What is it?
Moodle is the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) used at Bath. It is essentially a website that facilitates the delivery of content and activities to students, through the provision of a range of built in tools and functions. It can be used to deliver anything from a wholly online course; through to one that supports aspects of traditional, face-to-face interaction (blended learning).
Although there is no institutional requirement to use Moodle, student expectations and growing student numbers mean that it is being used to support over 90% of institutional units.
Moodle has been designed with the education sector in mind, and as a result, its many tools and functions have the potential to support and extend traditional face-to-face teaching approaches.
Whilst few VLE's can claim to be entirely pedagogically neutral, Moodle is flexible enough to support many different teaching styles. Nevertheless, it has been specifically designed with principles of constructivism/social constructivism and connectivism in mind, and is well placed to support student centred/active learning approaches; where students are presented with opportunities for knowledge construction through interaction and collaboration with peers.
Rapid delivery of feedback is always an area of interest to the student body, and Moodle, through it's wide variety of assessment and feedback mechanisms, can give students instantaneous access to their feedback and grades. From the point of view of the busy academic, Moodle also includes several tools to help with the rapid delivery of feedback (use of rubrics and the re-use of frequently used feedback comments), and also provides mechanisms for improving the consistency of feedback (particularly in multi-marker scenarios) with tools such as the Marking guide.
How might I use it?
Whilst Moodle is commonly used to provide students with access to content, it is far more than just a repository for Word documents and PowerPoint files! Moodle is a highly flexible environment that enables course Teachers to create a range of activities tailored to the needs of their students and the curriculum. It enables staff to build an online community of learners - supporting and scaffolding individual and collaborative learning experiences, and provides many opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.
Individual learning spaces within Moodle are known as Moodle courses, and course owners (in the role of Moodle 'Teachers'), have full access to customise the spaces as needed; adding links to activities and resources in order to construct a dynamic, interactive and relevant learning environment for their students.
How do staff and students use it effectively?
The best Moodle courses are often hives of activity - regularly updated and visited, with students taking a central role in the construction of their learning. In order to achieve this, careful consideration of the needs and expectations of your students is essential when developing your Moodle course:
- What purpose will your Moodle course serve?
- How will you promote your page in class?
- What can learners get from your Moodle course that they can't simply get from Google?
- What could you add to your course to motivate students to use VLE content for homework, assignments and revision?
- How do you encourage and foster peer support/peer learning outside of contact hours?
Why not identify one or two challenges that you (or your students) face and then consider whether Moodle has the tools to help overcome them? Not everything needs to happen at once - courses can evolve over time.
We live in a world where high quality teaching materials are freely available online - either through MOOCS (Massive Online Open Course) or through other open knowledge initiatives (such as the OU's OpenLearn offering), whilst fee paying students increasingly view themselves as 'consumers'; wanting to access their learning resources from anywhere, at any time and on any device.
Moodle does not limit students to consuming data in a passive way - it's social constructivist philosophy, means that it can be used to help to support knowledge construction through a student centred, activity led alternative. It makes it easy for educators to create spaces for students to collaborate not only with peers on their course but also with those at other institutions, and a well constructed, student centred course can enable them to interact in ways which may not otherwise have been possible.
Additionally, research into students' expectations shows that they increasingly expect their course materials to be delivered in a consistent and well structured way. To this end, the University of Bath has consulted both staff and students about their expectations and have produced a number of resources which are intended to scaffold the development of Moodle courses.
Pros & Cons
- Moodle is widely used across the university and functions as a single, teacher controlled learning and teaching 'hub' through which online materials and activities can be delivered. The simple to use, yet highly flexible environment gives staff the freedom to develop and structure their courses in an almost endless variety of ways in order to meet the needs of the curriculum and their learners.
- Files can be shared with students simply by dragging them and dropping them on the course page, and a range of interactive learning activities can be created around these resources to enable the students to engage with the subject matter or perhaps with their peers. Many of the available learning activities support assessment (including, individual, group and peer assessment), and a wide range of mechanisms exist to support the provision of feedback (such as rubrics or marking guides).
- A range of built in reports automatically track users progress through the site, enabling staff to generate reports for a single course or activity (and to export the results into a spreadsheet if required). These reports show staff when students accessed the course and whether they have accessed or participated in a particular activity. Whilst this kind of user data might help staff to identify students who may need more support and encouragement, the activity and course completion functions (which can be optionally enabled by the course Teacher) can help both the staff and students to track their progress through the course.
- Available 24/7 from across the globe, the University of Bath's Moodle installation is well supported and extensively used with an average of 8.5k unique users accessing the site each day.
- It is important to remember that use of Moodle does not immediately equate to a better learning experience for students. Whilst the environment may offer a wide variety of opportunities to support and extend existing teaching, these tools must be applied appropriately and with care if they are to impact positively on the learning experience.
- Staff often hand over Moodle courses to new staff without explanation of how they've been developed, and it can be difficult for those new staff to manage the content and users. Time should be built into planning so that hand overs go smoothly.
- Some of the features require training in order to use them effectively. The TEL team can provide training as needed, and they also deliver workshops on some features. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- Online quizzes for formative and summative assessment?
- Double blind marking on Moodle
- Weekly Moodle quizzes
- Moodle for summative assessments to reduce marking time, minimise selective learning, and provide timely feedback
- Peer assessment in Moodle