E-Learning with Moodle

Your First Moodle Course

After setting up the Moodle server, you can set up a new course. To do so, click Courses in the Site Administration area and then click Add/edit course in the drop-down menu. This displays the "Course categories" overview. In larger Moodle installations, you can create various categories of courses here. The only default category is Miscellaneous. When you click Add a new course, Moodle shows you a complex mask that you can use to create the course (Figure 6).

Figure 6: The mask for setting up the new course is complex.

The Full name and Short name fields are required; you do not need a course ID number. Commercial trainers (or universities) have their own system of numbering courses. Although it might not make sense to use this course number in Moodle as well, it does have a field that accepts an externally assigned course number. The editor area below is for a description of the course.

Moodle does not organize your content into classical directory structures; instead, they are organized into a weekly format, which assumes that the trainer will be able to distribute the material strictly over a fixed number of weeks, or a topic format, which lets you split a topic into various subjects (e.g., to reflect the order in which you will be dealing with them in classroom teaching).

Select the topic format that is more intuitive to get started with Moodle; you can change the default number of 10 topics later. This applies to almost all the settings. In other words, you needn't be afraid of scrolling down to the bottom of the page and clicking Save changes to set up your first Moodle course.

Saving changes takes you to a new page where you can assign roles and access privileges, although it's not a requirement at this stage. Clicking the button at the bottom of the page jumps to the new course.

Managing Legacy Content

The first step for many trainers is to emulate a legacy course website and present material sorted by topic. The material can include PDF-formatted presentations, audio tracks of talks, or links to websites. The files can be stored on the Moodle server (after uploading them) or another server. Creating a collection of material is easy; start by clicking on Turn editing on. This displays new drop-down menus and buttons, which you can use to edit the course at various positions.

Moodle refers to non-interactive elements as "Resources." At any time, you can add new material in edit mode by clicking on Add a resource and then selecting the appropriate type in the drop-down menu. To create a new text page, you would select Compose a web page. This will take you to a page with three important text boxes: a page title, two editor fields for adding a short description, and the page content proper. Later, Moodle will display this title to students who click on Resources.

If you have HTML-formatted text, you can upload the HTML file directly and add it to your resources. Otherwise, use Moodle's internal page editor to create new text. The easiest approach is to drop pre-formatted text into the page editor by pressing Ctrl+C (e.g., to copy from OpenOffice) and then pressing Ctrl+V to paste into the page editor. This method keeps the formatting, including the paragraph formats (Figure 7).

Figure 7: You can copy text from OpenOffice and paste it into a new Moodle text document.

The Resources button is also used to add links to external documents. Moodle has a plugin for multimedia fields and is capable of playing video and audio files on its internal media player. To upload documents to the Moodle server, click Files in the Administration section of the course start page. For each course, you need to create directories, fill them with files, then link in the content via Resources. If you copy packed archives to the Moodle server, it saves you the overhead of uploading each file individually.

If you have been following the examples, your new Moodle page should have a small collection of resources. However, if this is all you plan to give your students, a simple website or CMS would do the job better and faster. Things become interesting when you use the features that make Moodle a learning environment.

Interactive Functions: Activities

Moodle offers educators a number of options for actively involving students. Moodle collectively refers to these options as "Activities" [2]. If you are familiar with forums in other programs in which all users logged in can exchange information, you will understand Moodle forums. Moodle supports forums that allow different roles for teachers and students. Besides legacy forums (in which anybody is allowed to post), you can set up special areas, such as question and answer forums. This lets the trainer set tasks that all students are required to perform, but students are not allowed to read the other answers until their own responses have been added.

Moodle's internal wikis work much like their classical counterparts, and they offer a variety of deployment options. Trainers can fill a wiki with content to provide an overview of classroom teaching topics with cross references, but you can just as easily ask students to collaborate on creating a wiki.

In the case of larger projects, which the students complete as groups, wikis can also be used for project documentation purposes. In this case, assuming your configuration is correct, only the members of the individual groups (and the trainer) are then allowed to access the individual wiki content.

Moodle glossaries are collections of terms with explanations and are thus similar to dictionary entries. To create a new glossary, select Add an activity | Glossary. A new page will appear (Figure 8) to which you can add a name and a description of the glossary and define a number of settings – including allowing or prohibiting multiple entries for the same term. Multiple entries make sense if your students will be creating the glossary entries over time; in this case, you should disable the Approved by default entry. This gives the trainer the opportunity to read entries by students and correct them, if needed, before they are published.

Figure 8: Creating a glossary to explain important terms and link to the entries from other texts.

Moodle has two glossary types: secondary and main. Although you can create any number of secondary glossaries (e.g., on specific topics), the main glossary plays a special role because you can export entries from any secondary glossary to the main glossary. If you use the glossary function extensively, this means that you can decide which entries are good enough to be added to the main glossary.

Glossaries offer automatic linking: If you enable this feature via the Filters section in the administration area, Moodle will select and link entries explained in the glossaries that occur on other Moodle pages. For example, you can use this function to create a document with a large number of technical terms as a resource and then ask the students to explain the terms in the text by making entries in the glossary. Then, when your students click on a selected word, a small window showing the explanation pops up.

The glossary you created appears on the start page for the course. If you click it, the stored entries are displayed and you (and your students) can enter new information by clicking Add a new entry. For more detailed notes on the available types, refer to the Moodle wiki [3].

Advertising

If you will be using Moodle for a commercial learning platform, you have the option of displaying paid ads. The most popular advertising platform for this is Google Ads, for which a Moodle plugin [4] exists.

Simply unpack the plugin in the blocks/ directory below your Moodle installation and arrange the ad blocks like any other blocks on the Moodle page.

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