Using Moodle to create a virtual learning environment

Using Moodle to create a virtual learning environment

Henderson, Stephen

Virtual learning environments have emerged as the internet has moved into a mature stage and as technology in the classroom has impacted on traditional teaching and learning methods. These tools take the classic classroom into a virtual place where learning can be reinforced or recapped later without the need for a teacher, where students take the initiative and become more independent, taking control of their learning. VLEs are interactive tools which Students can use inside or outside the classroom.

Several VLEs are available to schools and colleges, including Moodle, Blackboard, FirstClass, Claroline and WebCT. Each varies in its difficulty for users (both teachersand students) and in cost. Open source VLEsare free, but other systems can cost thousandsof pounds Many VLEshave very similar featureswith slightly different names.

The VLE I have been using isMoodle -one that I had not heard of before commencing my current role, so you may find yourself in a similar position. Moodle is relatively easy for a non-ICT specialist to use, once you find your way around the various menus. It isf ree of charge if you only want the basic program, but you pay for additional functionsif you need them.

Each “course” on Moodle isorganised into these features:

* an outline of the course, the course structure, assignments and assessment dates

* a noticeboard where items of interest can be placed

* resources, such as revision notes, homework and assignments-thisisone part I have found very useful

* conferencing toolswhere Studentscan discuss topics and help each other

* a calendar to place deadlines and exam dates -thiscould be used to help lessorganised students by having a place where important dates are noted

* quizzes which can range from self-marking multiple-choice questions to more complex tests, with short answer, numerical, true/false, matching and/or essay questions.

Access to Moodle is not dependent on logging in to a server at school or college, so students are able to access the material at school, home or anywhere with an internet connection.

The benefits of using a VLE are huge. Students can use the software relatively easily without a great deal of training. They can benefit from being more independent and being able to structure their own study plans. The interactive tools like quizzes can be motivational and provide students with a more personalised learning programme. Some of the shorter answer quiz material can be instantly assessed by the computer, thereby reducing the time teachers spend on assessment.

A good way of using the computer-mediated conference (CMC) facility is to place an essay title with some short questions. Each student on the course has to submit one or more contributions to each question. This would be like a brainstorming exercise in the class but could be set for homework or used to help Studentsstart an exam-style question.

Teachers do not need a great deal of ICT training to create and edit VLEs. The ability to set homework means that students can no longer “lose the sheet” -the homework is always aval I ab Ie for them online. Resources can be shared with other teachers-and between sites and institutions-leading to dissemination of good practice. This could benefit several schools if they work together in partnership. Courses can be split into topicswith each teacher taking responsibility for a particular area.

The possible drawbacksof using a VLEare the cost and time involved in setting up courses online. It requires that student s use the VLE responsibly rather than abuse the system. Some teachers have commented on the lack of teacher guidance. Some argue that students cannot cope with too much independence, and some would struggle if too much content and delivery was through a VLE. That said, VLEsare becoming more common and their use can extend and develop students’ understanding of subject matter in a way that is relatively untested.

For more information on setting up a VLE, take a look at www.ferl.becta.org.uk. Put ” VLE’ or ” Moodle” into the search box. Look for the case studies, and choose one that might be relevant to your own situation.

Stephen Henderson is curriculum leader for business and enterprise at The Community College, Whitstable, in Kent.

Copyright Economics and Business Education Association Summer 2007

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