Wikis And Collaboration (And Moodle)

Giving students the opportunity to learn to work within a team is a recurring theme in many educational institutions. Collaboration is required in virtually all work places so schools and universities are always looking for opportunities to get students off the individual assessment treadmill and to embrace tasks that are more about “we” instead of “I”.

The problem is that traditional assignments simply don’t work in a group setting all that well. In the world of pen and paper or even traditional, albeit electronic, documents true collaboration is difficult. What is meant to be collaboration usually turns into “you do this and I’ll do that.” That is teamwork however its not really collaboration any more than you doing the dishes while I change the car’s oil.

Wikis change all that. Wikis present an opportunity for students to genuinely work shoulder to shoulder to collaboratively create something. Something where each student can have a hand in the creation of each and every individual component. No more “my part” and “your part”. Now everyone is able to contribute to every part of their work.

It’s still early days for this technology however the ramifications of it are huge. Wikis allow true collaboration instead of simple task splitting. They allow collective production of work in a way that changes how students work together forever.

Moodle Email Configuration – Could Not Authenticate With Gmail

Today I realized that the Moodle installations on my laptop were not able to send email notifications. I have previously used the smtp (email) server of an Australian Internet service provider without any problem. One of the downsides of traveling through Asia is that you tend to see far more of the security precautions companies take on the Internet than you do in a western country.

From here in Malaysia, however, that doesn’t seem to work. I guess they’re doing some sort of IP address lookup blocking to prevent people outside of Australia from sending email from their servers. That makes sense but its a bit awkward for me. After some googling Google’s own gmail servers seemed a suitable replacement. I have a gmail login so should be able to access their mail servers. And I did in fact eventually get this to work but there was one nasty little gotcha.

My googling told me that the appropriate smtp server was Setting my Moodle’s smtp server setting to flat out didn’t work. Moodle couldn’t find the server. That’s weird.

After a bit more googling I tried Apparently google’s email works on port 465 if its using SSL authentication. Then I was getting this error:

SMTP Error: Could not authenticate. ERROR: SMTP Error: Could not authenticate.

At first I thought that maybe I didn’t have the appropriate software installed to use SSL. After some detective work it turns out I already had opensll installed so it probably wasn’t that.

After some time and a cup of tea inspiration struck. If this is using SSL shouldn’t the URL be something like ssl://

Bingo! That worked. All it needed was the ssl:// on the front and it all worked fine 🙂

Moodle Development Machine Speedy(ish) Setup Script

Note: In the time since this was originally published I have updated the script based on the feedback I received here and to set up the currently supported branches.

I recently had to set up the laptop I will be taking on the road with me. While traveling I will be continuing my work as a developer on the Moodle core development team. Click here if you’re wondering “what the hell is a Moodle?”

Facing the task of setting up a new development machine I realized something. Its REALLY time consuming. For my own development I need a full working copy of Moodle for all currently supported versions. That’s currently 1.9, 2.0, 2.1 and master. Master being the new, as yet, unreleased version. That’s 4 copies of Moodle. I need another copy of each of those to perform integration testing of code written by other people. Doing that in my development copies risks polluting my commit history with commits that ultimately get rolled back. That’s bad. So that means 8 copies of Moodle. Each of them has its own database and file storage area in addition to its own version of the code.

Setting that up is easily a few days work. And what’s worse, if I have my laptop stolen or it gets broken I’ll have to do it all over again. You know what I need? I need a script. One that does all of this auto-magically! And with that I got to work producing a shell script to automate as much of the setup as possible.

Its not a work of art. It contains some very obvious cutting and pasting of code that should really be put in a function. It does however work. Be warned that it may take several hours to finish running.

It can be found in my github account which is right here.

Note: In the time since this was originally published I have updated the script based on the feedback I received here and to set up the currently supported branches.

Managing Large Groups In Moodle

Setting up and managing large groups of students can be tiresome. Fortunately Moodle provides a few tools to help ease the pain.

Firstly, automatic group creation. Simply specify how many groups you would like or how many students you want per group and Moodle will do the rest. With a few clicks of the mouse you have your course divided neatly into groups regardless of whether you are dealing with five or five hundred students.

Here is some documentation that explains more about how to do that.

Secondly, teachers can also be made members of groups. This is handy for assigning tutors or group supervisors to work with a specific group. Assigning a tutor a specific group they need to look after is a great way to clearly divide the students between tutors to prevent doubling up and to also reduce the chance that some students will simply pass under the radar.

Ok, so its still going to be a pain to manage the 500 students doing “intro to chemistry” but hopefully this makes it a little easier.

Assessment with Moodle

Assessment in the context of online learning can be tricky. Luckily Moodle provides a range of tools that try to make assessment in Moodle courses both easy and accurate.

The most obvious of these is the assignment module. Four types of assignment are supported. They allow users to upload their assignments as text, one or many files or to complete an offline assignment such as a presentation. However they are done these are fairly traditional forms of assessment. The students complete their assignment then they hand it in. The teacher goes through the submitted work and marks it. Sorry, there’s no magic “do my marking for me” button. Electronic assignment submission at least makes it easier to retrieve the student’s work and to check who hasn’t submitted theirs. No more losing student’s work down the back of the desk or manually ticking off student names as assignments come in.

Moodle’s quiz module offers a chance to get ahead of your marking. Although Moodle quizes require an up front investment of time they are, once set up, wholly automated meaning that students can potentially complete the quiz and get their results without your direct involvement. This makes them particularly handy for very large groups of students or students completing self paced courses.

It is also possible to assess students based on their participation in forum, glossary and database activities. Forum posts, glossary entries and database entries can be added by students then rated. These ratings are then aggregated to produce a grade for the student. Ratings can be submitted by just the teacher or, if you’re prepared to try something a little different, students can be allowed to rate their peers and thus contribute directly to the grades of their fellow students. This is something that is really tough in a physical classroom but which becomes manageable with Moodle. Use the ability to influence student grades based with ratings submitted by other students with care however this capacity opens the door to all sorts of student-student learning and can be extremely powerful.

The Moodle workshop module takes the idea of peer assessment to another level. It is unique in that it not only allows students to submit work for you to grade but also allows students to assess each other and for you to assess them on their assessments of their peers. I hope that makes sense 🙂 A well executed workshop activity provides not only the initial assignment but an opportunity for students to critically assess their peers. All under your watchful eye of course.

Moodlemoot Australia in Sydney

I recently had the pleasure of attending a Moodlemoot in Sydney, Australia. It was wonderful to meet some real live Moodle users. Sitting in the Moodle office in Perth its difficult to comprehend just how many people there are out there using Moodle. I took notes on all the sessions I attended and will detail them below for anyone who couldn’t make it themselves.

First though, I couldn’t go to Sydney and ONLY attend the moot. I did of course find time to sneak in some touristy exploration of the city. After all, you can’t come to Sydney and not see the bridge and the opera house.

Myself and some fellow Moodlers went on a little walking tour of the city and took in the bridge, the opera house, the botanical gardens and the infamous King’s Cross. I’m not sure my fellow moodlers would agree but these stairs were a highlight for me. They definitely got the blood pumping.

And now on to the Moodlemoot sessions. Apologies to anyone whose name I misspell or forget and to anyone who I have mis-interpreted. This are a transcription of my notes. I’ve cleaned them up a bit but don’t expect perfect grammar.

Breaking Moodle by Jason La Greca

Use course templates properly

You can store template course via backup/restore. Store your media elsewhere. This will prevent your backup files becoming enormous. Make sure you use a naming convention for your media so you can find stuff.

Consider using groups instead of multiple course instances.

Youtube, wikipedia and many other sites are not available in every country. This is important if your teachers or students are scattered throughout the globe.

Document lessons learned

Post lessons you have learned to the Moodle forums. Make sure you go and search the forums before untertaking any task for the first time. Hopefully you can learn from the mistakes of others.

Don’t alter core unless you really really really need to

Alteration you make to core code become an ongoing problem as they need to be checked and reapplied every time you update Moodle. Don’t do it at all if at all possible.

Never develop code or content on a production Moodle

Always have separate development sites for the programmers and teachers to work on. Use a different username and password for your development and productions sites.

Italian goes Moodle by

If you display a glossary within a block and fill the glossary with videos you will have a new video every time you visit.

Voki = a digital face that says whatever you type. Can help provide a “human” face for your site.

Scrible = a system that allows you to annotate web pages. Extremely useful for an editor wanting to check other people’s work. Saves emailing documents back and forth prior to putting it on the web.

Scrivener = a tool for writers that allows them to store all of their works in progress.

WidgetBox = a resource that you can search for interactive elements for your site.

Using audio and video by Colin Simpson

Video is useful for demonstrations as you can manipulate the student view point. For example time lapse, repitition and point of view. Repition is great for teacher particularly in settings like language instruction that require lots of repititon

Also handy for assessment. For example physiotherapy students may have to complete a gait assessment where students are required to assess a subject’s gait (the way they walk). If marking essays you could do a screen capture so you can comment to the student as you read.

We are moving into a post-literate world. Are you assessing the subject knowledge or essay writing?

Audacity = shareware for recording audio. Use constant bit rate.

Moodle’s media filter works basically everywhere.

Soundcloud = hosted audio player. Can embed in Moodle.

Use a USB headset. They tend to work better/easier. Keep the mic 3 fingers from your mouth.

For video editing Windows Movie Maker is usually adequate.

Outcomes Overview by Allan Greenbank

Using the Moodle overview report in place of paper report cards.

Parents can drill down to see details of activity participation.

Is constructing national outcomes as a .csv file that can be imported into any Moodle site.

In the course header added a table of links to the topics. Thus avoiding the need to scroll.

Online Language Course by Pavle Jeric

Computer enhance rather than replace teachers.

Class presentations can be submitted in the form of a video and a powerpoint presentation.

Shifting to Moodle 2 by John Hannon

(from La Trobe University?)

There are two approaches:

  1. A new LMS is an opportunity for improvement
  2. While deploying a new LMS limit potential disruption.

Choose one. Attempting to do too much leads to change weariness.

A quick switchover may be preferable as it is hard to hold most user’s attention. Moving fast requires performing tasks in parrallel. It allows you to avoid having to run two LMS side by side.

Stay focus. Just replace the LMS. Don’t fix or improve stuff. You can do that later. This requires clarify of purpose.

Fully allocate staff to the switch. Have a full-time project manager.

A drop in center provided Moodle help to staff and students.

A set of “2 minute Moodles” was provided. Concise how to videos.

Moodle tool guide for teachers by Joyce Seitzinger

Resource Vs Activity

read Vs do

Many of the issues around introducing and using a LMS arise because very few teachers have personal online learning experience.

Teachers often fall into the content trap ie only moving content provision online. Or they fall into the technology trap and say things like “I want to use a wiki” putting the tool before the requirement.

Design courses then bring them into Moodle. Do not design courses in Moodle.

Rethinking content development by Michael Coghlan

Can you teach without content?

Can you teach a course where you co-create content as you go?

Typically, 90% of Moodle assessments are done with quiz.

The Queensland government if encouraging teachers to share their course content through their GILF programme.

Some example more creative assessments:

  • Take a photos that fits certain criteria
  • Call 2 suppliers of a particular product and evaluate them
  • Get students to write the quiz questions instead of simple answering them.

Establishing eCommunities by Susan Cornish

They have about 30 courses but only 4 forums. Fewer forums means they are easier to nurture. A html block within each course provides links to the forums

Access to course content is password protected. This was insisted on by some teachers.

One means of encountering online participation was driving real world discussion to the forums. For example having a guest presenter available online after a presentation to answer more questions.

K12 Panel with Mary Cooch, Nathan Hutchings and Sandy Skinner

Contributed code is a major roadblock for upgrading between major versions of Moodle.

Parents like to be able to access Moodle to see their child’s work.

If more work is public students are able to show off their work.

The Moodle 2.0 file system is seen by some as “the same as before but harder to use.”

The Microsoft EU cloud service is a potential file repository. Is there a Moodle plugin?

Someone recommended progressively migrating 1.9 to 2.0 over 6 to 12 months. Start with the most experienced Moodle teachers and students first.

Some institutions test users and issue a Moodle drivers license for teachers and/or students.

Should you use a entirely separate Moodle for different age groups?

Teachers often lack confidence in courses built by their peers. Will they be well built and maintainable?

To get more content online take a photo of the white board and post it after class. That way students can review on their own and learn while the teacher isn’t there. Some teachers examined the logs and frequently saw students reviewing course material at night and on weekends.

When asking questions in the forum if they’re too hard you’ll get no answers. If too easy you’ll get one definitive answer then nothing more.

Some see Moodle as readding creativity to teaching.

Self directed offshore ESL learners by Jason Lagreca

Coming to Australia to study English is super expensive however English is necessary before going to an Australian university.

  1. market research.
  2. what lessons have been learned (by others)
  3. what is the business case and what risks exist.

What is the learner landscape? Can they stream video? How literate are they in their first language?

For curriculum development decide your learning outcomes then content. After creating content break up into course, units, activities and even into discrete learning objects. You can then build new courses out of existing learning objects.

Balance learner-learner, facilitator-learner and learner-content interactions. One third each.

Workshops. Can mark submission and quality of peer assessment. Can also override peer provided marks if necessary.

Mahara can replace Facebook if Facebook is innaccessible to your students. A lot of time may be necessary to simplify it.

Need regular assessments to identify weak students and also provide reguar feedback.

The first course is compulsary and is a “how to use Moodle” course.


And that’s it 🙂