Friday, September 11, 2009

Degrees of Moodle Use in the Classroom

One tool quickly gaining the interest of schools is Moodle, the open-source learning management system. It is at the same time extremely versatile and free, making it a favorite.

However, Moodle is not for the faint of heart. After showing it to teachers, I often hear something along the lines of "Whoa, that is a lot more complicated than a wiki!"

Yes, that's true.

But, you can also do much more with it. Not just in terms of individual tasks, like a discussion board and a database, but also big-picture outlook. You have several different starting points. And best of all, you can start and just get your feet wet, or when you are ready, you can always progress in your use. There are many acceptable levels of use that improve your classroom instruction... you don't have to become fully immersed in it to use it well.

While the list below isn't all-encompassing, here's a common look at the different steps in Moodle use in a K-12 classroom:

1. Repository - Teachers often start with Moodle just by taking their worksheets and handouts saved in MS Word or as .PDFs and uploading them to Moodle. Immediately, you have a place for students to get their classroom resources, at school or at home.

2. Links to Websites - The next step for teachers is to take the handouts of classroom activities, especially those that involve browsing on the internet, and make them into a page right in Moodle. Then within that page, they can insert the live links. Suddenly the paper assignments have become digital assignments with a launch-pad to the internet.

3. Classroom Calendar - Using the calendar block, teachers can put in upcoming classroom events, such as assignment due dates or the dates of tests. This works well not only for students, but also for parents.

4. Digital Assignment Dropbox - Until this moment, the Moodle course could be used without any student accounts (open for all to see). But if the teacher takes it to the next step and has her students make accounts, the student can turn in their homework via Moodle assignments. What's nice, it allows for submission at home (at all hours of the night) and stamps it with a date & time when it is turned in.

5. Classroom Discussion Board - There are some big limitations to class discussions face-to-face. One, not every student gets to speak. Two, not every student gets to interact with every other student. Three, there is a limit on time. And four, if a student isn't prepared for class that day, they often cannot participate. But with a Moodle discussion board, a topic can be discussed at any time during the day, and it makes it easy for all to interact and for the teacher to see what each student has added.

6. Enrichment - Frustrated by trying to differentiate instruction with only 2 ears? Teachers can create enrichment or acceleration units in Moodle that offer learning at a different pace than the regular class.

7. Supplement - After one gets familiar with Moodle, they see that there are some assignments that are better done digitally online. Even though students might report to the same room, more and more of their time can be done in the digital world of Moodle. This includes online quizzes, wikis, and lesson modules in Moodle.

8. Full Online Course - The final step, but not necessarily one that leaves the school's building. Think of a senior project or a seminar done independently by students via Moodle.

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