(For more resources on Moodle, see here.)
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 http://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.
(For more resources on Moodle, see here.)
Control your students' progress
The word Moodle, although originally an acronym standing for (Modular Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment), is also a verb. Moodling is the process of lazily meandering through something, doing things as it occurs to you to do them, an enjoyable tinkering that often leads to insight and creativity.
There is an irony here: with its roots in Social Constructionist Pedagogy (see http://docs.moodle.org/en/Philosophy), Moodle empowers students to manage their own learning: they can work at their own individual pace; collaborate with others to build on collective experiences and form new knowledge through active involvement rather than passive absorption. A Native American proverb (which has many variants) states:
Tell me and I'll forget
Show me and I may not remember
Involve me and I'll learn
And yet despite this, one of the most frequently requested features on Moodle has been a way to control the path of students' learning: how can we set our course so a learner can only progress to level 2 once they have reached a certain grade in Level1? How can we hide the Advanced work so they can't see it until they have completed the Basic work (in case – perish the thought – they might actually go, do the Advanced work and understand it ahead of the official schedule!)?
A workaround to controlling student access was made available for Moodle 1.9. It was known as "Activity Locking" and was a means whereby a teacher could set certain conditions on a task that the student had to meet before the next task became visible. With Moodle 2.0 this feature is standard, and is known as Conditional Activities. Whenever you set up an activity in your Moodle course, you now have the power to decide when to enable your student to move on.
This is essential for many situations, particularly in the commercial world. Imagine for example a Health and Safety programme where it's vital that procedures are carried out in a particular order. Or a language-learning course where students really need to understand the basics of the present tense before they can tackle the complexities of the imperfect subjunctive.
You can see the following screenshot of the setup screen of an assignment in one of our Moodle 2.0 courses. The student will not be able to tackle this assignment (indeed, not even see it) until they have made a post in an introductory forum:
We can best make use of Conditional Activities, alongside another new arrival – the ability for users to mark tasks as "done". This is the Activity completion tracking facility. Next to each item on your Moodle course page you will see a dotted check mark (tick). This can be either manually checked by the student if they feel they have finished a task (they can change their mind) or else the teacher can set it to be checked automatically once the student has actually completed the activity. You can see from the next screenshot that the activities Choose your learning style and Orientation quiz are marked complete. The lighter background denotes an automatic check while the grey background denotes a manual check.
Similarly, the new Course Completion feature enables teachers to set conditions for a whole course or set of courses to be marked as complete – again either dependent on certain grades being obtained, activities being completed or activities being manually marked off by the students themselves.
Even if you're not a Moodle administrator yourself, you will notice changes in roles, groups, and other administrative features in Moodle 2.0. The Moodle developers have taken into account three types of users who would deal with admin and tried to make life simpler for them:
- The regular tutor who, besides managing students in their course, just wants to teach
- The basic Moodle admin who (like many I meet) is a non-technical teacher who's been given the job and wants to do their best, but does not have, or want, an exhaustive knowledge of every advanced feature of Moodle
- The more experienced Moodle admin who is confident working with roles
If you are a Moodle administrator you'll see that one of the most misunderstood aspects and most commonly made errors in user control has now been addressed; it is no longer possible to assign teachers or students a system-wide role. It could almost be guaranteed that on the help forums of http://moodle.org/ at least once a week you would encounter a Moodle admin confused that all their students and all their teachers appeared in all their courses. They had failed to read the big writing in the Assign System roles page of Site Administration and given their users global access. Now, students and teachers can only be assigned to the courses they work in and hopefully those panicked cries for help will become a thing of the past.
Likewise, admins can now see at a glance exactly which roles in which courses certain users have.
As you can see in the preceding screenshot, the user Andy Field is shown as a teacher in one course and a student in another. This makes it much easier to track users and better understand the permissions they have in different courses.
If you are a course tutor in Moodle 2.0, you will be pleased to know that yet another oft-requested feature, site-wide groups, or Cohorts, has been developed. This will enable the Moodle admin to create a group (class) of students that can be added, moved between, and removed from courses throughout your Moodle installation. Cohorts should enable us to do away with the need for metacourses or roles assigned at a category level.
How do we get Moodle 2.0?
The advantage of Open Source software is that anyone can grab a copy for free and have a play around with it. Of course, if you want to use Moodle for your school or business many companies will host it for you online, including Moodle's own recommended Partners.
On the main Moodle site, http://moodle.org/, on the Downloads and Plugins tab, you can access different setups of Moodle according to your requirements — from the standard packages to install on a server, to special installer packages for MacOSX and Windows if you want to try it out yourself on a local host, you will then be presented with a list of "current stable builds" to choose from. The + version is updated weekly. You can then download Moodle as either a .tgz or .zip file, as shown in the following screenshot:
The following are some key points to bear in mind:
What you need for Moodle 2.0
If you are new to Moodle admin or you want a more detailed look from an administrator's viewpoint, you might fnd Alex Buchner's Moodle Administration (updated for Moodle 2.0) and also published by Packt a useful addition to your library.
It's important that either you (if you're doing this yourself) or your Moodle admin or webhost are aware of the requirements for Moodle 2.0. It needs:
- PHP 5.2.8
- MySQL 5.0.25 or else MSSQL 2005 or else Oracle 10.2
Installing Moodle 2.0 for the first time
If you are Moodle for the first time, you can find step by step instructions in the docs on the main Moodle site here: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Installing_Moodle and more specifcally related to Moodle 2.0 here: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Installing_Moodle_2.0
Upgrading to Moodle 2.0
If you already have an installation of Moodle, you will find instructions for upgrading in the docs on the main Moodle site here http://docs.moodle.org/en/Upgrading_to_Moodle_2.0 If you are upgrading from an earlier version of Moodle (such as 1.8) then you should upgrade to Moodle 1.9 frst before going to 2.0. You must update incrementally; shortcuts – for example. updating from 1.7 directly to 2.0 -- are simply not possible. Read the docs carefully if you are planning on upgrading from very early versions such as 1.5 or 1.6.
Potential problems with upgrading
The way themes work has changed completely. While this allows for more fexible coding and templating, it does mean that if you had a customized theme it will not transfer over to Moodle 2 without some redesigning beforehand.
Third party add-ons and custom code
The same applies to third party add-ons and custom code: it is highly unlikely they will work without significant alterations.
Backup and Restore
Making courses from 1.9 or earlier restore into Moodle 2. 0 has proved very problematic and is still not entirely achievable. Although this is a priority for the Moodle developers, there is at the time of writing only a workaround involving restoring your course to a 1.9 site and then upgrading it to 2.0.
In this article we've taken a brief look at what Moodle 2.0 has to offer. The key points to remember are that, alongside the exciting new modules and enhanced features, the file uploading and navigation systems have undergone major overhauls, such that even as you log in and attempt to put up your first resource, you will notice big changes in the way you move around Moodle.
- Moodle 1.9 Math [Book]
- Moodle Administration [Book]
- Moodle 1.9 for Teaching Special Education Children (5-10): Beginner's Guide [Book]
- Moodle 2.0: What's New in Add a Resource [Article]