Muddling in Moodle

Those of us involved with developing and teaching courses hear a lot about the desirability of consistency which sometimes seems to be interpreted as just short of uniformity. Historically that is based on student responses to a survey conducted a few years ago which was interpreted as students wanting to see the same features in the same locations in different courses. An alternative interpretation of the data I saw might be that students wanted more consistency in the availability of staff in courses. At times it has seemed as though having courses appear too similar has confused students about where they are leading to questions being directed to the wrong staff. Nevertheless, there is probably value in looking for consistency at a high level such as exists among different web browsers or word processors in respect of essential features.

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Muddling through Moodle books

I’ve spent more than a few hours this week plumbing the depths of Moodle books as a means of presenting online content in a course. In the end I think I finished with a suitable solution for the first course in which  I’ve tried it but that involved some tinkering that seems worth recording with some brief history for context.

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It’s time to MELLO

For one thing I’m about to go on annual leave for 3 weeks and plan to mellow out a little after I’ve dealt with a couple of tasks that just didn’t make it to the top this week despite my plans.

For another, and the real point of this post, we are beginning our publicity push to recruit participants in our MOOC for Enhancing Laboratory Learning Outcomes (MELLO). We is Alexander Kist, Andrew Maxwell, Victoria TerryLindy Orwin, Ananda Maiti, Hannah Jolly and me at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ). Toward the end of 2015 we secured an extension grant from the Office of Learning and Teaching to develop a MOOC that would extend on a previous project about planning for laboratory learning. The project also has support from the Global Online Laboratory Consortium (GOLC).

MELLO is designed to assist educators at all levels, from school to university, to improve the quality of laboratory experiences in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. Experienced educators seeking to review and revise current practices or beginning educators are all welcome to participate. Everybody can benefit from reflecting on practice and there is much to be learned from other practitioners at all stages and levels.

MELLO is designed in six modules, each of which can be completed in a couple of hours or less for a total of 10 hours of activity. Information about the modules, which address all phases of laboratory classes from planning through implementation and review, can be found on the MELLO website. Registration is through that site and the MOOC itself has been developed on

The MOOC is being offered in 2 modes. It can be taken in a self-paced mode by those who prefer to work independently at their own pace with occasional asynchronous exchanges with other participants. For those seeking a more structured experience there is an action learning option that will include small group interaction to support work on a personal laboratory learning project informed by the MOOC content.

MELLO is scheduled to begin on Monday 16 January 2017 and run for 6 weeks. Further information and registration is via the MELLO site.

The second coming of coding: Will it bring rapture or rejection?

Coding, aka computer programming, made it into the headlines earlier this year when Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, asked Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, whether he would “support coding being taught in every primary and secondary school.” The Prime Minister initially derided the idea with a comment about kids going to work as coders at age 11 but later confirmed that the Government was already supporting the concept in the national curriculum.

Those of us who have been around schools for long enough will recognise this as at least the second coming of coding in the classroom. It was there when computing first began to appear in the mathematics curricula of the mid-1970s but the first big push was when Logo became available for Apple Computers in the early 1980s. Read More

Down and up the greasy pole

It seems there is no constant but change. I was feeling pleased with myself over my success with a Greasemonkey script to produce simple statistics for comparing results from multiple markers in the Moodle assignment system. My infrequent forays into coding had made that process a bit like climbing a greasy pole but I’d eventually succeeded in reaching the top and a working script.

It was during that process of development or shortly after that I noticed that more complex pages in the assignment module were failing to build and display correctly. Initially that was visible for my first assignment which had marks and attached feedback files for about 170 students. That page was taking a long time to appear and, when it did, it had just the table of results without any of the regular styling or page navigation. Pages without results or with fewer students per page continued to load correctly but it was no longer possible to generate statistics across the whole set of markers and results for a larger course.

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Greasing the wheels of progress

For the past eight years we have been dealing with assignments submitted online through a locally developed system, EASE (Electronic Assignment Submission Environment), which was originally planned in response to perceived deficiencies in WebCT Vista, our LMS from 2003 until around 2008. By the time EASE was ready we were in transition to Moodle as our LMS but EASE offered enough that most classes used it in preference to the native Moodle submission system, which was available to those who wanted it.

This semester, as part of the Grand Unification Theory of Everything that decreed consistency via a single interface, EASE was suddenly deprecated in favour of a revamped and slightly adapted Moodle module that was expected to offer facilities equivalent to EASE. The new system actually includes some facilities that are better than anything EASE offered. Most notable is the facility to zip up a set of files with feedback to students, upload the archive and have the files distributed to students. That is vastly preferable to selecting and uploading a file for each of up to several hundred students.

Unfortunately those responsible for promoting the change inexplicably chose not to publicise such benefits and instead simply told people that the familiar system, EASE, would no longer be used. There was no real training offered and very limited documentation. The response from staff required to make the transition was less than universally positive and is probably intensifying now that we are near mid-semester and most courses are dealing with assignment submissions.

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Can I walk the walk? Project-based design challenge in EDP4130

With interruptions it has taken longer than I’d hoped to revise the assessment package for the 2015 offer of EDP4130 Technologies Curriculum and Pedagogy. I do now have what I think is a complete draft sitting on my own site for testing and review. I still need to think about how to integrate that into the LMS and tie in other material that might be needed but I think the major work is done.

While I’ve been thinking about the course and working on the details of the assessment enrolments have crept up from 130 when I began the year to 154 (23, 15 & 30 on the campuses and 85 online). That should not affect the way the course is taught or assessed but will increase the volume of work to be managed.

I began the assignment design with the intent of preserving (and enhancing where possible) the focus on collaboration and sharing of resources that have been a feature of the course in the past while moving toward a project-based learning approach that would use methods we recommend to students for teaching technologies. That resulted in the outline I described previously. This post describes some of the work toward the more detailed description for students.

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Assessing some options

A bit more than a week into the new year and the beginning of semester is inching closer. It’s time to get some work done on the courses I’ll be teaching. Content will need to be updated but I tend to begin most times by thinking about assessment and how that will enable students to demonstrate (or not) their learning.

The larger of the two courses I’ll be teaching is EDP4130 Technology Curriculum and Pedagogy with 130 students enrolled at present, 55 on one or other of 3 campuses (16, 9 & 30 respectively) and the balance online. All students will have access to the online material and, based on past experience, attendance at classes will vary according to students’ other commitments. I’ll be dealing personally with the online group and 16 (so far) on campus. A colleague on another campus will deal with the 30 and the 9 will be serviced by a casual staff member. We will need assessments that can be managed through the LMS (Moodle) by that mixed group of students and staff.
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Tantalising Turnitin toolset for assessment

As is usual at this time of year I’m ‘spring cleaning’ and ‘renovating’ the course(s) that I will be teaching in Semester 1 (begins 2 March). I’ve been working on the assessment for EDP4130 and hope to say more about that soon but, in the process, I was thinking about submission, marking, and managing results using our new systems. That’s my subject here.

For the past several years most of the work I have had submitted for marking has come in the form of Word files submitted through EASE (Electronic Assignment Submission Environment). When EASE was introduced in 2008 for use in conjunction with our LMS (Moodle) it was an advance on the previous arrangements using WebCT Vista or Moodle. EASE provided for allocation of items to markers (originally manual by selection from a list) and for bulk download of submissions in a zip archive that expanded to a set of folders, one per submission. It lacked any automated way of allocating to markers and had no facility for bulk uploading of marked work with marks and feedback. With a bit of AppleScript and JavaScript in combination I was able to build a method for allocating items to markers according to a list in a spreadsheet and to automatically upload marked work from a suitably configured folder. The latter is something I would not give up lightly if the alternative is uploading marks and feedback individually for up to 100 or more students at a time.
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Dogged optimist?

Being an optimist sometimes seems to require a degree of dogged determination. It can be necessary to hang on, sometimes for years, in the hope that things will be right in the end. Those of a more pessimistic persuasion would probably describe it as delusion rather than hope but that’s the core of the difference between the half-full and half-empty views of the world.

USQ has been offering fully online courses for almost 20 years. Unlike the early online offerings in some places that required attendance at face-to-face class meetings at beginning and end, and sometimes in between, USQ dived in at the deep end. Online courses had no required face-to-face meetings, no printed or optical media materials through the post, and mostly no required synchronous connections. An online or WEB course was just that. It all happened on the web.
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