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November 10, 2011
Recap on Moodle Lunch
Yesterday we had a lunch discussion session about how faculty at Hampshire are using Moodle. About 18 faculty attended and I think we all learned something, myself included! Here are my notes on what we discussed.
Forums are often being used as before-and-after enhancements/additions to in-class discussion. Several faculty reported that they have students respond to readings or other material BEFORE it gets discussed in class, so the instructor can see which questions need to be addressed, which DON’T, and what the general trend of interest is. Most instructors required the students to complete their posts a couple days before the class, to give them a chance to review and prepare.
The consensus was that this practice can save time in class because this preparation lets you jump into a meaningful in-class discussion more quickly, focus in on problem areas, and not waste time on material the students are already clear on.
Using forums as a follow-up to in-class discussion was also popular, for example to let students give an opinion that they weren’t able to in class, or let people post thoughts that came to them afterwards.
Most people reported that forum participation is mixed, and that even if it’s required not all students will post. Another problem that sometimes arises is that all the students wait until the last minute to post, which doesn’t leave time for any meaningful back-and-forth. Forums need time to unfold. Some solutions to these problems people suggested were having TA’s write the first posts to “break the ice”. It’s also sometimes nice for the instructor to have a presence in the forums to encourage or focus the discussion. As with any student activity, there has to be a perceived value to their participation in order for them to really engage.
Some people were using the “Q&A” forum type in which the student cannot see what others have written until they post themselves. This is less for a discussion and more for a quiz-type assignment, or to get feedback from the class on the material without students being concerned about if someone else wrote something similar, etc.
Michele, one of our presenters, observed that at the beginning of the semester the students were more subdued about sharing their work with their peers, but as the semester went on they were actually requesting to post their work in forums vs just submitting it to the instructor, because they wanted to be able to see what others in the class were working on. The main reason the students wanted to share was so they connect with people working on similar projects or topics.
The students in Michele’s Digital Photography class also made good use of the forums by placing images in their posts to highlight an artist or illustrate a technique. Some faculty were using the “grading” function in Moodle to keep track of which students have posted to forums.
Both presenters were using Moodle’s assignment options. Kathryn, our other presenter, has students submit their papers online through Moodle, she reads them on the computer, types notes within the papers, and returns then to the student through Moodle. She said it’s a big advantage for the students to have legible comments vs handwritten! Michele sometimes uses the “online text” assignment type if the students are submitting brief proposals, that way you can read them directly in Moodle and don’t have to download anything.
Michele also gives feedback on the assignments through Moodle, and uses grading scales to note if assignments were received or not. Both instructors appreciated having all the assignment material organized in one place, and the “grade” section in Moodle lets you see at a glance who’s submitted what (if you’re using a grading scale like Michele), and what your comments to them were.
There was some discussion about letting students remove and re-upload new versions of assignments. If you disable “send for marking” when creating the assignment, or just tell students NOT to click it when submitting, their submission will remain in draft status, which means you can see it, but they can still re-upload a file if needed.
Some faculty are creating groups in Moodle and having each group post in their own forum, either on separate topics or just to have smaller group discussions. There was some discussion about how to re-do the groups when you want to mix things up. The answer to this is that a student can be in more than one group- so you can simply create additional groups as needed, or delete the previous groups and start fresh.
Groups can also be used for readings, assignments, whenever you want groups of students to do or access something different from the other group.
Michele was struggling with the problem of running out of time in class to give a talk and show slides. She decided to simply record her lecture with the slides, and put it online in Moodle for the students to access. The students have loved it, as they can back up, repeat, or jump to a particular artist using “bookmarks” within the recording. And it saves class time for her to focus on other things!
This technique (sometimes referred to as “flipping the classroom“) can also be used for software tutorials or whenever there is something fairly rote that you need the students to learn or listen to. Make a recording of it for them to listen/watch/try on their own time, and then you can free up in-class time for discussion, questions, and hand-on work.
Many people were using the Calendar and Upcoming Events blocks to keep students on track with class events and due dates. One thing some people weren’t aware of is that you can move the blocks of your course around as you see fit. When editing is turned on, each block has arrow icons and an “x” icon to delete. If you want a block somewhere else, use the arrows to scooch it around until it’s in the right spot. Some faculty said they planned on moving the upcoming events block front & center. If there’s a block you don’t use or don’t care about, use the “x” to delete it. You can always get it back with the “blocks” block. This can neaten up the look of your course page.
Since Michele and Kathryn were using weekly course formats, they had the option of adding the “section links” block which gives you links for each class section as well as a “jump to current class” link. Unfortunately this block doesn’t work for the class-by-date format most people use (I conveniently forgot this during the lunch!).
So overall it was a very interesting session, and my main take-away was that Moodle can be a great tool for supporting and enhancing the work we do in class. Just get in touch if you want help trying any of the features or methods we discussed!