Moodle Teaching Techniques

By William Rice
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  1. Introduction

About this book

Moodle is a free, open-source Learning Management System (LMS). Moodle is designed to help educators and trainers create online courses with opportunities for rich interaction. It is the world's most popular online learning system. It has many modules, which you can use to make your course unique and create an environment where your students will get maximum benefit.

Publication date:
September 2007
Publisher
Packt
Pages
192
ISBN
9781847192844

 

Chapter 1. Introduction

Welcome to Moodle Teaching Techniques! Moodle offers teachers and course designers a toolbox full of online teaching tools. This book shows you how to use those tools to create effective learning solutions. These learning solutions are based on proven, accepted instructional principles, and traditional classroom activities.

Moodle is a Course Management System (CMS) for producing web-based courses. It is a Free Open Source Software (FOSS), which means that you are free to use, modify, and redistribute it as long as you:

  • Provide the source to others

  • Do not modify or remove the original license and copyrights

  • Apply this same license to any derivative work

Under these conditions, thousands of developers have contributed features and functionality to Moodle. The result is the world’s most popular, free, and feature-packed online learning system.

The Moodle Advantage

Many of the features in Moodle, are carefully chosen to support a philosophy of learning, called “social constructionist pedagogy”. Simply stated, this style of learning and teaching is based upon four concepts:

  1. 1. Students acquire new knowledge as they interact with their environment, your course activities, and other students.

  2. 2. Students learn more when they construct learning experiences for others. You might be familiar with the “learning pyramid” which states that students remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what is demonstrated to them, 50% of what they discuss, and 75% of what they practice. That same pyramid states that students retain 90% of what they teach others. You can check the learning pyramid at:

    http://homepages.gold.ac.uk/polovina/learnpyramid/about.html

  3. 3. When students become part of a culture, they are constantly learning. For example, you and your partner would probably learn more about ballroom dancing when you’re in a dance class, versus watching a video together. The interaction with other students and possibly a variety of teachers would enrich and accelerate your learning process.

  4. 4. Some students try to remain objective and factual, some try to accept more subjective views, and others try to integrate both approaches. Constructed behavior is when a student can choose whichever approach is more appropriate.

You are probably not accustomed to an application’s features being chosen based upon a philosophy. Usually, features are chosen based only on what is technically feasible and what customers are willing to pay for. These certainly are factors for the Moodle developers. However, the educational philosophy behind Moodle is also a criterion for adding features. This gives Moodle a tremendous advantage.

As Moodle is designed around a well-defined educational philosophy, its user interface is very consistent. I don’t just mean in the traditional sense, where you compare the icons, colors, menu actions, and layout on each page to ensure they match. As you go through a Moodle site, things look, feel, and function consistently. But more importantly, you interact with each activity, your classmates, and the teacher in a consistent way, whether it’s in the chat room, a forum, or leaving feedback on a workshop. When interaction becomes easier, the student can focus more on learning, and less on the software.

 

The Moodle Advantage


Many of the features in Moodle, are carefully chosen to support a philosophy of learning, called “social constructionist pedagogy”. Simply stated, this style of learning and teaching is based upon four concepts:

  1. 1. Students acquire new knowledge as they interact with their environment, your course activities, and other students.

  2. 2. Students learn more when they construct learning experiences for others. You might be familiar with the “learning pyramid” which states that students remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what is demonstrated to them, 50% of what they discuss, and 75% of what they practice. That same pyramid states that students retain 90% of what they teach others. You can check the learning pyramid at:

    http://homepages.gold.ac.uk/polovina/learnpyramid/about.html

  3. 3. When students become part of a culture, they are constantly learning. For example, you and your partner would probably learn more about ballroom dancing when you’re in a dance class, versus watching a video together. The interaction with other students and possibly a variety of teachers would enrich and accelerate your learning process.

  4. 4. Some students try to remain objective and factual, some try to accept more subjective views, and others try to integrate both approaches. Constructed behavior is when a student can choose whichever approach is more appropriate.

You are probably not accustomed to an application’s features being chosen based upon a philosophy. Usually, features are chosen based only on what is technically feasible and what customers are willing to pay for. These certainly are factors for the Moodle developers. However, the educational philosophy behind Moodle is also a criterion for adding features. This gives Moodle a tremendous advantage.

As Moodle is designed around a well-defined educational philosophy, its user interface is very consistent. I don’t just mean in the traditional sense, where you compare the icons, colors, menu actions, and layout on each page to ensure they match. As you go through a Moodle site, things look, feel, and function consistently. But more importantly, you interact with each activity, your classmates, and the teacher in a consistent way, whether it’s in the chat room, a forum, or leaving feedback on a workshop. When interaction becomes easier, the student can focus more on learning, and less on the software.

 

What will We Accomplish with this Book?


When a teacher begins using an online learning system, the first thing most of us do is explore the system’s features. We discover it has online forums, electronic flashcards, interactive quizzes, Wikis, collaborative workshops, and other features. Our question now becomes, “How can I use this feature to teach my course?” or “What features of this software can be used to effectively teach my course?”. For example, we discover the software has an Assignment module and ask, “How can I use online assignments in my course?”. We start by exploring the software and asking how we can use it to effectively teach our courses. When given a new tool, it’s natural to explore the tool’s functions and think of ways to use it.

This book gives you solutions that help you make the most of the many features found in a standard Moodle installation. Some of these solutions require several hours to build. Others are just a matter of selecting a single option in one of Moodle’s setup pages.

Effective learning and teaching principles are not just for academic teachers. If you’re a corporate trainer, your students will benefit from the learning solutions in this book. These solutions are based on instructional practices that have been proven to work for young and adult learners.

I’ll give you enough step-by-step instruction to create each solution in Moodle, and information about each solution to understand its basic theory. This understanding will enable you to determine if that practice will work for your students in your course. For example, I’ll discuss the role of immediate feedback in the learning process. Then, I’ll describe how to use immediate feedback when you administer a quiz. You must decide if immediate feedback is appropriate for your class and learning objectives. If you decide that it is, I’ll show you how to enable feedback for each type of quiz question, and for the quiz as a whole.

In the chapter on Lessons, we’ll discuss the role of sequential versus non-sequential activities in a class. I’ll show you how to use a lesson to structure learning material so that the student must proceed in a given sequence. Then, we’ll discuss some creative uses of Lessons: as an alternative to Quizzes, a flash card deck, and to review step-by-step instructions for an assigned activity.

 

Some Moodle Requisites


You don’t need to be an expert Moodle teacher, or course creator to use the solutions in this book. However, this book assumes that you can use Moodle’s basic features. You can learn Moodle before reading this book, or learn it as you practice implementing these solutions.

For example, one of the learning solutions in this book is “Guided Notes”. This solution uses Moodle’s standard wiki module. To implement the solution, you need to know how to create a wiki in Moodle. You could learn how to create a wiki from another book on basic Moodle usage, from the online help, or from the moodle.org forums. However, this book will not give step-by-step directions for creating the wiki. It will give directions for adapting the wiki for Guided Notes.

If you’re new to Moodle, consider practicing on the Moodle demonstration Site at http://demo.moodle.org/.

 

Standard Modules


Moodle is an open-source software, so new modules are constantly being developed and contributed by the Moodle community. The modules that are a part of Moodle’s core distribution are covered in this book. Moodle’s capabilities are enhanced by additional modules, which enable better learning solutions.

Some of the techniques in this book are workarounds that could be directly accomplished by adding a third-party module to your Moodle site. However, as each new version of Moodle is released, only the standard modules are guaranteed compatible. There is no guarantee that a third-party module, which you have installed will be compatible with future versions of Moodle. This can hold back the upgrade process for your site.

All of the solutions in this book can be implemented with Moodle’s standard modules. I encourage you to explore the add-on modules available on the site www.moodle.org.

 

Instructional Principles and Activities


The solutions in this book are based on accepted, research-based instructional principles and traditional learning activities. Learning principles can be applied to a wide variety of activities. For example, the principles of Distributed Practice and Immediate Error Correction can be applied to Quiz, Lesson, and Assignment activities in Moodle. When we step through the solutions for quizzes, lessons, and assignments, I’ll briefly discuss how to apply these learning principles to those activities.

Examples of traditional learning activities are: timed quizzes, flash cards, and Socratic questioning. These activities have a long history of success in the classroom. I’ll show you how to implement them online.

If you’re interested in learning more about these principles and activities, each is described in a subsection later in this chapter. If you’d rather proceed directly to the solutions, you can safely skip this section. You don’t need a background in learning theory to use this book. However, a brief introduction to these instructional principles and traditional activities will tell you why the techniques in this book work, and also might stimulate further ideas of your own.

Big Ideas

The balanced nature of an equation is an example of a big idea in algebra. Supply and demand is an example of a big idea in economics. These big ideas help students see the common themes in diverse facts.

The examples of sources for the big ideas are as follows:

  • Corporate Objectives: Improving the customer experience for our call center can be one of your company’s corporate objectives. You could break that down into a skill set to be taught using Moodle, such as, Product Knowledge, Handling Objections, and Building a Customer Relationship. While teaching each of these skills, you would constantly refer back to the big idea of improving the customer experience.

  • Educational standards: The state can mandate that the relationship of technology to society be part of a social studies curriculum.

  • Established research: For example, the Big Bang is a generally-accepted big idea in science.

  • The teacher’s knowledge of the central themes in the subject: A photography teacher may have deep understanding of the effect that depth of field has on photographic composition, and make this one of the big ideas in the course.

Knowing many disconnected facts is not enough for developing expertise. Big ideas enable students to make meaningful generalizations about the facts they learn. They give students a framework into which they can put new knowledge. A big idea can help the student determine where a piece of information fits into the big picture, and how that information relates to what (s)he already knows.

Experts structure their knowledge around the big ideas of their disciplines. Experts’ strategies for thinking and solving problems are linked to their understanding of big ideas. Understanding the big ideas also allows experts to see the similarities between new problems and those previously encountered.

Several solutions in this book help you to implement big ideas in your courses. You will see how a wiki and a static HTML block can be used to bring big ideas online.

Distributed Practice

Distributed practice is when a student studies and practices during many sessions that are short in length. These sessions are distributed over a long time period. This is the opposite of cramming. Distributed practice sessions are short and usually intense.

Distributed practice allows time between learning sessions for knowledge to become permanent. Research shows that “sleeping on it” actually helps us to sort through new information, and make permanent the most important new information (see http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/07/how_we_know.php).

Distributing practice across different days, instead of having the practice sessions all on the same day, greatly improves students’ retention (Refer to: Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis by Nicholas et. al.). With the right settings, Moodle’s Quiz module can be used to distributed practice quizzes across any time period.

Guided Notes

Guided Notes are notes provided by the teacher to the student with an outline for a presentation or reading. The outline contains labels for the main points and supporting details of the material. As the teacher or reading material elaborates on each point of the outline, the student fills in the details.

Research shows that when students are given an outline for taking notes in class, they do better on test questions that are complex, or that require analytical skills. Also, most students prefer the guided note taking approach to taking their own notes. For more in-depth information, see Effects of Guided Notes Versus Completed Notes during Lectures on College Students’ Quiz Performance at http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1389604.

This book will show you how to implement guided notes using an individual student wiki, with pre-made starting pages.

Immediate Error Correction

Immediate error correction improves the accuracy and speed with which a student can recall knowledge. It requires correcting a student as soon as the student makes an error, and immediately providing the correct response. Immediate correction reduces the number of times a student must repeat information before learning it.

In a face-to-face class, if a student gives an incorrect answer, you might verbally correct the student, and then ask the student to repeat the correct information. If the student gives a correct answer, you might acknowledge the correct response and then refer back to the prior information to build connections in the student’s knowledge. For example, you might say, “Yes! Remember, we discussed this issue at the very beginning of the chapter when we were talking about...”

In an online course, you must program the system to respond to correct and incorrect answers. I’ll show you how to use Moodle’s Quiz and Lesson modules to implement immediate error correction.

Juxtapose Examples and Non-Examples

To juxtapose items, is to place them side-by-side, or to present them in a rapid alternating sequence. Juxtaposing examples and non-examples of a concept, rule, or strategy can be effective when you are introducing new material.

Examples help the student to discover what the items have in common. This helps the student to form generalizations. Non-examples help the student to discover how the items differ from the rest of the world. This helps the student to recognize and differentiate the concept, rule, or strategy being taught. Generalizing and differentiating enables the student to make independent use of the concept, rule, or strategy.

For example, if you are teaching about mammals, you might present the following examples and non-examples:

Examples

Non-examples

Cat

Lizard

Dolphin

Shark

Bat

Robin

Badger

Platypus

When placing examples and non-examples in a sequence, group them according to the similarity or difference of their attributes. In the table above, you can see that I grouped four-legged land animals (cat and lizard), sea creatures (dolphin and shark), and flying creatures (bat and robin).

You should also vary the items to include:

  • Examples that are obvious, such as cat in the table above.

  • Examples that are less obvious, such as bat in the table above.

  • Non-examples that are almost but not quite, such as platypus in the table above.

Immediately after presenting a sequence of examples and non-examples in a face-to-face class, you might ask the student to create new examples and non-examples. You would provide immediate feedback to the student about the examples/non-examples.

In an online class, you can accomplish something similar:

  1. 1. Offer a series of examples/non-examples.

  2. 2. Immediately after viewing the series, the student takes an online quiz during which (s)he identifies items as examples and non-examples. The quiz gives immediate feedback for correct and incorrect answers.

  3. 3. Assign the student the task of generating his/her own list of examples and non-examples. Specify a due date in the near future, and grade the assignments promptly.

Moodle’s Lesson module is a good tool for rapidly presenting examples and non-examples. I’ll show you how to use a lesson to create an online flash card deck.

Lesson Outline

A lesson outline gives your student a preview of what is to come. This preview is proven to help learners remember and integrate content. A lesson outline serves as a visual map that enables students to see what they’ve learned and what they will learn. Looking back at prior knowledge helps students to integrate it with the new knowledge that they are learning. Also, a visual organizer helps students to stay motivated because they can see their progress through the class.

Moodle’s topics and labels provide an easy way to give your students an effective lesson outline.

Mnemonics and Other Reminders

As teachers and trainers, we get more satisfaction from teaching concepts, skills, and analytical thinking than we do from making our students memorize facts. However, some subjects simply require students to memorize things. To make memorization less tedious for our students, we can use mnemonics and reminders. First-letter mnemonics, peg-words, and keywords are all examples of this technique.

Moodle’s glossary feature can be used to hold reminders and mnemonics. Quiz feedback can also be used to give the student reminders. This book will show you how to apply those solutions in your courses.

Pre-Correction

Effective pre-correction is one of the signs that tell us that a teacher has mastered both the material being taught, and the ability to teach that material.

The teacher uses clear instructions when anticipating errors that students might make before the students have an opportunity to make those errors. Pre-correction is helpful when the majority of a class requires repeated directions, remediation, or reminders to stay engaged during a lesson.

Sometimes, the need for pre-correction becomes apparent only after the teacher has taught the material. Other times, an experienced teacher can predict when pre-correction will be needed even before teaching the material.

A Google search for the phrase pre-correction instructional strategy shows that most research into pre-correction focuses on using it as a classroom control strategy, to reduce behavioral problems. In a traditional classroom, we use pre-correction to state the rules for interaction among the students. In an online course, when we help novice online learners to understand the rules of online interaction, we are using pre-correction.

Pre-correction can be used to:

  • Tell students where and when to begin: Start with the first reading under Topic 2. Do not skip this reading.

  • Emphasize a rule: Workshop assessments must state which criteria you are using as the basis of your comment.

  • Restate newly-acquired knowledge that will be used in the upcoming activity: Before attempting the quiz, refresh your memory of the formulas for cosine, sine, and tangent.

  • Anticipate problems and challenges that new online learners might have: At least one full day before our scheduled chat session, try to access the Open Chat area of the course. If your browser can run the chat software, you should see...

Workshops, lessons, and topic zero are all Moodle features that can be used to implement pre-correction online.

Response Cards

Response cards provide the students with opportunities for active and frequent responses. In a traditional classroom, the teacher poses a question to the entire class. The students answer by holding up a card that has their answer on it. Response cards can be pre-printed with frequent responses, such as “yes” and “no”. Or, they can be blank for students to write their own responses. The teacher must use a signal so that students know when to hold up their response cards. Online, the teacher must also use a signal to let students know when to respond.

Don’t confuse response cards with a one-question quiz. The table lists some of the differences between a quiz and response cards:.

Quiz

Response Cards

Grading and correction is usually done by the software.

Teacher usually scans all of the students’ responses and provides correction on-the-spot.

Usually done by each student individually.

Usually done by the entire class, at the same time.

Students don’t see each other’s responses until after the quiz is graded, if at all.

Students see each other’s responses when they happen.

Usually used to test competence, for a grade.

Usually used to build competence, and is ungraded.

The differences between a quiz and response cards, using an online quiz to create the experience of response cards probably won’t work well so we’ll need to use a different tool.

Response cards are especially useful when you want to create a fast-paced instructional environment. Consider using them to build competence in subjects where students will need to recall knowledge quickly, such as a foreign language.

You can also use response cards to judge a class’s progress. A few questions in the middle of a lesson can tell you if you need to make any mid-course corrections to the class.

You can also use response cards to get feedback from the class. In an online environment, you don’t have the benefit of seeing the students’ faces to determine if they’re confused, frustrated, or bored. If you need to determine a class’s mood, or suspect that you are “losing them”, consider using response cards to gather feedback about their thoughts and feelings toward the course.

Choices and chats are two Moodle features that can be used to implement response card learning online.

Self-Monitoring

Self-monitoring is when a student checks his or her knowledge against an established standard. In a traditional class, a student might solve homework problems and compare his or her answers to those given at the back of the book. In an online class, you can use Moodle’s quiz module to create and track quizzes for self-monitoring. I’ll show you how to make quizzes ungraded, and how to reveal and hide them at appropriate times during the course. The physical placement of these self-tests in a course can also be an important part of implementing self-monitoring.

Socratic Dialogue

Socratic dialog is a discussion between the teacher and students. The teacher uses questions to probe the student’s knowledge, and to require the student to use rules of reasoning. That is, the teacher uses questions designed to elicit prior knowledge, and to lead the student to discover new knowledge. Socratic dialogue requires the student and teacher to focus on the discussion, and to actively engage with each other.

You may have seen research stating that students remember only about 10% of what they read, and about 50% of what they discuss. A Socratic dialogue for each topic can be an effective review session, and help the student to retain more material. It also gives the teacher a chance to determine how well the students are learning the material.

Socratic dialogue requires one-to-one communication between the student and teacher. I’ll show you how to use forums and wikis in a focused way, to achieve a Socratic dialogue between you and your students.

Time Trials

Time trials are a quick and fun method for a student to solidify a skill which (s)he has recently mastered. This practice helps the student to develop confidence and fluidity with a new skill. When used to develop knowledge, instead of as a graded test, a time trial should always have more problems than the student can complete. In a traditional classroom, time trials are usually one minute or less. They are used at least once daily, sometimes more often. Time trials offer an opportunity for short, intense practice sessions.

One of the main purposes of a time trial is building the student’s confidence. Presenting time trials in a stressful, threatening way can defeat this purpose. Also, making a time trial too long can make it stressful. In most cases, you want a time trial to be stressful enough to engage the student, but not so stressful that you risk damaging the student’s confidence with an activity that is too difficult. A notable exception to this is when you are testing knowledge or skills that must be used under stress. For example, suppose you are testing an emergency room nurse’s knowledge of a procedure. You could use several quick, relatively easy time trials to build the nurse’s confidence. Then follow those with a final, extended, and comprehensive time trial to test the nurse under stress.

Time trials should be used only to practice a skill in which a student is competent. This practice is an effective finishing technique, but not a very useful technique for teaching new information. Use a time trial after a student has been taught the material, and has successfully completed an untimed test of the material. The untimed test builds the student’s confidence enough to attempt the timed test. The timed test builds the student’s confidence enough to apply the material to real-world situations.

A time trial can also be used at the beginning of a lesson, to reveal the limits of a student’s competence. So in addition to solidifying knowledge, a time trial can demonstrate to the student what (s)he doesn’t know. For example, at the beginning of a semester you can give a science class three minutes to classify a list of astronomical objects. Ask them to classify each object as a planet, moon, comet, star, galaxy, nebula, or other body. The result of this exercise would make the student aware of his/her knowledge or lack of knowledge of astronomy. A similar time trial at the end of the unit would demonstrate how much the student has learned. Allow students to see their own grades, and post the class’s average grade as well. Repeat the time trial at the end of the course. Now the students can compare their grades at the beginning and end of the course.

Moodle’s quiz module can be used to deliver timed trials.

Instructional Principles and Activities Mapped to Moodle Features

The following table maps each of the instructional principles and classroom activities discussed in the previous sections, to a Moodle feature where we can implement that principle or activity:

Instructional Principle and Activity

Moodle Feature

Big Ideas

Forum

Distributed Practice

Quiz

Error Correction

Assignment

Lesson

Logs

Quiz

Example/Non-example

Lesson

Guided Notes

Wiki

Lesson Outline

Topics and Courses

Mnemonics and Reminders

Glossary

Quiz

Pre-Correction

Lesson

Workshop

Response Cards

Choice

Self-Monitoring

Quiz

Socratic Dialogue

Forums

 

Summary


This chapter presented various teaching methods such as big ideas, distributed practice, guided notes, etc., which help the teacher or trainer in putting the ideas across to the students in an effective manner. It also explained various activities, which aid teaching such as conducting quizzes, use of response cards, time trials and so on, to make learning an enjoyable and a gainful experience.

About the Author

  • William Rice

    William Rice is an e-learning professional from New York City. He has written books on Moodle, Blackboard, Magento, and software training. He enjoys building e-learning solutions for businesses and gains professional satisfaction when his courses help students.

    His hobbies include writing books, practicing archery near JFK Airport, and playing with his children.

    William is fascinated by the relationship between technology and society, how we create our tools, and how they shape us in turn. Married to an incredible woman who encourages his writing pursuits, he has two amazing sons.

    Browse publications by this author
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