Enhancing Your Math Teaching using Moodle 1.9: Part 1

Ian Wild

December 2009

There are many topics to explore in this article, so let's make a start with mathematical PowerPoint presentations.

PowerPoint and Mathematics

We have already seen how we can use the Microsoft Equation Editor to include mathematics notation in Microsoft Word documents (we copied them from the document into our Moodle course). Microsoft PowerPoint also includes the Equation Editor, and we can use this facility to create some quite elegant online explanations of difficult mathematical ideas. Here is a quick recap (using Microsoft PowerPoint instead of Microsoft Word):

  1. Click the slide to which you want to add an equation.

  2. On the Insert menu, click Object.

  3. In the Object type list, click Microsoft Equation 3.0 (if Microsoft Equation 3.0 is not listed, then you will need to install it. See http://support.microsoft.com/kb/228569).

  4. In the Equation Editor, use the buttons and menus to type your equation.

  5. To return to Microsoft PowerPoint, on the File menu in Equation Editor, click Exit.

The equation will now be included on your slide.

Add a special Equation Editor button to any Microsoft Office application toolbar. For example in Office 2003, in the View menu, point to Toolbars, and then click Customize. Click the Commands tab, and in the Categories list, click Insert. In the Commands box, click Equation Editor, and then drag it from the Commands box to a gray area within any toolbar. Then click Close. Click on the new toolbar button to install and display the Equation Editor.

Quickly crafting a Pythagorean PowerPoint

I'm guessing you're going to be fairly familiar with PowerPoint, so let's make a start by creating a basic presentation, showing our students how they can transpose/rearrange an equation. I'm going to be showing my students how they can find the missing length in a right-angled triangle. Note that I'm an Office 2003 user running Windows Vista. If you aren't using the same version of Office or the same operating system as me, then as you follow my examples your screen might look different from mine:

  1. The first step is to create a new presentation. For the first page of this presentation, I've added a new slide and used the Title, Text, and Content layout:

  2. Moodle 1.9 Math
  3. I've searched for a Creative Commons image of a ladder on Flickr and drawn a schematic using Microsoft PowerPoint's built-in drawing tools. Here is the completed slide:

  4. Moodle 1.9 Math

  5. In the next slides, let's demonstrate how we can turn the ladder problem into a Pythagorean Theorem/algebra problem (without being too scary about the algebra). Let's animate the slide to allow the students to recall the theorem:

  6. Moodle 1.9 Math

  7. Now, allow the students to check if they got it right. Right-click on an object and select Custom Animation… to make the presentation a little more interactive:

  8. Moodle 1.9 Math

  9. Now I've recalled the Pythagorean Theorem, which I need to relate back to the ladder problem. Again, I've used animations to make the slide interactive:

  10. Moodle 1.9 Math
  11. I'm going to complete the presentation by giving my students a little guidance on algebraic transposition and then that's it—I'm done!

Moodle 1.9 Math

I hope you'll agree that with some simple custom animations we've made this PowerPoint far more engaging and entertaining than it would otherwise be.

Want to avoid creating a truly boring PowerPoint presentation? Navigate your browser to http://www.youtube.com and search for Don McMillan's video on how NOT to use PowerPoint!

Uploading to Moodle

I could simply upload the PowerPoint as is to my course files area, but I'm a bit worried that without my describing what's going on in the presentation, it isn't going to make a lot of sense to my students. To overcome this problem, I'm going to record an audio commentary.

You can insert sound directly into your slides either from the main menu (Insert) or via the Insert tab in Microsoft PowerPoint 2007's ribbon.

Providing an audio commentary

The presentation I crafted in the previous section is fine on its own, and I do use something similar as part of my face-to-face teaching. But I want my students to be able to study this example in their own time and, to that end, I would like to enhance it with an audio commentary. There are three basic ways I can achieve this (aside from inserting audio into each slide). Each has its own advantages and disadvantages:

  • Record a separate audio track and allow the students to listen to the audio following the presentation at their own pace—almost like a read-along story
  • Upload the presentation to SlideShare and use SlideShare's built-in audio recording tools to narrate the PowerPoint
  • Record a screencast. Either upload it directly to our Moodle course or to a content sharing website (that is, YouTube or TeacherTube)

In the following sections we'll investigate each option in turn.

Recording a separate narration—using Audacity to narrate a slideshow

A great way to record a narration is by using Audacity. Audacity is an extremely popular, free recording and audio editing tool. Download the latest version from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/.

Once you have Audacity installed, it is very easy to use. Let's record a narration:

  1. The first task, before we begin recording, is to write a script. There's nothing worse than listening to a badly prepared or rambling presentation, so let's make sure it's tightly scripted:

  2. Moodle 1.9 Math
  3. When you are ready to begin recording your commentary, press Audacity's "record" button:

  4. Moodle 1.9 Math

  5. When you are finished recording, press the "stop" button. Don't worry about making mistakes or there being pregnant pauses because we can easily edit these out in the next step. When you have finished, the recording is displayed:

  6. Moodle 1.9 Math

  7. Audacity is loaded with many great audio editing features, so by way of an example, I'm going to pick just one: Fade Out. Use the selection tool to select the final segment of your recording:

  8. Moodle 1.9 Math

  9. From the main menu, select Effect | Fade Out. Try experimenting with some of the other audio options that are available:

  10. Moodle 1.9 Math

  11. When you are happy with your recording, you'll need to save it. From the main menu, select File | Export as MP3….

  12. Choose a suitable filename and location and click on the Save button.

  13. Complete the ID3 Tag dialog:

  14. Moodle 1.9 Math

  15. Hit the OK button and Audacity creates your new MP3 file. That's it. We're done!

Recording a narration—recap

When my PowerPoint is included in my Moodle course, it will be viewed by students who won't have the benefit (or curse) of my commentary when I am giving my face-to-face teaching. It would be great if we could also include an audio commentary so that students can follow the presentation in their own time, at their own pace. To that end we've just used the free audio recording and editing tool, Audacity, to create an audio commentary for our PowerPoint presentation.

Audacity can't export an MP3 file: Lame_enc.dll not installed

Did you see the following warning when you attempted to save your recording as an MP3 file?

Moodle 1.9 Math

If so, then you need to install LAME. Here's how:

  1. For the LAME download page you will need to visit http://audacity.sourceforge.net/help/faq?s=install&item=lame-mp3.

  2. I'm using Audacity on Windows, so I need to download the file Lame_v3.98.2_for_Audacity_on_Windows.exe.

  3. Once downloaded, you can run the LAME for Audacity Setup Wizard as shown:

  4. Moodle 1.9 Math

  5. Once LAME is installed, you need to let Audacity know where it is. Recall the Export MP3 warning dialog? To the question Would you like to locate lame_enc.dll now? answer Yes.

  6. Use the Where is lame_enc.dll? dialog to locate the LAME file:

  7. Moodle 1.9 Math

You'll now be able to create MP3 files as described in the Recording a separate narration—using Audacity to narrate a slideshow section.

Adding sound effects to your recording

Sound effects can make a presentation far more engaging and entertaining. For example, when talking about triangulation to locate an enemy gun position (a geometry exercise), I've complemented the presentation with the sounds of battle. Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 comes with its own sound effects library. These are part of the sound clip organizer.

Providing a "Next Slide" cue

Did you ever listen to read-along stories when you were young? When it was time to turn the page there was a beep or a sound effect added into the commentary. Audacity makes it easy for us to do the same (ideal for younger children).

Follow these steps to include a turn-the-page beep:

  1. Ensure the cursor is positioned at the correct time in your recording.
  2. From the main menu, select Generate | Tone….
  3. Configure your tone settings. Here is a typical example (a short burst):
  4. Moodle 1.9 Math

  5. Click on the Generate Tone button. Your audio cue is inserted.

Including your presentation and audio file in a course

You should be familiar with the basics of including resources in Moodle courses. How am I going to include the presentation and audio commentary in my Pythagorean Theorem course? There's a topic in my Moodle course dedicated to exam practice. In that I've added a Moodle web page:

Moodle 1.9 Math

And in that I've provided links to both the presentation and the audio file:

Moodle 1.9 Math

The embedded audio player is automatically inserted by Moodle if the Multimedia filter is enabled for MP3 files. You might need to ask your Moodle admin to turn this on for you.

Here's how to create the Moodle web page shown in the previous screenshot:

  1. I've composed the web page text, and I'm ready to include links to the presentation and the audio:
  2. Moodle 1.9 Math

  3. I've selected the text Click here to download the presentation and then clicked the Insert Web Link button. The Insert Link dialog is displayed:
  4. Moodle 1.9 Math

  5. On clicking the Browse button, a new dialog opens displaying the course files area. From there you can upload both your presentation and audio files:
  6. Moodle 1.9 Math

  7. I'm going to click on Pythag.ppt to select it. The Insert Link dialog is updated accordingly. I want the presentation to open in a new window (so that clever browsers don't try to open up the presentation in the browser window and make it look as though my Moodle has disappeared). I've also specified a link title for those students of mine who are visually impaired:


  8. Moodle 1.9 Math

  9. Click on the OK button. The text has now been converted into a link. You can't click on the link as of now:

  10. Moodle 1.9 Math

  11. Repeat this for the audio file. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the Save and display button. The link now works, and assuming the Multimedia filter is configured correctly, an audio player has been embedded:

  12. Moodle 1.9 Math

  13. To remove the Click here link above the audio player, we need to modify the web page HTML code slightly. To start, click on the Update this Resource button at the top of the page.

  14. In the Compose a web page box, click on the Toggle HTML Source button in the HTML editor. The web page code for the Moodle web page will be displayed:

  15. Moodle 1.9 Math

  16. Locate the text Click here:

  17. Moodle 1.9 Math

  18. When you've found it, simply delete it. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the Save and display button. The "Click here" link above the audio player has now been removed, but the player is still displayed:

  19. Moodle 1.9 Math

  20. That's it. We're done!

Creating a Moodle web page for your presentation and audio narration—recap

When it comes to playing audio, enabling the Multimedia filter will ensure Moodle includes its own audio player on the page. This will overcome potential problems with students not having suitable audio playback software installed on their computers or, more commonly, their playback software not being set up correctly.

There are problems with simply uploading a PowerPoint presentation as is. The first is that your students may not have PowerPoint installed on their computers. The second is that presentations can be quite large and, therefore, difficult to share. Have you heard of content sharing websites like YouTube (for sharing videos) or Flickr (for photographs)? Similarly, there's a site dedicated to sharing presentations called SlideShare. If you're worried about plagiarism when you start sharing your presentations, then there's no need to be concerned; you can choose who to share your presentations with.

>> Continue Reading Enhancing Your Math Teaching using Moodle 1.9: Part 2


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