Tech for Teachers
How to Use Moodle
ASCD Express's Tech for Teachers column, by guest columnist Jason Bedell, uses both text and a tutorial video to encourage teachers to bring web technology into their practice in simple but meaningful ways that can contribute to student engagement and learning.
Blended learning can extend the learning environment beyond the school walls. A type of blended learning that has gained popularity over the last few years is the "flipped classroom," where students watch educational content, such as demos, lectures, or documentaries, at home and then spend more time in class using that content and doing activities with support from the teacher.
You can also use software to create a space that gives students access to resources and school activities in a classroom space. Moodle is a type of software called a learning management system, or LMS. When used to its potential, Moodle allows for amazing learning opportunities.
During my first year teaching, I was trying to find ways to reach my students, most of whom were at-risk high school freshmen reading at least three to five years below grade level. In the second semester, I was able to gain full-time access to a mobile lab, which helped me to implement Moodle.
Moodle is based on the theory of social constructivism. The main idea is that the Moodle application operates to help students construct new knowledge as they learn from and support one another. That idea, as manifested in Moodle, helped me make my class much more student-centered.
Moodle, a free e-learning platform, works in fairly straightforward way. However, it has to be installed on a web server, which usually costs a few dollars per month, or hosted by another website. Ideally, a school district will provide the Moodle installation for its teachers; if not, the easiest way is to find a web host that can set it up for you. The official Moodle partners on the Moodle.org website specialize in this type of service.
Moodle fosters student collaboration and learning in a digital environment that extends beyond school.
Extend the Classroom Experience
Once Moodle is installed, you create a class. I chose to make one Moodle class for all three sections of my Reading in the Content Area class; this was so that the students could learn from each other even if they were not in the same sections. After you create a class, you add "resources" and "activities." Resources are the materials that the students use for a lesson or project, which can be videos, documents, slide presentations, links, or anything else that can be consumed. Activities are things that the students do. Some of Moodle's activities include discussion forums, blogs, wikis, collaborative glossaries, and assignments that students will upload.
One of the great things about Moodle is the community. Because it is an open-source system, there are thousands of teachers using it, and many have made plug-ins and activities to extend functionality far beyond what was originally designed. They are all free and can be found at the official Moodle website.
I used Moodle for the second half of my first year of teaching and the entire next year. It really became the hub of learning in my class. Every resource we ever discussed in class was posted to the class Moodle site. There were asynchronous discussions several times a week on class topics, both started by me and by the students. I had more students on the site between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. than at any other time, because that was when the students wanted to do it. I could track students' progress on standards and skills and provide resources and support.
Using Moodle cannot make someone a good teacher, but it complements and extends the influence of sound teaching.
Use Discussion Forums for Formative Assessment
My favorite activity was the simple discussion forum. I think that a good discussion, whether in person or online, is an extremely effective teaching tool.
At the beginning of the year, I created some basic requirements. After discussing proper online etiquette, I posted two content- or skill-related questions each week. The students were required to respond and substantively reply to at least two other students. The assignments could be done at any time during the week.
The students' replies helped me assess their current level of understanding, offer help, and modify the in-class instruction. Furthermore, I had two forums that students could use at any time: one for general discussion and another to ask for help from other students or myself.
Most of the time, the discussions were interesting, and students posted far more than the minimum requirement.
When considering any type of blended learning solution, it's important to take a hard look at issues of access. Think of your students. Do they have access to computers? Do they have Internet access? If not, the onus is on the teacher to provide access. I allowed students to come in an hour early, during my lunch period, or for an hour after school every day to use the computers. Blended learning can only work when all students can access the learning materials; if not, it merely contributes to an inequitable learning environment.
Moodle is far too large an application to explain every detail in one article. When you invest in Moodle, you are giving students every opportunity to succeed, because they access learning resources before, during, and after instruction. You can provide leveled resources and activities easily so that students who need either remediation or more depth can both be served.
In my experience, Moodle truly helps to create a community and a culture of learning and support.
Jason T. Bedell is the technology coordinator for Lakehurst School District in Ocean County, N.J. He explores how effective technology integration can deepen student learning and make the school environment more student-centered.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 24. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.