Instructional Material using Moodle 1.9: Part 1

Selecting and organizing the material

If you're like most instructors, you love your subject and the idea of sharing information gives you great satisfaction. However, you have probably noticed that it's easy to overload your students, or to give them materials in a way that tends to confuse them. How can you avoid overloading and confusing your students?

One of the most effective ways to do so is to make sure that you base your selections of instructional materials on course outcomes and on the learning objectives for each unit. Keep in mind what you'd like your students to be able to do after they complete the course. What is the basic, enduring knowledge they will take with them after the course is over? What kind of fundamental change do you want to occur in terms of the student's abilities? What kind of new skills will they be able to perform?

Once you answer these questions, you will have a list of learning outcomes. Keep them in mind as you select the instructional material you wish to use in your course.

It is often convenient to develop a map or a diagram that connects your learning outcomes with the course materials and the assessments you will use. Consider what you want your students to learn, and how you'd like them to perform. Also, you shape the sequence you will build and how you'll present the materials.

It is often convenient to develop a map or a diagram that connects your learning outcomes with the course materials and the assessments you will use. Consider what you want your students to learn, and how you'd like them to perform. Also, you shape the sequence you will build and how you'll present the materials.

Using forums to present your material

We'll start with an approach that is very easy to implement, which is ideal if you're just getting started and need a solution that would be good for all kinds of e-learning, including mobile learning and guided independent study.

Basically, we'll use the Forum tool to organize all the instructional content. In Moodle, the Forum is the key tool and you'll use it often. Later, as you feel more comfortable, you can add more tools (Book, Chat, Assignment, Choice, and so on). For now, however, we will focus on getting you operational as quickly and easily as possible.

Using the Forum tool to structure your course and to organize your content is conceptually very elegant. Students simply move from forum to forum, and they access the material they need. Any comments they have, writing assignments, or discussion items can be completed in the appropriate thread.

When you use the Forum tool, you will use the Moodle text editor to create messages. Keep in mind that your messages can contain text, graphics, audio, video, presentations, and more, which allows you flexibility and ease of use.

As you plan your course, it's always good to have a certain number of forums dedicated to student success and support. This is where you can post welcome messages, timelines and course calendars, lists of assignments, syllabus, links to useful resources, and a place for students to ask questions and share their experiences.

A key student success forum is one that clearly states what you hope to achieve in the course. By listing course outcomes in a separate forum, you'll shape the students' approach to the course content, and they will have a better idea of how to organize the information they will encounter.

After you've developed your "student success and support" forums, you start creating a separate forum for each unit, which begins to identify the learning objectives, and the resources you'll put in each one to create a learning environment. It is often a good idea to create a separate forum for each graded assessment. Having a separate forum for each assessment will make your job easier if you have changes to make, or if you want to replace it with an assignment tool.

In fact, by populating your course with a series of separate forums, you are creating a flexible template that can be easily modified by replacing a forum with another, or with a different type of tool (Choice, Assignment, Chat, Database, Book, Journal, or more).

It is often helpful to create a course map wherein you draw all the elements you'll have in your course. List the course outcomes, and then map each one to the instructional material, activities, and assessments that go with each one. This will help you as you start building your forums.

Here is an example of how you can put together a course in which you organize the content around forums:

  • Forum 1: Welcome and Course Overview and Objectives
  • Forum 2: Meet Your Instructor
  • Forum 3: Introduce Yourself
  • Forum 4: Questions for the Instructor
  • Forum 5: Syllabus and Timeline
  • Forum 6: Unit 1: Unit Learning Objectives, Instructional Materials, and Discussion Questions
  • Forum 7: Unit 1: Review for Quiz
  • Forum 8: Unit 1: Quiz
  • Forum 9: Unit 1: Instructional Materials and Discussion Questions

As you can see, the structure is very straightforward and avoids the complexity of multiple tools. Keep in mind that more complex tools can always be added later to replace a forum structure.

Creating a separate group for each student

Start by selecting the activity tool, Forum, and opening a page that requires you to indicate the settings for the forum you wish to add.

Remember that each group will consist of only a single student. So, in this process, when we discuss groups, we're really talking about individuals.

The following steps illustrate how to create a separate forum for each group in your course:

  1. From the Add an activity… drop-down list, select Forum, as shown in the following screenshot:
  2. Enter a Forum name and Forum type for the forum. In the following example, I'm using A single simple discussion to create a single-topic forum, where all the postings will be displayed on the same page. This makes the history of the student-teacher discussion very easy to see. This type of forum is most useful for short, focused discussions.
  3. By selecting Yes, forever for Force everyone to be subscribed? as shown in the following screenshot, you ensure that all students are subscribed automatically, even students that enroll at a later time.
  4. The key setting here is Group mode. When we select Separate groups, we create a separate forum for each group in the class. In the next section, we will create a group for each student. The result is a separate forum for each student, available only to that student and the teacher, where they can hold private conversation.
  5. Save the forum settings and continue.

Enrolling students

If you have not already enrolled students in the course, you should do so before creating the groups. If the students are already enrolled, move to Create a Group for Each Student in the next section.

The following steps illustrate how to manually enroll students in your course:

  1. Open the course into which you want to enroll the students. Then, from the Administration drop-down box, select Assign roles as shown in the following screenshot:

    Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

  2. On the Assign roles page select Student, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

  3. Ensure the Role to assign drop-down list is set to Student. Then from the list of potential users on the right, select one user. Click the left-facing arrow to enrol that user in your course (refer to the following screenshot):
  4. Repeat this for each student. If you want to remove a student from the course, select the student from the list on the left, and click the right-facing arrow.
  5. To exit this page, select the course name from the navigation breadcrumbs at the top of the page. This will put you back into your course's home page, and then you can continue with creating a group for each student.

Creating a group for each student

After all of your students are enrolled, go into the course and create a group for each student.

The following steps illustrate how to create groups and assign students to them:

  1. From the Administration block select Groups, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

  2. From the Current role drop-down list as shown in the following screenshot, select Student. This ensures that you are seeing only users who are enrolled as students in this course. Then, in the field above the Add new group button, enter the name of the first group. Name the group after the student for whom you created it. In this example, I created a group for Moodle Student1 called Student1, and I am about to create a group for Moodle Student2 called Student2.
  3. After creating all of the groups, add one student to each group. In the following example, you can see that the group Student1 is selected, and Moodle Student1 is a member of that group.
    • Select the group. In the preceding example, you can see the user is about to select the group Student2.
    • Select the student to add to the group.
    • Click the Add selected to group button.
    • Repeat as needed.
  4. To assign a student to a group:


  5. To exit this page, select the course name from the navigation breadcrumbs at the top of the page. This will put you back into your course's home page.

The student's private forum will look like any other Moodle forum. However, only the student and teacher will have access to it.

Guiding and motivating students

The best online courses create learning communities in which all learners have a sense that they are part of a friendly, supportive group. They eagerly post in the forums, and they respond to each other quickly in a positive and productive way. They share their thoughts, impressions, and one starts to feel as though people are really getting to know each other. Learning is fun, even exhilarating. Some students can't wait to log on and participate.

Creating the learning environment

There are a few tried and tested ways to optimize the interactive forum experience. Here is a brief list:

  • Provide timely feedback and make sure that you maintain a positive and productive tone
  • Be sure to provide positive, encouraging suggestions
  • Post questions that are engaging and which tie to learning objectives
  • Encourage individuals to connect the course material to personal experience, and then post about it
  • Make participation in the forums a part of the students' grades
  • Model positive forum behavior by showing open-mindedness

Asking permission and setting a policy

Some activities in Moodle are almost always individual. When students complete these activities, they have a reasonable expectation that their work will not be shared with the class. For example, when a student answers a quiz question, he/she reasonably expects that what he/she wrote will not be shared with the entire class. Other activities do not carry this expectation of privacy. For example, when a student posts to a forum, he/she expects that posting to be read by the rest of the class.

Students feel good when they see their work acknowledged. They also feel confident when they know what is expected. We can use the forum to answer students' questions, but there are other ways to use the forums to acknowledge work and to help the students develop an "I can do it" attitude.

One good way is to build a forum that includes samples of successful student work. The students can see how other students—often students in the past—approached their work. They can get a good idea of how to get started, and they can feel less intimidated by fear of the unknown.

Let's create a forum named "sample work". Before posting work from a student in the sample work forum, consider if the student can reasonably expect that work to be private. If so, ask the student's permission before posting it. In any case, be sure to remove identifying names and labels. That is, remove anything from the work that would indicate which student created it. This might make the student more comfortable with having the work posted in the sample work forum.

If you expect to use a sample work forum in a class, you should clearly indicate that in the course syllabus and introduction. The idea that they have guidelines and live documents as instructional material and models can be a big relief to students. However, if any student is uncomfortable with having his/her work posted (even if it has been anonymized), please be sure to let them know you respect their wishes. The forum should be a friendly and supportive place.

Type of forum

In Moodle, you can create several types of forums. Each type can be used in a different way to get the best out of it. The types of forums are:

Type of forum




Single simple discussion


The entire forum appears on one page. The first posting, at the top of the page, is the topic for the forum. This topic is usually created by the teacher. The students then post replies under this topic. A single-topic forum is most useful for short, highly-focused discussions.




In a standard forum, anyone can start a new topic. Teachers and students can create new topics and reply to existing postings.


Each person posts one discussion


Each student can create one and only one new topic. Everyone can reply to every topic.


Q and A


This is like a single-topic forum, in that the teacher creates the topic for the forum. Students then reply to that topic. However, a student cannot see anyone else's reply until he/she has posted a reply. The topic is usually a question posed by the teacher, and the students' replies are usually answers to that question.


Each of these forum types can be used to create a different kind of sample work forum. The subsections coming up cover the use of each forum type.

You select the forum type while creating the forum, on the Editing Forum page:

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Single simple discussion forum

The next screenshot is an example of a single-topic forum. The forum consists of one topic at the top of the page, and everything else on that page is a reply from the students. Readers can reply to the topic, but not create new ones.

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

This is especially useful if you want to select the best work as an example for each topic or week in your course. You can always end each topic of week with the best work as an example so that discussion can take place on it.

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Standard forum

In a standard forum, the default setting allows students to create new topics and post replies to the topics. This makes it an open forum, which would be useful if you want your students to be able to post their own work or if you want to post examples or models that you could label "sample work". Following is an example of a multitopic forum. Each piece of work is a new topic.

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

One way to keep the sample work forum organized is to allow only the teacher to create new topics. Each topic is an example of student work, posted by the teacher. Students discuss each example by replying to the topic. To accomplish this, you'll need to disable the students' ability to create new topics.

By default, the Student role in Moodle enables students to create new topics in a standard forum. You can disable this by referring to the following steps:

  1. Select the forum in which you want to disable the students' ability to create new topics.
  2. Select Update this Forum.
  3. Select the Roles tab, and then the Override roles subtab, as shown in the following screenshot:
  4. Select Student. This brings up the Overrides page.

    Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

  5. For the setting Start new discussions, select Prevent.
  6. Click the Save changes button.

In Moodle, permissions at a lower context override permissions at a higher context. For example, by default the role Student has the permission for Start new discussions set to Allow. However, you could set this to Prevent for a specific course because a course is a lower context than the entire site; for that course the permission Prevent will override the site's wide setting of Allow. A single activity, such as this forum, is the lowest context in Moodle. Overriding permission in a single activity will not affect anything else; it affects only that activity.

Moodle's online help has a good discussion about the differences between Inherit, Allow, Prevent, and Prohibit. It also describes how conflicts between permissions are solved by the software. If you're going to use Override roles elsewhere in Moodle, read this section of the help.

>> Continue Reading Instructional Material using Moodle 1.9: Part 2


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