Moodle’s killer feature? The Gradebook

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited Consultant

By now you will know that Allison Miller is a big fan of Moodle. She has already shown us how to reduce cheating, demonstrate professional currency, take advantage of forums, and even consider a Mahoodle. Now we learn what makes Moodle’s Gradebook so special, and why it is such a shame that so few users are taking advantage of all that it offers.

Moodle supports active learning

Moodle is an acronym which stands for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. In layman’s terms, this means that Moodle is a learning management system (LMS) which allows you to create online courses where learners actively interact with one another and collaborate to construct a course’s content through active research.

But how many Moodle courses are designed this way?

In Allison’s experience, however, a lot of Moodle courses have been designed as content repositories (aka places to publish teacher-directed content) where the majority of learner interactivity is driven by poorly designed online quizzes. These courses seriously under-utilise many of Moodle’s key learning features. Developed on the philosophy of constructivist and social constructionist approach to education, Moodle is designed to make online learning active and not just set and forget. This design mantra has driven the development of a multitude of activity options in Moodle, such as: journals, discussion forums, lessons/workshops, wikis, glossaries and databases. And it’s Moodle’s Gradebook which acts as the glue that sticks all of this active learning together.

How does it work?

Visually, Moodle’s Gradebook replicates your traditional Gradebook or marks book, where you list all of your learner’s names down the left hand side, and then along the top of the page you list all of the activities that will be undertaken and/or assessed. The matrix in the middle is then populated by your learners’ results. However, unlike a traditional marks book, as soon as you mark your learners’ work and provide them with feedback, this information is automatically populated into the Moodle Gradebook.

What makes the Gradebook so special?

  • Flexibility

Results can be assigned as a mark (eg out of 100) or a scale (eg resubmit, pass, fail). You can also use a marking rubric or include offline assignments. This allows you to provide feedback to your learners in Moodle for offline assignments and include these scores in the learner’s final result. You can even set different grade categories which will weight your learners’ marks accordingly. Results can also be manually edited or updated, if required. If more than one teacher is using the same course, learners can be assigned to a group so the teacher only sees the Gradebook for their learners.

  • Scheduling learning and assessment activities

The activities linked into the Gradebook allow you to schedule when your learners are working on which activity. Conditional settings such as ‘days available’ and ‘restrict access’ allow you to schedule what activities need to be completed by when. This helps your learners focus on the task at hand and provides the motivation to stay on track. It also helps them with their time management to meet key deadlines as Moodle locks them out of activities if they miss the due date.

  • Using the data in so many ways

Final Gradebook results can then be downloaded into a spreadsheet which can be uploaded into a student management system (SMS) or manipulated into graphs for other reporting purposes. The final Gradebook also contains all of the learning and assessment activities, together with the learner’s actual assessment pieces, ready to demonstrate learner’s educational interaction and competency. This means you have an effective way of meeting your learner assessment retention requirements.

What about the learners?

The Moodle Gradebook also gives learners more control over their learning as each learner can access their slice of the Gradebook. It will send automatic email notifications to learners when their work has been marked. This allows learners to receive timely feedback and information, leading them in the right direction for their next lot of learning and/or helping them to monitor any outstanding work.

Allison Miller is an important member of a team of Accredited Consultants at eWorks. The Accredited Consultant Program offers everything a consultant needs to start delivering eWorks’ e-learning solutions. Comprehensive training is provided, together with full ‘eWorks Accredited’ branding.

Contact Allison if you have any comments or queries about this article, Moodle or digital learning in general.

Using Moodle forums for blended training

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited Consultant

Allison Miller is the director of Vanguard Visions and an important member of a team of Accredited Consultants at eWorks. Allison is passionate about interactive learning and knows how to use the latest technology to make it happen. Here you will learn how to use Moodle forums in a variety of ways to support training both on and off campus.

Does less campus time mean less training?

Paul is a building and construction teacher. Paul needs to change his current training program because he has been given less time to run his block training sessions on campus. He would like to do this by extending his training with his apprentice learners between their block training sessions. He has recently discovered Moodle, but that’s just for storing course content, right? How is that going to help his learners do some of their training when they’re not on campus?

Introducing Moodle forums (yes plural!)

If you haven’t introduced Moodle forums into your blended learning strategy it’s time to join the revolution. Moodle forums offer so many options to make training relevant and interesting, and you can tailor interactions to the nature and stage of your courses.

  1. Getting to know each other forums

Starting a Moodle course with an icebreaker is generally a good idea. The ‘Two trues and a lie’ icebreaker asks learners to share three things about themselves, two of them true and one of them a lie (or a fib). Learners then guess which piece of information is a lie. A good way to kick-start this forum is for the facilitator to share two truths and a lie. This activity can be done before learners come to their first class or during class, to help them get used to using the forum space with the facilitator’s guidance.

  1. Question and answer forums

Q&A forums act like the physical classroom whereby one learner asks a question and the teacher responds so that everyone else in the room knows the answer. This type of forum means that teachers only need to respond to similar questions once via the forum rather than repetitively responding to the same questions via email or telephone. It also encourages a learner community, allowing learners to offer answers and support each other. This both encourages learners to get to know one another and reduces the teacher’s workload.

  1. Group sharing forums

Group sharing forums mean that learners can access ubiquitous information through the internet and share it so that teachers don’t need to give all of the content to learners individually. But this isn’t just about saving time for teachers – the best way for learners to retain information is by teaching someone else. By asking each learner to research a topic or theme and share it via a forum post for other learners to read and comment upon, learners will understand the content more thoroughly. Learners also generally put more effort into writing when it is published to the whole group rather than written for the facilitator’s eyes only, so the quality of learner output also improves.

  1. Debate forums

In debate forums each learner is given a topic related to the course and then asked to post information on either the ‘for’ or ‘against’ of that topic. Learners need to ensure that they don’t use the same information as other learners, encouraging them to read and learn from other people’s posts before submitting theirs. Once all ‘for’ or ‘against’ posts have been made, learners then need to give a rebuttal or reply to at least two or three other learners’ posts who took the opposing side of the debate. For a final post, learners are then asked to sum up why they felt their side won the argument. There is nothing quite like arguing a case to learn the ins and outs of a topic.

  1. Reflective forums

Getting learners to really think about how their training is impacting them can help them to understand the relevance of what they are learning back in the workplace. Reflective forums ask learners to share a situation in which they have been involved. For example, learners could share how their workplace health and safety procedures could be improved or changed, and how these changes would impact upon them as individuals and also the people in their workplace. Asking learners to read over the posts of their peers and respond as to how fellow learners’ suggestions could improve their own workplaces will reinforce the learning

  1. Peer review forums

Having work critiqued by managers and customers is part of most jobs. A peer review forum, where learners post work for review and critique by their fellow learners, is a great way for learners to develop these skills – and to get used to being reviewed themselves. A teacher or facilitator will make this process efficient and effective by providing clear criteria according to which the work of their peers is judged. Learning to respond to criteria is yet another skill applicable to the workplace, as well as applying for jobs in the first place!

Keeping it nice

We have all seen online forums move off topic, and even get personal and rude at times, so it is important that facilitators establish clear expectations about how learners Moodle forums. Fortunately this isn’t difficult. Simply provide your learners with information about online etiquette or ‘netiquette’ during a training session, then use a forum to ask learners to share what they should and shouldn’t do on these forums – plus the likely consequences if learners don’t toe the line. This activity could be undertaken in class so that learners learn how to use the Moodle forum function, and so that the facilitator can moderate initial activity to ensure that it meets good netiquette.

Want to spread the word?

Here is a nice little summary which will help you explain how useful Moodle forums can be to your colleagues or the powers that be.

Forum Ideas Learner Activities
Getting to know each other forums Learners participate in ice breaker activities to learn more about each other.
Question and answer forums Learners are encouraged to ask questions about their course or their work.
Group sharing forums Learners need to research and post information on a topic related to the course.
Debate forums Learners present the fors or againsts on a particular topic related to the course, and reply to their counterparts’ posts.
Reflective forums Learners share how an activity can be improved in their course or their workplace and how it can impact them and others.
Peer review forums Learners post their work for critique and feedback from their fellow learners.

Are you making the most of your Moodle forums? Contact eWorks to find out.

Using Mahara to demonstrate your professional currency

Allison Miller is the director of Vanguard Visions and an important member of a team of accredited consultants at eWorks. With nearly twenty years’ experience in education and training, Allison is well aware of professional development requirements for VET teachers – or at least she thought she was. If you’re not sure about revised requirements in the Standards for RTOs 2015 this post will bring you up to speed.

Meet Jamie, a VET teacher in regional Australia

Jamie is passionate about learning. She has been delivering training for eight years, and diligently completes professional development activities as required for her role every year. At a recent meeting about the new Standards for RTOs 2015, however, Jamie was told that it is no longer enough to simply record her professional development activities in her diary to demonstrate her vocational and professional currency.

During recent discussions with her RTO’s Quality Department, staff were asked to start recording how their professional development activities ensured that they stayed current in their industry and skills and teaching practices (Standard 1.13) for the units and qualifications that they teach. This sounded reasonable to Jamie, but she wasn’t sure how best to approach it.

Sam is a nurse at the local hospital…

and a good friend of Jamie’s. Over coffee Jamie explained (or sort of complained) about this new requirement to Sam. “My workload is so huge at the moment, I just don’t know how I’m going to find time to read the new Standards requirements let alone show I’m meeting them”, said Jamie. Sam happily reassured Jamie, however, by sharing how she easily managed her mandated 20 hours of continuous professional development (CPD) as a nurse.

Sam used a system called Mahara eportfolio to set her own learning plan to achieve the 20 hours. With the action plan tool in Mahara Sam was able to map the learning she intended to undertake to ensure that she could demonstrate her skills against the nursing standards. The tool also allowed Sam to describe what she needed to achieve and by when.

What else can a Mahara ePortfolio do?

Sam uses the journal in Mahara to record the learning activities she undertakes, such as:

  • attending workshops
  • reading journals
  • participating in online group discussions.

She can then link these activities to her learning plan and uploads into Mahara any relevant documents which demonstrate how she has applied her learning. The Group forums in Mahara provide her with a private space to ask questions of her workplace colleagues.

Bringing it all together

The Mahara eportfolio system employed by Sam’s workplace offers staff the opportunity to create a series of pages or collections which can be shown to workplace supervisors as part of ongoing professional development conversations. This approach has multiple benefits both for the organisation and the individual. For example, the real-life ‘Sam’ also used this collection of evidence to help her get a scholarship for a course she wanted to undertake.

But what about Jamie?

Through a simple conversation over coffee Jamie realised that she too could use a tool like Mahara to demonstrate her vocational and professional currency. With a little research Jamie discovered that there are Mahara sites online which allow individuals to register and manage their own eportfolios, so with Sam’s help she set this up. Guided by performance development meetings with her manager, Jamie started using the action plan tool to map out her learning goals and set herself milestones for when she wanted to achieve these.

Each time Jamie attended a related webinar, an industry forum, or participated in a VET-related online group, she spent a little time recording it in her Mahara journal. Nothing too complicated or detailed, just what she had attended and how that activity had:

  • influenced her to update or change parts of her training program
  • helped her achieve what was set out in her workplace performance plan.

Any new documents related to her training program and statements of attendance for undertaking professional development were easily uploaded to her Mahara eportfolio. Jamie also recorded project outcomes to ensure that her training program met the requirement of a new training package. Nice and easy – everything recorded in one place.

A happy ending

Jamie was able to use her collection of work and reflections to demonstrate that she had the skills and experiences to move up to the next level of job classification in her workplace – which included an increase in her salary. And Sam? Well she enjoyed having lunch bought for her by Jamie, to thank her for her advice.

Does a Mahara ePortfolio sound like it might work for you?

Find out more at the Moodle-Mahara Meetup.

And if you need help tracking your staff training for auditing purposes, it’s time to consider TVC Enterprise.

Moodle and Mahara – Why do we need both?

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited Consultant

Allison Miller is the director of Vanguard Visions and an important member of a team of accredited consultants at eWorks. With nearly twenty years’ experience in education and training, much of it as an e-learning leader and innovator, Allison understands the learning needs of modern students. But a Mahoodle? Surely she just made that up.

Why do we need Moodle and Mahara when Moodle offers it all?

Well, Moodle LMS is an educator driven space that allows students to collaborate and undertake social constructionism learning activities, ie learning with others by doing.

Moodle allows students to work together to actively construct their learning through:

  • forums
  • wikis
  • glossaries
  • databases
  • messaging, and so on.

This makes for rich learning experiences which are very effective as they reflect how people function in a workplace and in society. In other words, these activities actually help people learn how to do things in the real world.

Mahara eportfolio system, however, is a learner driven space that allows students to quietly work in a learning-centred approach. That is, students are “invited to have some determination in not only how the work will be pursued and represented, but also in determining what it is that is necessary to learn.”

Mahara helps students to learn how to manage their own learning through:

  • setting goals
  • reflecting on their ongoing learning
  • getting input from their peers.

So Moodle reflects the classroom learning environment which the educator controls, while Mahara reflects the student’s learning space (eg. their bedroom), which the student controls.

Confused? A pretty table might help

Moodle Mahara
Who is in control? The educator/educational organisation learner
What does it capture? Learning product/output Learning process
What does it encourage? Meeting of key criteria Managing own learning goals
How does it do it? Subjects and topics Goal setting, experimentation, feedback, review and showcasing
An example? Read the eModule, contribute to the group discussion forum and add a definition to the glossary Complete project, undertake work placement, apply for (and get!) the job

Mahoodle – the new labradoodle?

As you can see, Moodle and Mahara complement one another. Moodle learning management system (LMS) is among the most popular LMSs in the world, couple it with the open source e-portfolio system Mahara (through a single sign-on!) and you get a Mahoodle configuration. This Mahoodle learning ecosystem offers a very powerful learning environment which reflects the learning needs of modern students. And in a world that needs people to think constructively, work collaboratively and constantly be learning, together these systems ensure that our students are team players who have the skills and learning framework to keep up in an ever-changing world.

Is this how you want your students to learn?

Then find out more. Registrations are now open for the Moodle-Mahara Meetup in Adelaide in April. You might just find a Mahoodle or two sniffing around.

Want to become an accredited consultant for eWorks? The Accredited Consultant Program offers everything a consultant needs to start delivering eWorks’ e-learning solutions. Comprehensive training is provided, together with full eWorks Accredited branding.