To Moodle or not to Moodle? Part 1

This semester, starting in January, I began using Moodle as the platform for my new class website. As you may know, I was using Google tools for most of my online interactions with students, and while it was mostly effective, it was not without its kinks and struggles. For instance, I used Google Forms to give online quizzes, but this was short-lived when I discovered that I could not add equations or pictures to questions, which was a critical flaw, since I was teaching Calculus at the time and needed this feature. There was also the clunkiness of Google Sites, which I attempted to use as a class wiki where I could centralize class info. When I heard about Moodle, a free LMS (Learning Management System, like Blackboard) I wanted to try it. I had no idea what I was in for!

First of all, Moodle is not for the faint of heart. Unless your school or district has already installed this system on the school server (mine had not), it will take some time and energy just to get your site up and running. While the system is free, finding a place to host is definitely not. My fellow WordPress users will understand–like WordPress, Moodle is a free way to organize and manage your content, but you will still have to find somewhere to house it on the web, which will probably cost you. After haggling a bit with my hubby to get some server space, we then went about installing Moodle. This was also a long process as the Moodle package is HUGE. By the time we got a clean install after a few tries (it kept timing out), I was finally ready to jump into the software. Even if your district does have Moodle available for your use there is a moderate learning curve to get past before you really start “moodling”. I found a pdf available for free at Moodle.org called “Using Moodle” that really helped me understand what Moodle is, how it can be used, and all it has to offer. If you are a Moodler or plan on becoming one, this is a must-read. Since it’s available as a pdf, it is great to download and read on the iPad. After reading this book, I was super-excited about Moodle, because it is such a rich platform that was clearly built with teachers in mind. Here are a few of my favorite features:

Glossary

Moodle’s glossary module is a great way to get students involved in studying vocabulary. In higher math courses especially, it is so easy to forget the importance of teaching vocabulary as we get bogged down with teaching tons of new formulas and rules. To date, my students have defined and added 106 “Key Terms” to our Moodle glossary, over 10 vocabulary words a week. Up to this point I’ve struggled with making vocabulary an ongoing part of my Pre-Calculus and Calculus classes. Of course I’ve taught them tons of new terms, but to find the time to focus on the words and their meanings with so much math to teach can be difficult. The glossary has really helped me get my students involved in going out and finding the meaning of our mathematical vocabulary. I simply post the list at the beginning of each unit, and they do the defining. Students find pictures online and attach them to their definitions, rate each others definitions and search the glossary for their own reference. Not only is the glossary useful or me as a math teacher, but a great tool for teachers of any discipline.

Quizzes
OMG. The quizzes on Moodle are soooo awesome. I know I sounded like a kid there, but this how I really feel about the quiz feature in Moodle. Not only am I able to add pics and equations easily, but there are many additional features that make giving online assessments so easy and fun! Moodle natively recognizes LaTeX, a programming language that renders mathematical equations in their proper visual form. Along with this and the free plugin, Drag Math, I am able to insert fractions, functions, and tons of other math stuff into my quizzes with no problem!
quiz
Moodle also allows lots of options for scrambling questions and answers to prevent students from cheating, which is usually a concern with online quizzes. Not only can you randomize questions AND answers, but there is even a feature (I haven’t tried it yet but read about it in “Using Moodle”) that allows you to give questions with variables so that each student gets a random value chosen from a list you create. For example, for a multiplication quiz, you could create a question “what is xy?” where x and y are integers between 1 and 12. The correct answer is clearly xy regardless of what numbers are randomly chosen for the student. So far, I have used multiple choice and short answer, but there are many more options for question types that I can’t wait to try in the coming years.

Obviously I have a lot to say about Moodle, but since this post is getting long, I will cut it off here. Stay tuned for part 2 in my series of posts about Moodle!!!