Moodle Love Letter #1: What’s it Good For?

First in a series of love letters to Moodle.

Moodle makes me wanna dance.

Moodle makes me wanna dance.

I’ve become a Moodle convert this year, thanks in big part to my name twin, Meg(h)an Bjork. She taught me three main amazing details about this tool:

  • Calculated Questions: You can put variables in your questions and Moodle will choose numbers for you, within the parameters you set.
  • Random Questions: Put a bunch of questions into a category then tell Moodle to choose any number at random.
  • Student Activity Logs: Little Johnny not spending enough (any?) time on homework and you need to prove it to Mom & Dad?

My School Environment

My school is a 1:1 laptop school. Every kid is issued a computer for use during their high school career.

Exam time -- every kid has a different version of the exam, complete with different values in each problem.

Exam time — every kid has a different version of the exam, complete with different values in each problem.

That said, Moodle is entirely workable with less ubiquitous tech. I’d say that if your kids have a home computer with internet access and you can check out laptops or book a computer lab, what I share here will work for you.

What’s Moodle?

Moodle is an open source Learning Management System (LMS). Most LMSes provide a gradebook, a place to upload assignments in pretty much any file format, an assessment engine, and discussion boards. Wikipedia has a list of LMSes, many of which I’ve never tried. The big names besides Moodle you probably have heard about are Blackboard, Schoology, and Edmodo.

Moodle isn’t the prettiest or most Facebook-like of the LMSes out there. I leave that distinction to Edmodo and Schoology. Wanna see what they look like? Let’s compare looks. This year, I used Schoology for its gradebook and announcements, then launched kids via link over to the Moodle site. Here are my two LMS home pages:

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Moodle is, however, super powerful. However, with great power comes great learning curves, so many of my own colleagues have been turned off by Moodle. I hope you’ll get hooked with my three favorite features (calculated questions, random questions, and activity logs!), that you won’t mind a learning curve.

You can get Moodle two main ways: 1) your district may have a Moodle server or 2) you can go rogue. I’m in the latter category — I went out and bought a domain, got some cheap web hosting, then installed Moodle[1]. Dudes, this may sound all technical and difficult but was really no harder than clicking some buttons on web pages. Also, we’re friends, right? I’ll totally help you get up and running.

Calculated Questions

After trying several question database systems, most notably ExamView, I have decided Moodle has an amazing assessment engine. The calculated question is my favorite — and probably will be really useful for math and science teachers.

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I can specify a few cool details in each calculated question:

  • a correct answer formula
  • any number of incorrect answer formulas (excellent for giving targeted feedback or partial credit)
  • answer tolerance bands
  • variable range of values and decimal places

The point where I may say bye to a bunch of you.

No hard feelings if you want to check out ExamView.

No hard feelings if you want to check out ExamView.

Calculated questions are pretty awesome in Moodle but I have to implore the math teacher yous to check out ExamView — chances are it came with a textbook adopted at some time in recent memory. ExamView lets you set up something like a calculated question (they call ’em dynamic) in text OR graphically. David Cox (@dcox21) wrote a great post about ExamView Dynamic Questions. If you deal with graphs, you might like ExamView better. Oh, and ExamView lets you give online tests or print on dead trees.

Still with me? Learn a little more about calculated questions: creating calculated questions or creating calculated questions video.

Random Questions

Suppose you have a question bank of 50 equally interesting questions. Moodle lets you randomly pull questions for your test from that set. My final exam in physics is essentially unique to each student.

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You’ll discover that with well-designed question categories, you’ll feel totally comfortable pulling 5 questions from here and 3 from there for your next test. My questions are broken down by major topic/standard then by difficulty.

Activity Logs

Want to know if little Susie is slacking on her homework? Check out when she first viewed your assignment and how long she spent working on it.

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As you might imagine, the activity logs are largely useful as a CYA device with parents. I like to make it clear to kids early on that I can see this information and they aren’t kidding anyone if they slack off on work.

In Moodle Love Letter #2

Next time, learn how I give my students feedback based on the answer they gave me. Like this:

I write my solutions out on paper, take a picture, then attach as Moodle question feedback.

I write my solutions out on paper, take a picture, then attach as Moodle question feedback.

Ok, you read my little love letter — have I convinced you that Moodle is pretty awesome? Comment me up, people. Also, please make requests. After love letter #2 and aside from cruising reddit for animated gifs, I don’t have a plan.

[1] I have HostBasic from Site5. It’s $4.95 a month and provides enough power for several teachers to share a single domain. Get your whole department to chip in if you’re going rogue!

18 thoughts on “Moodle Love Letter #1: What’s it Good For?

  1. It was only this past year that I mastered the Cloze question — it is so necessary for balancing chemical equations and B-C-A tables for stoichiometry. Oh happy day!

    My summer project (among many) is to create homework sets (quiz banks) for both Chemistry and Physics (chemistry is further ahead). I have

    For next year, I’ve decided to take student post-lab write ups (questions/reflections/conclusions only) through Moodle. The data/procedure/graph will be checked off in their interactive notebook (not the main thing I want to assess). Also this saves me from collecting 28 large notebooks (5-star spiral quad ruled) multiplied by each section. We use the notebooks for *everything* (notes, worksheets, labs, warmups, quizzes). The digital assignments are much less daunting to look at.

    Also, I too have used as “exhibit A” for other assignments when parents call. I love the ability to cut off late work so easily — and check for plaigiarism if my district will cough up for Crot or Turnitin. I’ve been trying to figure how to get my analog interactive notebook into Moodle — it needs an Evernote integration.

    Other uses: have kids take photos for a visual glossary of concepts/terms (sort of an AAPT photo contest). Post whiteboard photos to a forum so kids have a record of the good, the bad and the ugly when reviewing (I have required kids to make responses to the posts in years past). Use the database activity for warm ups (projected on screen), a class notes log (not quite a blog).

    • Ooh — I haven’t played with Cloze question types AND a chem colleague wants to use Moodle next fall. Can you share a few pictures or examples? I like your ideas for lab grading. I tried an online submission (kids wrote labs using Word) this year but found feedback-giving clunky. Will each part of your lab be a separate Moodle question? That might be easier to manage. Keep me posted on how it goes?

      • Can I submit pictures in replies? I can send an exported file (xml format) that your colleague could import which is probably the easiest way to go. I have about 60 balancing questions written already. I am working on the B-C-A tables (similar work but 4 times the boxes plus the math). This will be weeks in the making. For Modelers, I was going to put them on the AMTA site.

        As an interim, this site has used Hot Potatoes software to create the same thing. While a tad easier to use and can be integrated within Moodle, I preferred to use the Moodle engine to keep better track of student usage and write my own questions to avoid quirks from other instructors/classes that would throw off my ducklings.

        I’m okay with giving feedback on line although nothing beats bright orange ink asking what were you thinking?! at some particularly egregious comment.

        I was planning on digital submissions for the conclusion part of the lab as an assignment rather than individual quiz questions but you’ve given me food for thought. I will have to be vigilant about checking off the data collection in class. As for Chemistry labs write ups are more directed (even in Modeling) than the Physics. One reason for using the online assignment rather than quiz questions is I really want to run them through a plagiarism checker.

  2. Oh, keep in mind the “pretty” factor for Moodle can be changed *dramatically* using themes and course formats. I use the tabtopic format to stop the “scroll of death” needed to get to each section. If you are using a hosted Moodle, you may have to ask the admin to add third-party extensions.

    • I manage my own Moodle, so installing 3rd party extensions is no big. Thanks, I’ll have to check out tabtopic — geez I’m such a Moodle noob that it’s a little scary sometimes. Still, we gotta admit, Moodle will never be as simple or slick as something like Schoology or Edmodo.

  3. My college is using Desire to Learn. I’m learning it, slowly. Maria Andersen loves Canvas, so I’m curious about comparisons between these two systems, and any others people love.

    • Funny you should mention Canvas. Whenever I say Moodle, a colleague says Canvas back. He really wants me to check it out. And I finally did, as a MOOC student earlier this year. Given that I’m partial to Moodle’s assessment engine, a feature I never saw in Canvas because the MOOC simply didn’t need it, it’s tough to compare.

      How are you liking Desire to Learn? I presume it’s a paid tool and probably enterprise-wide, thus not available to individuals?

      • D2L (Desire to Learn) is enterprise class software like Blackboard. I had brief exposure to it as an instructor. I can’t vouch for the assessment system as I didn’t use it for that. To me it was more of a CMS. But, the university IT folks liked D2L and thought Moodle wasn’t as good (but they didn’t have to use either one). The variety of activities within Moodle are richer. It was designed with a collaboration/constructivist philosophy which to me sets it apart from other LMS/CMS’s.

  4. I don’t know much about it yet. I’m putting materials in that I want to share with my students. I don’t expect to sue any grading and testing options online. I’ve never used any online course management system before as a teacher, so even once I get used to it, I won’t have much to compare it to. I don’t know if it’s available to individuals or not.

  5. Hey Meg – great post! Another great feature that I didn’t see mentioned (but maybe I missed it) is the ease with which moodle allows you to share your question banks and quizzes with other teachers. This is great if you are a teacher who likes to collaborate and is especially useful for those teachers who choose (or are required in some cases) to do common assessments.

  6. Pingback: Moodle Love Letter #2: Targeted Feedback | Megan Hayes-Golding

  7. Moodle is not that easy to handle, it will require time as well as understanding to make use of it. But once you know all that, it will me interesting to which you will love to hang around. Interaction, discussion everything will be there which will easy your job.

  8. I too love the quiz features of Moodle, but my school is moving to Schoology (see my blog post While I will give the new CMS a try, I am seriously looking at installing Moodle on an old desktop and making a classroom wireless network just use those features.

    • Oh no! Schoology doesn’t have any features to speak of for quizzes. Unless you like straight up, static multiple choice questions. I totally ran Schoology as my primary class page with links out to our Moodle site.

      A local install in your classroom is brilliant. You don’t need the kids to access it outside of class? If you do, might I recommend Site5 hosting. Very inexpensive and one-click install for Moodle.

  9. You should take a look at upcoming features in quiz in Moodle 2.6, auto save, notification for students if network connection is lost (not released yet but close). That coupled with “safe exam browser” integration and its starting to look like a viable solution for secure formative examination 🙂

    I would not rush to upgrade, best to wait till 2.6 reaches a higher fix release (2.6.3 for example) but its all coming!

  10. Late to this party, Megan, but after discovering Schoology’s discussion forums have no Rich Text Editor–my favorite feature of Moodle–I’m ready to consider self-hosting again.

    This Site5….will it help with the techier backend things on cPanel? Setting chron jobs, deleting cache, etc? I had a trainwreck with that years ago when I last self-hosted. In short, how’s their support?

    • Support is generally excellent. I usually use Live Chat to get mine and have about a 90% satisfactory resolution rate. The support crew seems quite knowledgable based on the random crap I’ve thrown at them.

      Just did a one-click upgrade to Moodle 2.6 on my Site5 account. Smooth and error free, just the way upgrades should be. Go for Site5, you won’t regret it!

      • I’m in week one with Site5, with a Moodle and WordPress install. Too early to tell how that relationship will end, but I am enjoying having Moodle again after so many years!

        Thanks for the reply and happy new year!

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