About this book

Moodle is an open source virtual learning environment that is coming to be used in more and more schools worldwide. History and Moodle complement each other perfectly in terms of content and delivery. This book will show you how to set up tasks and activities that will enable your students to forge a greater understanding of complex issues, bringing History into the 21st century.

History Teaching with Moodle 2 presents new and exciting ideas for the delivery of History content making use of tried-and-trusted methods of teaching the subject. By following a sample course, you will find it easy to transform your existing lesson plans into a Moodle course that will become even more efficient, attractive, and useful over time.

Make the past come to life using a range of tasks and activities that can consolidate learning for some, enhance understanding for others, and enthuse all. Learn how to add an RSS feed to your home page to display daily 'On this day in history' posts. Create a one-minute quiz about how the Second World War began. Post video footage of a trip to a castle and set some questions for students in anticipation of their next visit. Set up a wiki so that student groups can create their own story about 'murder at a monastery'. Moodle's built-in features allow students to get a better grasp of historical concepts and will rejuvenate their interest in the subject.

Publication date:
June 2011


Chapter 1. Course Structure

In classrooms far and wide vivid accounts of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 and explanations of the siege engines of war are brought to life through the innovative use of ICT. The advent of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in recent years has added a whole new dimension to the use of ICT in the teaching of History. One VLE in particular seems to have been created with History teachers in mind because of its ability to capture their enthusiasm and expertise and facilitate the creation of vivid and dynamic courses that mimic effective History teaching practice.


Moodle Ideal for teaching History

Moodle, the VLE in question:

  • Equips the History teacher with an array of tools that enhance good practice in the classroom

  • Extends the learning of pupils beyond the lesson

  • Creates opportunities to challenge the gifted and talented pupils

  • Captures the individual teacher's expertise so that it can be reused by others

  • Reinforces the learning that has taken place during a lesson

  • Reassures students by reflecting their own use of ICT outside the classroom

Without being prescriptive in any way, Moodle brings together an arsenal of weapons to make the teaching of History even more exciting and relevant.

It enables a teacher to radically alter the pace of a lesson through the use of a quiz or a lesson. It challenges students to make informed judgments about the work of peers in forums, blogs, workshops, and interactive discussions. It creates opportunities for collaborative work in wikis and glossaries. It captures the expertise a teacher has to offer and makes it more accessible to:

  • The quiet individual for whom the class debate is a struggle

  • The enthusiast who needs a bit more reassurance to move up to the next level

  • The talented child who finishes tasks but needs to develop the capacity to learn more independently

"History Teaching with Moodle" includes a number of assumptions, which I have made with confidence. The activities and ideas will appeal to good teachers, and it will enthuse the young teacher starting out in the profession. It will occasionally challenge the History technophobe to say, "Actually, that is not a bad idea!". Some of those mentioned above will spot Moodle's potential to harness skills and expertise and do something different with them. Others will quickly develop opportunities for themselves to be heard in conversations where it has not always been the case, in the staffroom or the classroom. And some will just pick up the ball, run with it, and see where it takes them.

One further assumption is that you are in a position to begin building a course. It could be an entire Key Stage 3 course about:

  • The Medieval Period (Year 7)

  • Renaissance, Reformation, and Revolution (Year 8)

  • Empires and World Wars (Year 9)

The course may reflect the new modular approach to teaching GCSE History. It could be based upon:

  • The Divided Union looking at Post war USA, McCarthyism, Civil Rights, and so on

  • The Germany 1918-1939 module

  • Peace and War: International Relations 1901 - 1991

The institution may have its own Virtual Learning Environment but limited contributions from the History department. Courses may not have progressed much beyond using them to host resources. Readers will hopefully be in a position to take up the teacher role to create tasks and also to test them using student accounts. If this is not the case, then it is likely that having patiently read the book, readers will be in a strong position to beat down the Senior Management's door and demand some help in getting the ball rolling. As a consequence of reading this book, the relationship with your technicians in the ICT Department will alter dramatically as the nature of requests becomes more challenging and diverse. "Is it possible to try to do this?" sounds much more interesting to an ICT technician than, "Please could you fix this!".

Moodle the Extra Dimension

So what extra dimensions does a Moodle course offer to a History teacher? A few examples can only scratch the surface, but might help.

Re-invent your worksheets

  • Transform your information sheet about key individuals from the Russian Revolution into a Random Glossary (Chapter 3) in your course. This can be done in a series of stages.

  • Create a glossary of the leading individuals from the period.

  • Display an entry from the glossary on the front page.

  • Set up the glossary so that it randomly selects a different entry from the glossary and displays it on the page.

Encourage students to collaborate

  • Use a collaborative wiki (Chapter 6) to focus on improving answers to different types of examination questions

  • Get students to write an answer to a particular question under examination conditions

  • Mark the answer, giving it a Level such as Level 1

  • Ask another student to improve it

  • Use the History tab on the wiki to view the changes that are necessary to achieve the higher level answer

Get them using forums

  • Use forums (Chapter 1) to enhance the quality of class debates

  • Set an open ended question that demands a measured response from students

  • Insist on use of sentences and paragraphs and refuse to accept 'textspeak'

  • Encourage students to comment constructively on opposing arguments

  • Use posts in a debate to raise the quality of the discussion

  • Target the confident authors and engineer a situation where the same individual has to counter his/her own argument

History teachers are familiar with open-ended questions that bring the subject to life in discussion, debate, and presentation. The same questions can be put to work alongside Moodle's tools to provide a dynamic learning experience for students. They can evaluate each other's work in a workshop or investigate key features of an event in a lesson, quiz, or wiki. The permutations are endless and the opportunities for History teachers in particular, are mouth watering.

  • Year 7, Medieval Period: What was the single most important reason for William's victory at Hastings?

  • Year 8, Renaissance, Reformation, and Revolution: Was Mary Tudor really such a bad queen?

  • Year 9, Empires and World Wars: Was the Empire a good or a bad thing?

  • Year 10, Germany 1918 -1939: Was the Reichstag fire the main reason why Hitler was able to establish a dictatorship in Germany in 1934?

  • Year 11, Cold War and International Relations: What was the main reason why Khruschev decided to place missiles in Cuba in 1962?

Creative use of tools within Moodle provides opportunities to get even more out of students because they recognize the value of the tools. Forums help them to concentrate on one reason why Hitler came to power whilst studying a collection of other reasons provided by their peers. They are thus more equipped to answer that detailed question which asks them to discuss at least three reasons and prioritize the most important.

Similarly, it becomes easier to compose an examination answer that requires explanation and discussion of more than one reason why Khruschev decided to deploy missiles in Cuba in 1962. The same forum becomes an ideal focal point for revision on the Cuban missile crisis. Students learn by doing and forums, wikis, lessons, and workshops allow them to do more whilst notionally appearing to do less. By embracing the way students use technology in everyday life, teachers are allowing them to learn in a collaborative way and in fact helping them to achieve more than they might if they simply wrote up notes from a textbook.


Your first History course

Where to start? The best place is with a scheme of work for a particular year group. Start by building one course and acquiring particular skills. This will inevitably lead on to creating other courses so that those skills can be enhanced and utilized with other year groups.

Key stage 3 courses (11 - 13 year olds)

We are going to create a course for a Year 7 group using a list of key questions, which a teacher might plan to cover in a year. Using this format, it is possible to create a course that has the appropriate structure. For example the Year 7 course might cover the following questions over the academic year:

  1. 1. Why did William win the Battle of Hastings?

  2. 2. What did medieval people believe?

  3. 3. What was life like for medieval peasants?

  4. 4. What was the impact of the Black Death?

  5. 5. Why did the peasants revolt in 1381?

  6. 6. Who was the best king: Henry II, Richard I, or John?

  7. 7. How did castles work?

  8. 8. How did explorers discover the rest of the world?

Schemes of work such as this lend themselves to the creation of a single course. Students tend to like the fact that everything they have covered in the year can be found under one roof and they appreciate the benefits to their revision. They have their exercise books to revise from but the course also provides them with the opportunity to revisit quizzes, video clips, slides that reinforce their understanding, and wikis that demonstrate how to answer particular types of questions effectively.

All the topics for the year will be placed in this course. Students will develop their essay writing skills with the emphasis on style and use of their own knowledge. We can use Moodle to highlight and evaluate examples of good practice in a workshop. Students will also work with sources and evaluate their usefulness. As with a book, the resources will be kept in one place but unlike a book the variety of sources that can be used is much more varied and extensive. A collaborative wiki can be set up so that students learn to empathize with medieval peasants or monks. We can use the book module to ensure that any notes about a particular topic are easily accessible. We can set up links to other sites so that independent learners can pursue their own line of enquiry. The series of eight questions create logical sections within our course. During the course, specific tasks and activities will be assessed such as the essay, sources exercises, and quizzes. The gradebook will record student performance. Marking and feedback will be provided in line with the institution's marking policy.

Key stage 4 courses (14 - 16 year olds)

A slightly different approach is required with Key Stage 4 courses. The modular approach, tackling different skills in examination papers necessitates the creation of a series of separate courses for History GCSE classes. The Divided Union paper concentrates on skills such as source evaluation and the ability to answer questions of a distinct nature. Obviously, to answer effectively requires the background knowledge to the McCarthy period and the Civil Rights movement. Such a course would concentrate on teaching how to write model answers as well as reinforcing students' understanding of important content and issues. Students will find in the course an array of learning materials to ensure good background knowledge such as quizzes, lessons, flashcards, and so on and practice in the writing and evaluating of good quality answers to questions.

The Germany 1918-1939 paper requires an in-depth knowledge and the ability to write good answers to causation questions. A good course helps to signpost strong technique and prepare students thoroughly for the examination so that when they come to sit the paper, there are no surprises. The skills are different within the courses and the courses reflect the differences.

Students at this key stage are able to cope with a greater number of courses in their subject. In History, they also appreciate that the series of questions allows them to breakdown and learn the content and the different techniques required to achieve the higher grades. If they want to work on their ability to answer causation questions then a good course will have clear signposts to the differences between a Level 1, 2, and 3 answer (use a wiki), quizzes, flashcards, notes, and so on to cover key content (examples in each course section), and opportunities to submit answers to workshops and to teaching staff.

There are clear differences between courses at Years 7 and 8 compared to Years 10 and 11. Moodle caters for the difference in needs and the concentration on content or a skills-based approach. Teachers will recognize and share these aspirations. Moodle enhances the way teachers do it at the moment. The Moodle course is another vital component to success alongside the exercise book and folder, the lever arch file, and the textbook.


Naming your course

Before the course can be put together, there are a number of issues that need to be decided upon. Our plan is to create a course called Year 7 History in the History category and it will have the course code Y7Hist. It will consist of eight topics and we plan to build it gradually so that by the end of the course it contains a rich seam of resources, tasks, and activities but also contains clear signposts to the skills that we want the Year 7 classes to practice this year. There will be a series of tasks and activities that will be recorded in the gradebook for the course to indicate student levels of attainment and to help with report writing. We plan to concentrate on interpreting and evaluating sources, exercises in empathy, and essay writing techniques.

We are going to use the Topics format in preference to the Weeks format or the Social format. We shall look at these two formats later in the chapter. Suffice to say the Topics format allows us to select how many topics we want visible on the home page and allows this figure to be adjusted. We also need to consider how we wish to make the course available to students. Initially, whilst we are setting it up we could make it impossible for students to enroll in it. We plan to assign students to the course ourselves so that we are in complete control of this important aspect. We shall then invite students to post an entry into a forum in answer to an open-ended question about their understanding of the term 'medieval'.

Creating the History category

  1. 1. Creating the History category is straightforward if you have administrator rights, log in as administrator.Click Site Administraton in the left-hand pane.

  2. 2. Click Courses.

  3. 3. Click Add/edit courses.

  4. 4. Click the Add new category button.

  5. 5. Enter History in the Category Name textbox.

  6. 6. Click the Add a new course button.

Create the Year 7 History course

This will initiate the Course Settings window. The first part of the window covers the settings we have previously discussed. The course summary will appear alongside the link to the course on the student's home page. Take note of the location for selecting the course format and the number of topics.

Further down the page, there are more settings that need to be negotiated.

  1. 1. We have left the first two sections at their default values.

  2. 2. We have set News items to show as 0 because we do not want the Latest News block to appear on the home page. We shall deal with blocks in more detail in the next chapter.

  3. 3. We do want students to be able to see the Gradebook, which we shall look at in more detail in Chapter 5.

  4. 4. We shall discuss activity reports in detail when we look at how Moodle can assist with report writing and parent consultations.

  5. 5. We have set Legacy Course files to Yes because this is an important concession to file management in earlier versions of Moodle. The new approach adopted under Moodle 2 may not be to everyone's taste. More of this when we look at uploading of files in the next chapter.

  6. 6. Guest access we have left at their default settings.

  7. 7. Groups have been left at their default settings for now although this will change as we investigate this aspect in a later chapter.

  8. 8. The remainder of the options in the Course Settings window appear below:

  1. 9. We have left the Availability option at its default setting but if you are keen to avoid students logging in to the course before you are ready, you may prefer to set it to This course is not available to students.

  2. 10. We have left the remaining settings at their default values.

  3. 11. Click Save changes.


Creating and enrolling users

Completion of the Course Settings window immediately takes you to the next stage of the process when setting up a course for the first time enrolling teachers and students.

Creating users

If you saved changes at the end of the Course Settings window, you will see an option in the next screen to Add a new user. If not, this option is available if you do the following:

  1. 1. Click Site Administration in the left-hand pane.

  2. 2. Click Users.

  3. 3. Click Accounts.

  4. 4. Click Add a new user.

  5. 5. In this section, the fields that are essential are marked with an asterisk. If you do not have administrator rights then it is highly unlikely that you will be able to create users yourself. However, when you have been assigned the role of a teacher for a course, you will be able to assign students to your course.

  1. 6. Enter values in the fields marked with an asterisk and leave the remaining fields at their default values. Do not forget the town and country fields midway down the page.

  2. 7. Click the Update profile button.

  3. 8. Repeat this procedure to add some more students and teachers.

  4. 9. Click Browse list of users to see a list of the users you have created.

Enrol users

As administrator, you have the ability to enrol users in courses.

  1. 1. Click Course administration.

  2. 2. Click Users.

  3. 3. Click Enrolled users.

  4. 4. In the Enrolment method select Manual enrolments.

  5. 5. Click Enrol users.

  6. 6. Select teacher or student from the drop-down menu.

  7. 7. Click the Enrol button.

  8. 8. The screen will refresh with the new users added to the table.

It is highly likely that you find yourself in the position of working for an establishment where Moodle has been set up and already has an administrator whose job it is to create courses and create users. In this case, the previous three sections will have been of limited value. Still, you need to create a Year 7 History course and here are some suggestions as to how to go about it.

  • Contact the Moodle administrator at your establishment.

  • Confirm your Moodle username and password with your administrator.

  • Inform the administrator that you would like to set up a Moodle course in History for your Year 7 group.

  • Request that you be assigned the role of 'teacher' within the course.

  • Negotiate a name for the course with the administrator. There may be a strict naming policy in place so 'Murder, Mayhem and Madness' may have to be sacrificed for something more prosaic such as 'Year 7 History'.

  • Ask if you can watch the process take place. This procedure takes seconds. You will see where the course is placed within the existing structure and this will enable you to access the course easily once you are on your own. You will also see yourself assigned the role of 'teacher' within the course.

Log in to the establishment's Moodle, preferably with the course creator still alongside and navigate to the course. The suggestions may seem pedantic but they ensure that you have a clear route through to your course once you have to do it alone.

Having confirmed that the course exists, revisit the notes in the section about enrolling students and see if you can assign students to your course. Check also that you can access the Course Settings page and find the particular setting that prevents those students from accessing your course until you are absolutely ready to allow them in.

If student Benedict Foyle were to log in to the new Year 7 History course in our Moodle, he would see the following screen:

Having reached this point, the shackles are off and you are ready to start working on your first Moodle course.


Adding topic labels

The first thing we are going to do is to add the eight questions as headings in topic labels. In the following chapter, we will return to the labels and look at how to add images and use the labels more effectively to signpost to students what will be covered in each section.

  1. 1. Log in to your moodle with your username and password.

  2. 2. Click on the link to Year 7 History, which should be clearly visible if you have been assigned as a teacher to this course.

  3. 3. Click the Turn editing on button.

  4. 4. Click the Edit Summary symbol in the section for Topic 1.

  5. 5. Uncheck the box headed 'Use default section name'.

  6. 6. This activates the Section name textbox where you can type the first of the topic headings 'Why did William win the Battle of Hastings?'.

  7. 7. Leave the Description box blank for now.

  8. 8. Click Save Changes.

Topic 1 should appear as in the following screenshot:

Exercise: Add labels to topics
  1. 1. Repeat steps 4 to 8 for the remaining topics, ensuring that each question is assigned its own topic section.

  2. 2. Turn off the Editing button.

  3. 3. Click the Switch role to link.

  4. 4. Select the Student option.

The course should now appear as in the following screenshot. This is what a student would see if he or she went into the course as it stands at present. Note the reference in the top right-hand corner to my role as a student in this view.

  • Before starting the next task, you need to ensure that you have clicked on the link to Return to my normal role.


Your first forum

A forum is an ideal way to get students involved in a course. Setting an open-ended question for which there is no right or wrong answer encourages them to set down their ideas clearly. Giving them some guidelines about expectations is important. Do not permit the use of "text-speak" or abbreviations. Ideally, posts should be in sentences and paragraphs. Pupils like forums; the quiet ones find that they have an equal voice and that their opinions carry as much weight as their more outspoken peers. It is also a good way to get a feel for what the group understands about a particular topic, and any misconceptions they may have.

Use open-ended questions

We are going to open up a simple forum where students can respond to the question, "When you hear the term 'medieval period' what things come to mind?" Similar open-ended questions could be added to courses for other year groups:

  • What was the main reason for Henry VIII's break from Rome? (Year 8)

  • "Lions led by Donkeys!" How fair is this assessment of the role of the generals in WW1? (Year 9)

  • Were improved wages the main effect of the Nazis economic policies? (Year 10)

  • Why did relations between the Soviet Union and the USA change between 1943 and 1956? (Year 11)

Types of forum

Having established clearly the question that you want to set and what your expectations are of your students, it is time to set up the first forum. There are several types of forum from which to choose. We shall use the single, simple discussion.

Setting up a forum

The ideal location for your first forum is in the top unnamed section above Topic 1.

  1. 1. Enter the Year 7 History course and turn editing on.

  2. 2. Click on the Add an activity dropdown in the top section above Topic 1.

  3. 3. Select Forum from the list.

  4. 4. Enter the values as shown in the following screenshot:

    • The Forum name is crucial because this is the hyperlink that students will spot on the course page. It should be unambiguous. Use the forum introduction to set out your expectations of the students. There are some things that can never be repeated enough times! We have left the Subscription mode as optional because we do not necessarily want them to receive e-mail copies of each post for this. Students may wish to upload an image that they feel is relevant to the discussion.

    • The Post threshold for blocking section allows you to deal with over enthusiastic users who post too many responses to the question. Default settings apply in this case.

    • We will look at Grade, Ratings, and Common module settings in more detail in the relevant chapters. The only setting we have altered is the ID no. of 1 for this activity because it is the first task we have asked the students to do.

  5. 5. Click Save and return to course.

  6. 6. Click Turn editing off.

  7. 7. Click Switch role to.

  8. 8. Select student.

  9. 9. Click the forum hyperlink in the top section and you should see something similar to the following screenshot:

Notice that students have a variety of options to display the posts in the dropdown box at the top and the links to post their replies can be found in the bottom corner.

Exercise: Course creation

Try this exercise to test out the skills you have acquired this far:

  1. 1. Create a course called Year 10 History (Nazi Germany 1930-39) with the course code Y10HistG. Assign yourself as a teacher to the course and also assign some students. (You may need to consult your administrators in order to do this.) Use the 'Topic' format in the Format section.

  2. 2. It is a nine-topic course and the key questions covered over the duration of the course are as follows:

    • How did Hitler come to power?

    • How did Hitler move from Chancellor to Fuhrer?

    • How did Hitler keep Germany under control?

    • How did Hitler cut unemployment?

    • How did Hitler control the minds of the young?

    • What was the role of women in Nazi Germany?

    • What were Hitler's relations with the Church like?

    • Was there opposition from groups like the Communists, Catholics, army officers, and students?

    • How did Nazi policies against the Jews develop in the period 1933-39?

  3. 3. Set up a forum with the question 'What did followers of Nazism believe?'

  4. 4. Ask students to respond to the question in sentences and avoid the use of text-speak.

When it is finished, the page a student will see should resemble the following screenshot:


Clio's Challenge a social format

As the name suggests, this format is useful for those courses that might need to resemble a brochure or magazine in terms of content. For example, there may be a History society in school or a Challenge and Extension group. This course format concentrates on presenting and exchanging information with members. The main body of the page consists of a social forum. It dominates the center pane and several blocks along the side panes can be used to present relevant information to visitors.

Clio's Challenge is the brain child of an inspirational colleague who wanted to open up History to the entire age range. She achieved it by challenging pupils of all ages to record their passion for History in different ways. It could, for example, be in the form of:

  • A book review of a historical novel

  • A podcast about a visit to a place of historical interest during holiday

  • A blog entry about a recent radio or TV program

Younger pupils meeting the challenge through this form of independent learning could earn house points and certificates to demonstrate their love of History. Equally, a student who is at the point of applying to study History at university could point to a love of the subject that clearly predates the years of public examinations.

Clio's Challenge is in a social format because it is not prescriptive in any way. Pupils offer ideas and share advice and tips about meeting the challenges. Useful experiences can be recorded there and relevant documents made available. Work can be posted, viewed, and commented upon by peers, teachers, and mentors.

The screenshot shows the use of an HTML block to summarize the raison d'etre of the club. It also includes RSS feeds which provide relevant, ever changing links. We shall look at how to set up RSS feeds in Chapter 3. They provide an invaluable opportunity to relate your class teaching to current events. Be prepared, for example, to interrupt your plans in order to explain the meaning of 'Dunkirk spirit' to inquisitive twelve year olds who spot an important anniversary and need to know more. Once the RSS link is set up, the course refreshes the links on a regular basis without any need for intervention. Quote of the Day could be another RSS feed or it could be a collection of quotes which have been transformed into a Random Glossary. We shall also look at these features in Chapter 3.

A Social forum is therefore a departure from the topic- or week-based structure that we have looked at this far. It clearly has a place because it can act as a focal point for extra- curricular activities, and it is also a logical place to give more wide ranging permissions and responsibilities to pupils with the motivation to do that little bit extra.



In this chapter, we have introduced the idea that Moodle is a superb platform on which to base a significant element of your History teaching. If your students need supplementary assistance beyond the exercise books, folders, and textbooks then it lends itself to this. If challenging and extending your brightest students is an issue for you then Moodle is packed with opportunities to develop their independent learning skills. If you want to develop their ability to collaborate in their learning to drive up standards and expectations, then this piece of software makes it possible. Key to any success is the drive and desire of the individual teacher to apply knowledge and expertise and so make tasks and activities relevant, rewarding, and meaningful. We have:

  • Looked at some different course formats such as topic, weekly and social that are available to teachers when they embark upon building their first courses

  • Discussed how to set up courses and enrol students

  • Created a simple forum that draws pupils to the course at an early stage

  • Added labels to a course that can now can be adapted, extended, and moulded to produce interactive, reflective, and collaborative forms of learning

In the next chapter, we shall look at the use of images to make the course more attractive and appealing. We shall also add features to the course that change frequently, thus creating the impression of a vibrant and dynamic course.

About the Author

  • John Mannion

    John Mannion is from Manchester and has been a teacher in Primary and Secondary level education since September 1987, working in Manchester, Liverpool, and Madrid. He has worked at St. Gabriel's Independent Day School for Girls, Newbury, since January 1998. He is Head of ICT in Teaching & Learning and also teaches History.

    Browse publications by this author
History Teaching with Moodle 2
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