower or Wood, making an average Moodle site easily recognizable when meandering along the Internet. The Downloads tab on http://moodle.org/ links to a Themes section offering an array of other contributed “skins” for Moodle to enhance its appearance. Despite this, users still complained Moodle looked “clunky” in contrast with other, commercial Learning Management Systems. In recent years, the adoption of Moodle has broadened from universities and schools to major charities, businesses, and non-governmental organizations. They want integration with their websites and a clean, professional look. Moodle 2.0 has done away with the previous themes and will ultimately include 20 brand new themes, of which Boxxie , as seen in the following screenshot, is one:
In the following screenshot you’ll note that the Navigation block on the left has been docked to the side— this is a totally new way of moving around in Moodle 2.0. We have the option of saving space and docking — or of expanding the block as with the calendar to the right:
Within a course the Navigation block will show links to individual sections and expand to the activities in those sections. It is now possible to rename the topic sections so that these names appear in the links rather than numbered topics. If you look at the following screenshot, we are in a course French for Beginners and Introduction is actually topic 0 and First Steps in French is topic 1. Note also that the link at the top My Home takes the user straight to their MyMoodle page.
A new way of managing your content
In Moodle 1.x, the Resource module offered the teacher in a course the ability to upload their documents, create web pages in Moodle, or even display a directory of materials. Users, who had particularly large files, say SCORM packages or multimedia for example, were able to upload via FTP once they knew the directory number for their course and were granted the rights to do so. Moodle 2.0 does away with most of this, using a different philosophy for file management. It has more functionality and is more secure; however, for some it might initially appear more complex to manoeuvre.
Compare and contrast the Add a resource… drop-down in Moodle 2.0 (on the left) and Moodle 1.9 on the right:
Note the simpler, clearer terms:
- File (instead of link to a file or web site)
- Folder (instead of Display a directory)
- Page (instead of Compose a web page/Compose a text page)
- URL (instead of link to a file or web site)
While you are still able to upload all your word-processed documents and Powerpoint presentations, you can also easily embed media from other sites such as http://www.youtube.com/ or http://www.flickr.com/ from the new text editor (based on the popular tinyMCE editor as used in WordPress for example). Here’s a screenshot of the so-called File Picker where you can see that, alongside files already in Moodle and files you might want to upload, there is a link and the facility to search YouTube:
More places to have your say
With the addition of a Comments facility in Moodle 2.0 it is now easier than ever for users to give feedback, voice their opinions and generally make their presence felt in your online community. A Comments block may be included on your course page to give the students the opportunity to rate the course or suggest improvements, as shown in the following screenshot:
We get far more control over the location and positioning of blocks in Moodle 2.0. Due to this we’re not just restricted to having the Comments block (or others) on our course page. Most screens will allow us to add a block now, so we could for example have comments on the diffculty of Quiz questions, or comments on the suitability of a particular uploaded resource. The same commenting feature has also been applied to the standard Moodle blog, such that users may now, at last, comment on each others’ entries.
Existing activities updated and improved
A lot of time and effort has gone into making existing Moodle modules such as the Wiki, Quiz, and, Workshop easier to manage and more user-friendly. The latter are two of my favorites, both very powerful yet not immediately intuitive, particularly to new users. While I found the results they gave worth the initial hours spent figuring out how to set them up, I also found that many teachers felt daunted by their complexity. As a trainer I always felt the need to apologize before I showed people how to use the Quiz, and I only went through the Workshop settings on request from advanced users. Open Source, by its nature, depends on collaboration, and several Moodle developers and enthusiasts have made significant changes to the Quiz and Workshop modules – in fact, the Workshop module has been virtually rewritten for Moodle 2.0, so if you shied away from it before, now is definitely the time to give it another chance. This has improved the display and the search facility of the Quiz question bank, making it not only easier to locate and reuse previously made questions but also simplifying the process needed to create a new quiz from scratch — making the Moodle Quiz a realistic option for a new user to tackle without fear of confusion.
The changes to the Workshop now give us a clear view of the different stages of the assessment process:
Moodle has always had a Wiki module but with limited functionality. Some users preferred alternative wikis such as the OUwiki or NWiki instead. Indeed, http://moodle.org/ itself chose Mediawiki for its comprehensive and collaborative documentation. Moodler. The new, improved wiki for Moodle 2.0, incorporates features from OUwiki and NWiki and we’ll investigate how they can enhance our students’ learning experience.
Moodle’s built-in blog feature has always been very limited, for example, offering no comment facility. Attached as it is to a user’s profile meant that a student could only have one blog, rather than a number of blogs according to which course they were in. Again, for this reason, blogging Moodlers around the world looked elsewhere — such as to WordPress or to the Open University’s OUBlog.
Moodle’s blog is now much enhanced. If you have an external blog you can now import its posts (based on a feed URL and on tags) and use it within Moodle. You can now also associate an entry to a particular course, attach more than one file to your entry, have a proper RSS feed, and (with the Comments API mentioned earlier) make it possible for permitted users finally to give you their thoughts on your thoughts!
Another successful vehicle for the exchanging of ideas is the Messaging block. This block is controversial in some circles, such as in schools with younger learners, where some consider it a distraction of the MSN type while others see it as an essential means of instant communication. The messaging block has been revamped and is now event-driven, allowing users to control which messages they receive and how.