Managing Student Work using Moodle: Part 1

Taking existing classes online quickly with the Moodle LMS

In this article, we take a turn from work I hand out to students to look at how to manage online work that they hand to me.

Currently, in my Backyard Ballistics course, I set two major end-of-course projects:

  • A poster on energy sources
  • A PowerPoint presentation to the group on how energy is transferred when objects are sent flying through the air

Both tasks are graded separately.

For me, the final project has always been a major headache: PowerPoint presentations go missing. Students claim they have emailed me files that never reach me. The school technician is wary of students bringing in work on memory sticks because of the threat of viruses. Marking the posters involves me having to make notes on paper, and having a system to associate those notes with digital photographs of the posters stored elsewhere. I want a system that allows me to manage student submissions in one self-contained tool—one that can be used to exchange files between my students and me without having to resort to other, far less reliable, means. Also, wouldn't it be good to have a tool that allows us to comment (and include photographs, videos—in fact any digital file we liked) and grade work all under one umbrella?

Added to that, my course specification also demands that I grade students on key skills: numeracy, literacy, and the use of ICT. And that's not something I specifically set a project for. I need a way of grading students on those aspects of their work separate from any specific project. That's another headache.

That may seem like a lot to worry about, but (as you've probably already heard) by converting to Moodle, we can easily find answers to all of these issues, and more.

So let's get on with it, and make a start with converting my poster project and PowerPoint assignments to Moodle...

Converting Projects and Assignments

Moodle provides four types of assignment activity, and they well match any kind of project that you are likely to set for your students. Turn editing on, go to any topic, and click on the Add an activity list. In this list, you will see the four different assignment types Moodle supports. They are:

  • Offline activity—If your student projects can't be uploaded into Moodle because the student submission isn't electronic (just like my poster project), then you can manage grades and your notes on the students' work using this kind of assignment type.
  • Online text—Students are going to be creating the assignment submission using the text editor built into Moodle. That's the one we've been using to create our course so far.
  • Upload a single file—Does what it says on the tin. Students can only upload one file.
  • Advanced uploading of files—Students can upload more than one file. As a teacher, you can also use Moodle as a mechanism for exchanging files between students, instead of using email (unreliable) or a memory stick (virus risk).

Don't be afraid to have a look at these assignment types now. With editing turned on, click on Add an activity... and select any of the assignment types. That way you can get a feel for the kinds of settings we'll be dealing with before we start.

Remember: if, while you are trying out different assignment types, you mistakenly add an assignment to your course, you can easily delete it by clicking on the delete icon next to the assignment name.

How to Structure Converted Projects and Assignments Online

For larger projects or assignments, it is often preferable to have a self-contained topic containing the actual assignment itself, together with any supporting materials. You could include exemplars (e.g. work from previous years) and give students the opportunity to discuss them together. Having the assignment, and all of the supporting materials, in a single topic means I can hide the assignment from students until it is time for them to attempt it.

To demonstrate how this would be done, firstly we need to add a new topic to our course, and then we can add in an assignment activity...

Adding a New Topic to a Course

I'm going to add a new topic to my course specifically for my student projects. Then, I'm going to hide that topic until we have covered the course. I'm going to do the same with my projects and the support materials associated with them. You don't have to treat assignments in this way: as you work through the settings for a Moodle assignment, you'll notice that you can specify a time period that those assignments are available for (it's a setting we'll talk about shortly). I've decided that I want to ensure that my students focus on the preliminary work before they start attempting any assignments by completely hiding them from students.

Time for Action – Add a Topic to a Course and Hide It

  1. Return to your course front page and choose Settings from the Administration block.
  2. Scroll down to the number of weeks/topics setting and change the number in the drop down-list to add another topic to your course:
  3. Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

  4. At the bottom of the page, press the Save changes button. That's it, we're done—and now there's a new empty topic at the end of your course.
  5. For the moment, I want to hide this topic from students. Click on the eye icon on the right-hand side to hide the topic:
  6. Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

  7. It depends on your theme but, to show that a topic is hidden, two grey bars are shown on the left- and right-hand sides of the topic:
  8. Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

What Just Happened?

We've now got a new, empty topic added to our course. I don't want students to be able to view the assignment until we are all ready, so I've hidden this topic from them for now.

Which Assignment Type?

For the purpose of my project I'm only going to be looking at two different assignment activity types—but by looking at those two we'll gain the skills and confidence to be able to use all four quite happily.

Converting a Project to Moodle Example 1 – Using an Offline Assignment

The first project—the poster project—is going to be converted to use the Offline activity assignment type. I'm going to use Moodle to manage student grades and to organize my notes and comments on their work. Let's see how easy it is to add an Offline activity...

Time for Action – Add an Offline Activity Assignment

  1. Make sure you still have editing turned on. In the topic you want to add your new assignment to (in my case my new, hidden topic) click on Add an activity... and choose Offline activity from the list. You're now taken to the Editing assignment page.
  2. Give your assignment a name. Enter in a brief description of the task in the Description box. Don't worry if the box looks a bit small. We can include all of the supporting materials in the topic together with the assignment activity itself on the course front page:
  3. Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

  4. Use the Grade setting to specify the maximum grade you are going to give for this assignment. I'm going to leave the Grade setting at 100 (meaning I can grade this assignment out of 100). Maybe your assignment forms part of an overall mark and you need to mark it out of less. You could choose to mark your assignment in this way. You can even choose to create your own custom grades (e.g. A, B, C, D, E, or F), which we learn how to do later on in this article.
  5. Choose when you want the assignment to be available. I want to hide both the assignment and the supporting resources and materials, so this option is redundant. I do have the option of disabling this setting so this is what I'm going to do, in this instance. If you aren't hiding the assignment, the Available from and Due date settings are a useful way of preventing students handing work to you before you are ready:
  6. Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

  7. That's it! We're done. Press the Save and return to course button. A new assignment has just been added to the course:
  8. Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

What Just Happened?

Converting my poster project to Moodle was as easy as adding an Offline assignment activity to my Backyard Ballistics course. Click on the assignment now to see what happens. You'll see a screen displaying the task you've just set, and in the top right-hand corner you'll see a No attempts have been made on this assignment link:

Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

Click on that link now. You'll be taken to a list of students who are enrolled on your course. If you don't have any students enrolled on your course, then this is what you will see:

Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

I don't yet want students enrolled on my course until I know it is set up to be just how I want it. The solution is to introduce a "control student" on our course, and later in this article we'll see how. Before we do that, I'm going to think about the second assignment I need to convert—where students are required to produce a PowerPoint presentation.

Converting a Project to Moodle Example 2 – Using an Advanced Uploading of Files Assignmentt

I'm going to get students to submit their PowerPoint file using an Advanced uploading of files assignment type. Why not Upload a single file? Here are the advantages of using an Advanced uploading of files assignment:

  • Students can upload more than one file (the total number is controlled by me).
  • My students and I can exchange work online, without us having to resort to memory sticks and email.

Let's run through the process of adding an Advanced uploading of files assignment now...

Time for Action – Add an Advanced Uploading of Files Assignment

With editing turned on, in the topic to which you want to add your new assignment, click on Add an activity and choose Advanced uploading of files. Now, you are at the Editing assignment page. There are many more configuration options for this activity compared to an Offline assignment, but for now I'm just going to worry about the important ones. Remember, for more information on specific settings check out the Moodle docs for this page link at the bottom of the page—and you can always come back and change settings later on if you need to.

  1. Give your assignment a name and fill out the description.
  2. Use the Grade setting to specify the maximum grade you are going to give for this assignment. I'm going to leave the Grade setting at 100 (meaning I can grade this assignment out of 100). Maybe your assignment forms part of an overall mark and you need to mark it out of less. You can even choose to create your own custom grades (e.g. A, B, C, D, E or F), which we learn how to do later on in this assignment.
  3. Scroll down to the Advanced uploading of files options box:
  4. Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

    Because it is a PowerPoint presentation that I'm expecting students to upload, I'm going to set the maximum file size accordingly. And, I'm going to allow students to delete what they have uploaded (in case they accidentally upload the wrong thing).

  5. If you want to allow students to include a short note with their submission then make sure Allow notes is set to yes:
  6. Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

  7. Because I'm hiding both of these projects until I'm ready, I can leave the Hide description before available date as No. If, instead of hiding the entire assignment as I am, you are employing the Available from and Due date settings then set Hide description... to Yes. Students will know they've got an assignment coming but the description is only revealed when the Available from date is reached.
  8. Set Email alerts to teachers to Yes so that you know when a student has submitted their work. Use this setting with caution: if you are a teacher on a course who isn't interested in the submission of pieces of work then receiving dozens of emails saying student work has been submitted will get tiresome (as well as annoying). If you want a quick summary of the number of assignments that have been submitted then click on Assignments in the breadcrumbs at the top of the page, or the Assignments link in the Activities block:
  9. Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

  10. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and press Save and display. Your new assignment is now configured:
  11. Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

What Just Happened?

We've just completed adding two types of assignment, an Offline activity and an Advanced uploading of files assignment. We haven't covered including a Single file assignment or Online text, but with the skills and experience you've gained so far, you will be able to use those types with ease. Before we learn how assignments are marked in Moodle, why not spend a little time having a look at them now?

Introduce a Student on Your Course

You've seen how easy it is for us to add assignments and project work to our courses. However, we do need to have a feel for how it is to be a student using Moodle to hand in assignments—and check our grades and teacher feedback after we have handed our work in. What we need at this stage isn't one of our actual students. We need a "control student", and there are two ways we can introduce one on our course:

  • Ask the admin to create a pretend student and enroll them on our course for us. If the administrator then gives us the log-in details for this student then we can log in as them and see what it is like as a student on our courses.
  • Ask a colleague to enroll on our course. Our colleagues may be teachers on their own Moodle courses, but, as long as they aren't already teachers on our course, when they join us in our courses they will be enrolled as students. Moodle doesn't know that they are teachers in the real world

I've gone for the first of the two options, for no better reason than my colleagues didn't want me to have their log in details (they obviously don't trust me) and they aren't always going to be around when I need them to help me test out my course. My admin has enrolled on my course a student called John Smith, and my admin has given me John Smith's log-in details. Why not simply use the Switch role to... menu at the top of the course main page? I'm not using that setting because Moodle still knows that I am a teacher. That option is best when you want to check how our course would look if we were a student—not how it would behave if we were a student.

Before I log in as a student, I need to reveal the assignment topic. If I don't and I'm a student, then I'll see this:

Moodle Course Conversion: Beginner's Guide

...the topic isn't available. Make sure you click on the closed eye icon to open the eye and reveal the topic before you log out.

>> Continue Reading Managing Student Work using Moodle: Part 2


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Books to Consider

Moodle 1.9 Testing and Assessment
$ 26.99
Moodle Teaching Techniques
$ 23.99
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