Configuring your Moodle Course

Ian Wild

December 2011

(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.

(For more resources on Moodle, see here.)

Creating your course

Before you start building your course, it needs to be "created" in Moodle. If you're working in a school or university, then there are three ways this might happen:

  • ‹ An administrator has already created it: Sometimes, administrators create empty courses for all the official courses taught by an institution.
  • ‹ Put in a request: In other situations, the administrators require that teachers request new courses; the administrator then approves the course, and it's created. ‹
  • Create it yourself: In other circumstances you might have permission to create courses yourself. If it was you that installed your Moodle then you will definitely have permission to create courses.

How is it that you cannot create courses but your colleagues can? Let's look at this in the next section.

Do you need to create your course yourself

You might be lucky, your administrator may have made you a manager or a course creator, meaning you get to create your own courses. Note that managers have slightly more power than course creators. For example, managers can create courses and delete them. Course creators can only create them. It is easy to spot if you are a course creator or manager because only then will you have an Add a new course button when you look in Moodle categories, or if you click on the All courses button to display all the courses in your Moodle. Once you have found the Add a new course button you only need to press it to create your new course. You are immediately taken to the new course's setting page.

What to do if your course has been created for you

The immediate problem is finding it. Return to your site front page. Can you see the Navigation block? (By default the navigation block is at the top-left of the page). Click on the My courses link and a list of your courses will be revealed:

If you don't have a Navigation block on your site's front page then the easiest way is to click on your name (you can usually find this towards the top, right-hand side of the page) which then displays your user profile. Listed in your profile are the courses you are participating in:

The course name Backyard Ballistics is a link, which I then click on to see what my role in the course is. You can see in the following screenshot that my head of department has made me a teacher on Backyard Ballistics:

In my case I can click on the MCC-BC link, under My courses in the Navigation block. If I didn't have a Navigation block then I could also click on the breadcrumbs across the navigation bar at the top of the screen:

I am now at my course page. It's an empty course based on a 10-week structure and it's ready for me to start configuring:

Configuring your course

Now let's configure a topics-based course called Backyard Ballistics. In the Settings block under Course administration, click on Edit settings. This will take you to the Course settings page:

Time for action - configuring the Backyard Ballistics course

Let's start by creating my Backyard Ballistics course. I'm not too worried about fine tuning it now. I just want to get it started, we will fine tune the course later, once we've got the basics up and running:

  1. Type the course title next to Course full name, Backyard Ballistics.
  2. Enter the short name. This has to be completely unique (if there's another course with the same short name, Moodle will complain). I'm going to specify MCC-BC.
  3. Enter a summary using the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) HTML editor. See how we can use formatting for the description, as you would with a word processor:
  4. Look for the Format setting (almost immediately under the Course summary editor). Click on the drop-down menu and select Topics format.
  5. Because we're just setting up the course, we don't want students enrolling yet so scroll down to the availability options. Click on the Availability drop-down list and select This course is not available to students.
  6. That's all we need to set up a basic course. So scroll to the bottom and click Save Changes.

If you've created this course from new you're now taken to the Enrolled users screen. We're not going to look at roles just yet, so for now go to your course's home page by clicking the button at the bottom of the screen containing your course's short name (now MCC-BC). If you were configuring an existing course, you'll be taken straight back to your course page anyway.

What just happened?

We created a new course and gave it a full name, short name, and summary. We also configured the course so that it is broken up into topics (the default on a new Moodle installation is weekly). We left everything else as the default so we can edit it later. You now have a course divided into 10 "topics" ready for you to add content.


In this article we saw how to create and configure a Moodle course.

Further resources on this subject:

You've been reading an excerpt of:

Moodle 2.0 Course Conversion Beginner's Guide

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