Favorite Moodle Uses

Timon Piccini recently asked for some feedback on Moodle because his district’s moving to it for online course management. You can find tons of Moodle tutorials and articles online. I want to do something new: share with you my favorite uses for Moodle.

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 5.15.37 PM#5 Pages Can Look Nice

Lots of former users at my school like to complain that Moodle is ugly. At left, I show you one of my nicer lab setup pages where I showed kids how to use the equipment. It was as easy to create as a blog entry. If you hear Moodle is ugly remember most folks are comparing it to commercial tools like Schoology. Those tools draw you in with a Facebook-like appearance but the tradeoff of less functionality kills it for me.

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 5.21.45 PM#4 Flexible Gradebook

Will you be using the Moodle gradebook? I really like it for its flexibility. At left is a section of the student view.

Aside from the usual stuff (setting up categories with grade weights), I can choose from way more methods of calculating a score than I even know what to do with:

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 5.24.02 PM

I’m still not a huge fan of web-based gradebooks because they’re slow but Moodle’s got the best I’ve used in the genre.

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 5.12.58 PM#3 Plays Well with Others

I’ve embedded Google Calendars, YouTube videos, and Dropbox files into Moodle pages. I like that Moodle doesn’t require me to play in MoodleLand with all my existing content.


Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 4.56.38 PM#2 Random Question Quizzes

Do you do Standards Based Grading? Oh right, of course you do. Reassessments are a bear to deal with, amirite? Not with Moodle Question Banks! Whenever I write a quiz or test, I pull random questions so that reassessment is as easy as allocating a second attempt on said quiz.

The screen at left shows a bank of questions for a homework assignment. I could manually pull individual questions into the assignment but no, that’s so 20th century. I head to the bottom of the window and “Add x random questions”. Bam! Homework created!

(Requires some assembly — you have to create the question banks yourself.)


 #1 Calculated Questions

I’ve written a bunch about Calculated Questions because they’re so awesome. Moodle isn’t the only game in town — ExamView has a similar feature, too. The gist of it — you write a question with variables embedded in it. Then, you define parameters for those variables. Finally, you write a function for computing the correct answer. Students receive different values in their instances of the questions. All of the sudden, one question becomes 100.

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 5.35.14 PM

The downside? These questions take time to generate, even when you know what you’re doing. Add on top of that the challenge of being a newbie wading through THREE LONG SCREENS of features and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s so worth your time, though! In my opinion, this is the feature that sets Moodle apart.

My gripe? Moodle isn’t as nice as ExamView with calculated graphs or some other math-specific tools. You can totally use TeX notation when writing questions, which rocks.

In Conclusion

At this point in our edtech lives, we’ve all heard about how it’s not the tool, it’s how you use it. Sooooo true of Moodle. In its basic mode, Moodle lets you post files for kids to download, post links, and host your PowerPoint notes. So can about 100 other tools.

Where Moodle really stands out is with the question bank and quiz/test  options.

I have a few questions for anyone figuring on using Moodle so that I can tailor my responses to your needs:

  1. What other class management systems have you used?
  2. Will your kids be 1:1?
  3. What do you want a class management system to do?

Moodle Love Letter #3: Embedding Web Pages

My Moodle journey has recently been accelerated because I took over administrative duties for my school’s Moodle server. Last year, my primary use involved the assessment engine. Now I’m branching out and upgrading (to 2.5) to use Moodle as my class website.

Here’s one feature a colleague figured out:

And how I did that effect:

Pictured is Moodle 2.5 but “Embed” has been an option for quite some time.

You’ve never heard of Socrative? It’s kinda like Poll Everywhere in that you can ask questions to your students. I’ve written twice about Socrative.

Moodle Love Letter #2: Targeted Feedback

Ok, so you want to give kids customized hints or feedback based on the mistake they made in solving the problem. Dudes, Moodle to the rescue! Just a little note: my love letters are intended to show you what Moodle can do, now how to do it. Don’t wanna drown you in detail at this point!

First, a super-simple example of feedback. Here’s one of my questions:

1st: This is the Moodle view your students will see when working a problem set.

1st: This is the Moodle view your students will see when working a problem set.

Moodle calls these calculated questions because the software uses variables to calculate answers. You set parameters for those variables and Moodle determines if the student’s answer matches the formula used to calculate the correct answer. Want to know more? Watch a tutorial on how to write calculated questions.

The student submits an answer, which Moodle deems as wrong (holy cow, I have a lot of customization options here — a future post!), so the student gets this image:

2nd: Student submitted an incorrect answer and gets this feedback.

2nd: Student submitted an incorrect answer and gets a full solution as feedback.

See how Moodle marked the answer as incorrect then displayed a scanned image I made? Ok, that’s kinda cool. You can provide solutions to your homework problem sets, for example, on a problem-by-problem basis and only after the student tries the question at least once.

Yeah, I agree, that’s a little yawn-worthy. I could’ve distributed a PDF of the solutions to every problem if all I wanted was for students to see a correct way to solve the problem. Where’s the beef? I figured you were looking for something a little more…advanced.

All right, here’s the scenario: kid makes a silly mistake in solving a problem. Say she forgets to take a square root. She did everything else right. What kind of feedback would you give in person? “Hey, I think you made an algebra error,” is the way I’d go. Let’s do that in Moodle.

1st: Write your question here. Note the variables surrounded by curly braces. They'll get some details later.

1st: Write your question here. Note the variables surrounded by curly braces. They’ll get some details later.

2nd: Define the formula for a correct solution. The syntax is well-documented on Moodle.org.

2nd: Define the formula for a correct solution. The syntax is well-documented on Moodle.org.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I’ve provided the correct solution above. Now, I may choose to write additional solutions worth anywhere from none to full credit. I’ve written at least one wrong solution below.

4th: OR, provide feedback for specific wrong answers.

3rd: Write feedback for specific wrong answers.

Compare the “Correct answer formula” in the 2nd (correct answer) and 3rd (incorrect) pictures here. In this case “Correct answer formula” means the match Moodle is looking for, not the right answer to your problem. You may write as many of these formulas as you like.

  • Note that in the last one, I left out the square root (Moodle treats square roots as raising an expression to the 1/2 power) step.
  • The 3rd picture has a “Grade” of “None” meaning no credit is awarded for this answer. Off topic but worth mentioning — this is how I write my test questions so they automatically and fairly award partial credit.
  • I like to use scanned images of my handwriting because it’s faster to create. You may also use TeX notation.

Documenting student mistakes is a huge task — even for those with well-established question banks. To relieve the stress, I add these mistakes after I see students making them. I write out a hint on paper, scan it, and add the mistake to the question in Moodle. Future students (even just 5 minutes in the future) will get the feedback.

Bottom line: if you can write an algorithm/equation/formula to describe a mistake, you can write targeted feedback in your Moodle questions.

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!