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!