Thursday, June 07, 2012

Upgrading to Moodle 2

Greetings from the Australian National University where I am attending a training session on the upgrade to Moodle version 2. This is a very complex operation and the university's central learning support unit, the Wattle Business Solutions Group (BSG, has been working on making the transition as smooth as possible. Some of the training and support materials may be of use to other educational institutions making the transition.

Moodle 2 has a way to dock small items of information (called "Blocks" in Moodle). This can free up space on the screen, but may cause some confusion for students and teachers, until they get used to it. The tutor can't assume the student can see what is in a block, as it may be miniaturized (docked).

ANU previously had about a dozen templates for the Moodle look and feel. This is being reduced to two: three columns and two column layout. This is an improvement, as what is needed is consistency between courses, to make it easier for students to use. Having a different layout for each course causes problems for students.

The most contentious issue is the use of files in Moodle 2. To overcome problems with large numbers of files taking up space and being unmanageable, Moodle 2 introduced the concept of repositories. However, this will require course designers to think differently about how they create and manage their course content. In my view this will make for better and easier to manage courses, but requires more forethought and discipline.

One exception to the good features in Moodle 2 is "auto linking" which, in my view is a very bad idea and should be switched off by default and never used. Auto linking will automatically makes a link to a resource, where the name of the resource matches text in Moodle. So if there is "Assignment 1", there will be an automatic link to this anywhere the text "Assignment 1" appears. This is similar to the auto glossary function in Moodle 1, which was similarly a bad idea. It appears that there is a flaw in the design of Moodle 2, which does not allow manual linking using local references in a course. in my view this is a very serious flaw in the design of Moodle 2 which will impact course development.

One issue with the transition to Moodle 2 is how to handle large collections of content files. Moodle 2 allows the course designer to upload a zipped folder of content files and then unzip them. But I suggest a better approach would be to package the content outside Moodle and then provide access to the package via Moodle's access control features, or import the package as a complete unit. An example of such a unit is an IMS content package. Moodle is a learning management system, it is not a system for developing learning content and not a repository for maintaining learning content: Moodle is just for managing the delivery of the content to the student. Specialized software packages should be used to create and maintain complex packages of course content in eBooks, enhanced eBooks, learning objects and the like. In this way none of the detail of all the files inside the package does not need to be viable to Moodle.

ANU will be using the same set of Moodle resources (such as a "book") and activities (such as an "assignment"). One new feature is advanced grading using a rubric. I have found rubrics a very powerful technique, but up to now have had to do all the work for it manually. Support for rubrics directly in the LMS will be a significant advance for learning.

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