Moodle 1.9 for Second Language Teaching

By Jeff Stanford
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  1. What Does Moodle Offer Language Teachers?

About this book

That word Moodle keeps cropping up all over the place – it's in the newspapers, on other teachers' tongues, in more and more articles. Do you want to find out more about it yourself and learn how to create all sorts of fun and useful online language activities with it? Your search ends right here.

This book demystifies Moodle and provides you with answers to your queries. It helps you create engaging online language learning activities using the Moodle platform. It has suggestions and fully working examples for adapting classroom activities to the Virtual Learning Environment.

This book breaks down the core components of a typical language syllabus – speaking, pronunciation, listening, reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar, and assessment – and shows you how to use Moodle 1.9 to create complete, usable activities that practise them. Each chapter starts with activities that are easier to set up and progresses to more complex ones. Nevertheless, it's a recipe book so each activity is independent. We start off with a brief introduction to Moodle so that you're ready to deal with those specific syllabus topics, and conclude with building extended activities that combine all syllabus elements, making your course attractive and effective. Building activities based on the models in this book, you will develop the confidence to set up your own Moodle site with impressive results.

Publication date:
October 2009
Publisher
Packt
Pages
524
ISBN
9781847196248

 

Chapter 1. What Does Moodle Offer Language Teachers?

Imagine the things you do in a school — putting up timetables, presenting syllabuses, having discussions, presenting videos of new materials, organizing tests, collecting marks, providing feedback to students, guiding students to do their own learning, building a library… Moodle can do all these things and much, much more.

 

What is Moodle?


I just googled "Moodle" and got over 18 million hits. Moodle is one of the fastest growing free, open source VLEs (Virtual Learning Environment) around at the moment. It is also commonly referred to as an LMS (Learning Management System) or a CMS (Course Management System). There are already thousands of registered Moodle sites, as you can see on the Moodle site: http://moodle.org/stats/.

Just in case some of those terms are new to you:

  • Open source means that the code is available by licensing agreement and that you can customize it and redistribute it (http://opensource.org). These have been powerful factors in the development of open source software for a wide range of free or low-cost software.

  • A VLE is a way of providing a teaching and learning environment online.

Here are some of the things that make Moodle particularly attractive to all teachers:

  • Easy to use — you don't need any programming knowledge

  • Access to resources via the Web

  • Interaction between learners and tutors

  • Collaboration between learners

  • Independent learning pathways

  • Learner tracking

  • Feedback on tasks

  • Secure environment

  • Automatic backup

There are some myths that Moodle is difficult, unsupported, and will eventually charge users, but these are all calmly deflated at http://docs.moodle.org/en/ Top_10_Moodle_Myths.

 

Assumptions


Most of this book is a recipe book, a "how-to" book. In it, I'll take activities that you'd find in a typical language-teaching syllabus and show how you can produce these on Moodle. I'll provide step-by-step instructions for you to copy examples and then adapt them according to your own teaching situation. Most of the activities are ordered so that each chapter starts with easier activities. The ease of setup for each activity is indicated by a star system. Now and then you'll be referred to other chapters where an example already exists.

The non-recipe chapters are guides for setting up Moodle (Chapter 2, Getting Started with Moodle), using Moodle for assessment (Chapter 9, Assessment), making your Moodle site look good (Chapter 11, Formatting and Enhancing Your Moodle Materials), and helping prepare students to use Moodle (Chapter 12, Preparing Your Students to Use Moodle).

I'm making a few assumptions:

  • You have basic computer skills

  • You have Moodle up and running

  • You are not necessarily familiar with Moodle's basic features

  • You want examples of how you can cover your language teaching syllabus using Moodle

  • You don't want to master all aspects of Moodle

  • You are not necessarily the Moodle administrator, but have access to the administrator

  • You have some experience of teaching

  • You want to transfer constructivist, communicative language teaching methodology to Moodle.

In case you're not familiar with these concepts, constructivism is based on the idea that individuals learn new things (construct knowledge) through experience by comparing new things to what they already know. They do this by solving realistic problems, often in collaboration with other people. Moodle was built on this approach, and many of the core activities lend themselves well to this type of learning. Communicative language teaching tries to help learners become competent language users in real contexts. There's more about this later in this chapter.

 

Who is this book for?


One of the advantages of a recipe-book approach is that all sorts of people connected to language teaching will find it useful. If you are a teacher, you can dip into it to find a quick solution for an activity you want to create. If you are a course planner, you can review the whole book to build up your own language course. These are some of the people I had in mind when writing:

  • School language teachers who run at least part of their courses on computers

  • Private language teachers who want to run their own online language school

  • Established teachers of English or other languages

  • New teachers who want clear examples of communicative language teaching and testing in use

  • Teacher trainers who want to guide teachers in the use of this powerful system

  • Teachers who have been using Blackboard or another powerful commercial VLE and want to set up their own open source system

  • Course planners and ICT support staff who want to understand the ICT needs of language teachers better

An important point here is that there's no single way of using Moodle for language teaching. I've come across teachers who use it mainly as a repository of materials and find the indexing facilities of the Database module useful for that. Module, by the way, is Moodle's word for an activity. Other teachers use it to create supplementary quizzes for the work they do in class. They find the gradebook, which provides an overview of all their students' marks, useful. Other teachers make Moodle the base of their course, even though they have face-to-face sessions, because Moodle is a neat way of keeping important course elements in one place and tracking learner use and progress. It's also a good way of preparing for classes and reflecting on them afterwards. Finally, Moodle can be used as a totally online course with no face-to-face meeting at all.

You might find I'm stating the obvious sometimes, but most hints are included because there were minor hiccoughs when teachers trialed the materials. On the other hand, some readers might feel phased by mention of formats they've never heard of, such as XML or WAV. If that's the case, don't worry! These are usually extra bits of information that some teachers will find useful to make their lives easier or improve the Moodle activities. Not understanding them — or not wanting to understand them — won't stop you from creating the activities.

 

Why another book on Moodle?


So what's the difference between this book and any other book on Moodle? There's an increasingly large number of books about Moodle on the market. General introductions to Moodle, such as "Moodle Teaching Techniques", William Rice, Packt Publishing and "Moodle 1.9 E-Learning Course Development", William Rice, Packt Publishing, go through key Moodle modules methodically and then offer examples. This book takes the opposite approach: it starts with examples based on what you need for your language teaching and shows which bits of Moodle you need to make them. As such, it isn't a comprehensive guide to Moodle, but it aims to provide relevant information for language teachers. There is no one way to organize a language course. It depends on the level and age of students, the language learning goals, and learning style preferences, amongst other things. But most language courses include a focus on the skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing, and also offer support for vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. This book has taken those areas as its starting point.

Moodle's popularity has led to the development of hundreds of add-on modules. The list is available at http://moodle.org/mod/data/view.php?id=6009. A useful service a book like this can offer is recommending which add-on modules are worth getting. For example, a VLE for language learning without a speak and record facility would be incomplete. I've chosen a simple sound recorder called NanoGong. Why? Because it is supported for Moodle 1.9; it's very easy to install and works well on a variety of browsers. You can also set up Moodle activities without NanoGong, simply by recording directly onto the computer, but you'd lose the advantage of being able to manage your recordings inside Moodle. There's a useful discussion of available recorders at http://metamedia.typepad.com/metamedia/listen-up-audio-in-moodle.html.

Note

Voice recording in future versions of Moodle

It's uncertain whether NanoGong will work with Moodle 2.0, but a similar recording plug-in is being developed for it (see http://docs.moodle.org/en/GSOC/2009). Meanwhile, NanoGong is probably the simplest choice.

As well as providing an overview of core Moodle modules, Chapter 2, Getting Started with Moodle will take you through all the add-on modules you'll need for this book. The reasons for choosing them are the same in each case:

  • Ease of use

  • Available support

  • Suitability for language learning

It is important to remember that add-on modules may not work with future updates of Moodle, but I've chosen ones which look likely to receive continued support. All the examples in this book work with Moodle 1.9.5.

Sometimes I've recommended an alternative to the core modules, simply because they are better for language teaching. For example, Moodle has core Blog and Wiki modules, but they don't work with NanoGong, the recording tool, whereas the Open University versions named OUblog and OUwiki do work.

Assessment

There are also some aspects of assessment in Moodle which have a specific language-teaching slant in this book:

  • Moodle allows you to provide detailed feedback to your students on specific areas of language performance. So you can give separate marks on areas such as grammar, fluency, and pronunciation, for example. You do this by setting up rating scales for each type of activity. In Moodle speak, categories for assessment are called Outcomes (see Chapter 2, Getting Started with Moodle for more information).

  • Moodle also allows us to create marking scales which relate specifically to language work. One example of this would be the use of the language achievement evaluation scales set by the Council of Europe's Common European Framework. (http://www.coe.int/T/DG4/Linguistic/CADRE_EN.asp). We can customize scales to suit our school or institution.

  • Many Moodle activities can be assessed. All the marks can be collected in an online gradebook. Moodle also provides some basic statistics which teachers can use to see how well their tests are working, and to improve them if necessary.

  • There is also an add-on ordering task for the Quiz module. This lets students practice ordering the words in a sentence, sentences in a paragraph, and paragraphs in a text, and putting a sequence of events in chronological order.

Making Moodle look good

The success of any activity also depends on how good it looks. Chapter 11, Formatting and Enhancing Your Moodle Materials takes a look at some basic things you can do to make your Moodle site look better and, therefore, more attractive to your students.

 

Communicative Language Teaching


The book is firmly rooted in a communicative approach to language learning. It therefore tries to make the student the center of the learning experience wherever possible. It looks at ways of encouraging interaction, making materials engaging and effective, and of encouraging reflection and self-improvement on the part of the language learner and the teacher.

A PDF by Jack Richards (http://tinyurl.com/cltarticle) gives a good overview of the status quo of various approaches to communicative language teaching.

In the article "Understanding and Implementing the Clt (Communicative Language Teaching) Paradigm", George M. Jacobs and Thomas S. C. Farrell, RELC Journal, Vol. 34, No. 1, 5-30 (2003), the authors highlight some of the key features of CLT. As the following table shows, Moodle accommodates these features well.

Key features of CLT (based on Jack Richards, 2006, and Jacobs and Farrell, 2003)

Moodle features which support CLT

Learner autonomy: Giving learners greater choice over their own learning, both in terms of the content of learning and processes they might employ. The use of small groups is one example of this, as well as the use of self-assessment.

  • Customization of learners' home pages if My Moodle is turned on

  • Using questionnaires and polls (Choice module) to allow learners to influence curriculum

  • Use of wikis for learners to determine processes

  • Group and groupings feature for dividing students

The social nature of learning: Learning is not an individual, private activity, but a social one that depends upon interaction with others.

  • Interaction is built into Chat, Forum, and Wiki modules.

  • Assignment and Workshop modules allow collaborative writing.

Curricular integration: The connection between different strands of the curriculum is emphasized, so that English is not seen as a stand-alone subject but is linked to other subjects in the curriculum. Text-based learning reflects this approach, and seeks to develop fluency in text types that can be used across the curriculum. Project work in language teaching also requires students to explore issues outside of the language classroom.

HTML pages with hyperlinks and webquests are good examples of how Moodle can be linked to the outside world.

Focus on meaning: Meaning is viewed as the driving force of learning. Content-based teaching reflects this view, and seeks to make the exploration of meaning through content the core of language learning activities.

It's easy to incorporate authentic spoken and written texts into Moodle and activities based on them.

Diversity: Learners learn in different ways and have different strengths. Teaching needs to take these differences into account, rather than try to force students into a single mold. In language teaching, this has led to an emphasis on developing students' use and awareness of learning strategies.

  • Learners can go at different speeds.

  • Learners can be grouped according to interests, level, and needs.

  • Teachers can help learners use the glossary to build their own records.

  • The Journal module allows learners and teachers to reflect on learning processes and make changes as a result.

Thinking skills: Language should serve as a means of developing higher-order thinking skills, also known as critical and creative thinking. In language teaching, this means that students do not learn language for its own sake but in order to develop and apply their thinking skills in situations that go beyond the language classroom.

  • Wide range of tasks is possible. Chapter 6, Reading Activities shows how Bloom's taxonomy can be used to foster higher-order thinking tasks.

  • The Webquest module is a good place to develop critical evaluation skills.

Alternative assessment: New forms of assessment are needed to replace traditional multiple-choice and other items that test lower-order skills. Multiple forms of assessment (for example, observation, interviews, journals, portfolios) can be used to build a comprehensive picture of what students can do in a second language.

Moodle offers traditional tests as well as journals and add-on portfolios.

Teachers as co-learners: The teacher is viewed as a facilitator who is constantly trying out different alternatives; that is, learning through doing. In language teaching, this has led to an interest in action research and other forms of classroom investigation.

  • The Workshop and Questionnaire modules make it easy to get learner feedback.

  • Teachers can also monitor the popularity of different activities by tracking student use.

Age and level of students

Moodle can work for learners of all ages. The examples in this book show how young learners, adolescents, and adults can use Moodle. Clearly, you will need to adapt the example activities for your particular students. Make sure they have the content and tasks that they are likely to enjoy and find useful.

If you are creating tasks for pre-adolescents, you might find it useful to use this book in conjunction with Moodle 1.9 for Teaching 7-14 Year Olds: Beginner's Guide, Mary Cooch, Packt Publishing, which offers some useful guidelines on things to look out for with this age group.

It is important when working with learners of all ages that you have:

  • Learning pathways

  • Instructions

  • Materials

  • Duration of activities

  • Cognitive complexity of tasks

As for language level, it's possible to create simple low-level tasks, or quite difficult ones.

You'll need to consider whether the whole site is written in the target language. This is probably only appropriate for higher level learners. It may be more effective for lower level learners if you frame the activities in a language they understand better.

You can include the option for learners to change the language for the headings and help files, though help files are not available in all languages. You may need to check with your Moodle administrator that the appropriate language pack is installed. By clicking on the language selector in the top right-hand corner of the screen, users can change to the language of their choice. Contact your Moodle administrator if the languages you want are not there.

Add-on modules are unlikely to have help files and instructions for all languages. If you find that help files are not available in a language you need, you could write to the authors via the moodle.org website, or write them yourself. One of the great things about this open source software is that you can make your own contributions to it. Your Moodle administrator should be able to help you install your new files.

You can also edit existing help files by going to Site Administration | Language | Language editing.

What languages can you teach using Moodle?

All the examples in this book are of ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language). However, Moodle can by used to teach a vast variety of languages. All the instructions in this book are in English, but for lower-level learners you may wish to consider changing the base language to the students' first language (L1) and providing instructions in the L1, too.

The official Moodle site offers several support sections for non-English language use:

Suggested approach to using the book

The introduction to each chapter gives an overview of the whole chapter. So it's worth reading first.

Several reviewers have suggested that a good way to approach the activities in each chapter is to skim through the whole activity first to get a feel for it and then to create the activity step by step in your Moodle course.

Try to make yourself familiar with Chapter 2, Getting Started with Moodle. There is frequent reference to it throughout the book. It contains key information on setting up Moodle modules and add-on modules, using extra programs, combining Moodle with other programs, and advice on things such as uploading images and other files or embedding audio and video in Moodle. Happy Moodling!

About the Author

  • Jeff Stanford

    Jeff Stanford is from London, UK, and has worked in over 20 different countries. He has more than 20 years experience as a language teacher and teacher trainer, which he has applied with abundant enthusiasm to ICT for the last ten years. He is a portfolio worker and each of the strands of his professional life have contributed to this book: as an associate tutor on the MA TEFL course at Leicester University; as a communication skills tutor; as a web site designer; and as a teacher trainer. Since doing a diploma in Interactive Multimedia in 2002 he's been particularly keen on demystifying technology, and helping teachers make the most of the rich world of internet language learning applications. He has been working with Moodle for the last 5 years, setting up Moodle installations for schools and companies and advising on best practice for administrators and teachers. You can visit his free Moodle try-out site at http://moodleflair.com.

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