New design & using Moodle for items linked from an interactive syllabus

aka Mass Management of 240 Students While Keeping My Stuff Open

As I discussed in my last post, I have suffered much guilt lately for feeling inadequate to the task of teaching next semester’s 240 students using a connectivist methodology. I am essentially designing a semester, not six classes, because the design has to work for me as well as my students. My solution for part open/part closed has come to this:

All of my own presentation material will be on the open web via…a web page. Yes, I know it sounds old-fashioned, but I have found a number of old habits becoming new again. This includes saving everything I post online as plain text documents (including this post), keeping web pages and folders for most things that I do, and backing up the multimedia I make to my own hard drive.

Here’s the new design:

  • Tabbed web page on open web to access information: syllabus, grading policies, FAQ.
  • One page per course, not per class (in other words, three sites: History 111, History 104, History 105)
  • Interactive syllabus with links to lectures, posting boards, exams, etc.
  • Moodle for everything that’s graded: postings, quizzes, exams, formal discussion.
  • Facebook group (one group for all 240 students) for social discussion, help, etc.

Tabbed web pages as the “front door” of the class

OK, so I figured out how to do tabs for my webpage so it’s easy to navigate. One tab is the Syllabus. I already have an intro page for each class (here’s the one for History 104). I have used the Escape from Blackboard technique to post the intro pages there too for students who think Blackboard is their online class portal. When I’m done designing the tabbed pages, I’ll replace those intro pages with the actual class webpages.

Interactive syllabus

Using the principles of an interactive syllabus, everything is linked from that page. The idea of an interactive syllabus is that the syllabus should look very familiar to students from their on-site classes. It becomes the main page of the class, because their tendency is to go there first. Other static pages are the other tabs. I can use iframes to put anything (for example, my FAQ, which is common to all my classes) I want on a tabbed page.

Moodle for everything that’s graded

The tricky part is the links into Moodle, my LMS. I want Moodle to handle the grunt work of tracking students and doing the grades. That means students will need to log in to Moodle for anything that counts as part of the grade or that requires Moodle to do what I want pedagogically. For example, I want students to post primary sources and theses, and rate each others’ posts.

Now, when I create a Moodle class that has all these elements (Quiz 1, Quiz 2, Quiz 3, Forum 1, Forum 2, etc. for 17 weeks) I don’t want students to see them all listed at the Moodle site. They’ll get confused and think the class is there instead of at the web page. So what I’m doing is putting them all under Topic 2 in the Topics format in settings, then changing the settings to only one topic. This way, the only thing they see at the Moodle class is direction back to the web page, but all the exams and forums can be linked by URL from the interactive syllabus into Moodle, which makes them log in for tracking. This trick is to put active items in an area, and then “hide” that area by making fewer areas in Settings. Here’s how I am doing it:

The only caveat here is that when a student looks at their grades, they can see all the items if they’re not hidden, so when I found that out I realized I need to set release times anyway. 🙁  Oh, well, it still prevents confusion upon entering the Moodle site.

In the interest of my own efficiency, there is only one Moodle site per course, with groups to designate the different class sections. So for History 111, where I have one hybrid and two online, it’s the same web page and the same Moodle site but using three groups to keep the gradebooks separate. No more changing things at several different Moodle sites when something needs changing.

Facebook group

I have changed the name of my old History 104 San Elijo FB group to Lisa’s History Classes. They can join the group without friending anyone.

Theoretical justification for this design

All my content should be open – my lectures are freely available on the web, and so are my class policies and design.

Students should only have to log in when they need to do something that counts toward the course grade.

240 students requires class management of grading and work — Moodle is convenient but I could also use Engrade for the grading. Discussion forums are harder. I am making a conscious choice in favor of Moodle here because of the simple, nested forums. They fit my pedagogy.

Constructivism is built into the course design — in the forums students choose their own primary sources from the web, post them, and decide which to use in support of their writing.

Theoretical problems

The constructivist element is not the “front door” of the class — you need to go down the hall to get to it. This argues in favor of putting everything into the discussion forum, but then the content I created isn’t as open and students have to log in to get to anything.

The constructivist activity isn’t public — to do this, I could use WordPress as the platform instead of the web pages and Moodle forums. However, I do not believe I can effectively manage 240 students without a separate blog for each of the six classes. Monitoring users and pseudonyms will be difficult, not to mention monitoring activity. I have tried BuddyPress and other CMS-style plugins but can’t get them to work easily on this scale.

And yes, I could change my mind about all this next week, but for now this is my design for spring.

2 comments to New design & using Moodle for items linked from an interactive syllabus

  • Thanks for these suggestions – since I’m new to Moodle, becoming aware of these issues now (instead of later) will hopefully help me to design my course better. Just want you to know how much I appreciate the mentoring…

    • I will also be offering an on-campus workshop on using Moodle as a stand-alone discussion board during spring flex week. 🙂