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December 5, 2010

What makes a good Moodle course?

by Mark Drechsler

Amplify’d from www.markdrechsler.com

What makes a good Moodle course?

Tomaz Lasic worked with the community earlier this year to come up with the most excellent Water! course which provided not only examples of tool usage, but also the student interactions which show how the tools are being used. There have also been efforts to explain how to go about choosing the right tools to use in a Moodle course, like (again) Tomaz Lasic’s ‘Lego’ presentation (20,000 views on slideshare can’t be wrong) and Joyce Seitzinger’s great Moodle Tool Guide which provides a handy tool guide for Moodle course designers.

The thing that none of these adequately addressed for me though was that the ‘perfect’ Moodle course is highly dependent on what the teacher is trying to achieve through using Moodle – and so I thought I’d put together a different slant on how to create a good Moodle course. This post doesn’t try and define the magic rules to define the world’s greatest Moodle course, but it does try to create a reflective framework for anyone designing Moodle courses to think more about the desired outcomes they are looking to achieve.

So why do people create courses in Moodle? I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons, but the most common I’ve encountered in my travels fall into one or more of the following categories:

  1. To create a simple online presence. This can be because students are demanding access to lecture notes, or because it is an institutional requirement to have an online presence for every unit, or because the main course content is being done in the ‘carbon community’, meaning a Moodle course isn’t really needed for anything of substance. Whatever the cause, the need is for something simple to support existing teaching practices.
  1. To replace existing manual processes. This is often driven by the desire to use Moodle as an efficiency tool – there is little in the way of pedagogy shift caused by Moodle, it is more about translating existing processes into an online environment. Examples of this are using the Gradebook rather than a marking spreadsheet, using chat rooms in place of live support and using the Calendar in place of a printed course schedule. 

  1. To increase the use of online tools. This is an interesting one, as an increase in engagement with an online space doesn’t always equal improved learning outcomes for students, yet there is often a push to create ‘engaging online courses’ with the assumption that this will help students learn better. The focus here is making an online course ‘sexy’ so that students will want to interact with it, regardless of the alignment with teaching outcomes.
  1. To support a ‘continuous improvement’ model of teaching. This model has a focus on using Moodle to connect with students for the main reason of collecting feedback on how the course is progressing, whether the pace is suitable, the learning materials good and so on. The focus is on providing good learning outcomes, but primarily through using Moodle as a feedback space.
  1. To support shifts towards progressive teaching methods. This is the one which I wish I would see more of – using some of the more complex tools in Moodle to open up possibilities for improving teaching practice which would be difficult without something like Moodle. The classic example for this is the Workshop activity – circulating 100+ assignments for multiple peer reviews within a student group and calculating assessment grades as a contributor and a reviewer would be darned near impossible without a tool like Moodle. Whether it be peer/self assessment, self-reflection, collaborative student-led content creation or something else which uses Moodle’s social constructionist philosophy, the focus here is clearly on improving teaching practice through some of the advanced tools which Moodle offers.

What determines an excellent Moodle course from an awful one, I believe, is largely driven by which of the above are the primary drivers behind the creation of the course. One size does definitely not fit all.

Of course there are other things like good website design principles, and I’m sure there are a bunch of other perspectives I haven’t thought about, but I hope that this framework might help people think about what it is they are really trying to achieve by using Moodle.

I put together the presentation below to summarise my current thinking on some of the tools which align to the various aims of using Moodle – see what you think:

Read more at www.markdrechsler.com
 

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