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violinjeff writes: "Moodle 2.0 First Look by Mary Cooch
from the perspective of a teacher trainer moodler

Jeff Stanford

Full versions of Moodle 2.0 are now available for download and Mary’s book provides a very useful, accessible overview of what’s on offer.

My expectations before I read Moodle 2 First Look were that it would tell me:
        What’s new (compared to the version 1.9)
        What’s improved
        Who the book is aimed at
        How teachers and students can use it
        What administrators need to know

I also hoped that the organisation, content and style would be accessible. Full marks to Mary! I found the book very easy to read with lots of screenshots, frequent comparisons to Moodle 1.9, well-explained how-to sections and a motivating, personalised writing style.

In the book Mary introduces us to four characters with different reasons for using Moodle and shows how they would benefit from the changes. It should be easy for readers to identify with one or more of these characters who test out the elements of moodle 2 for us. Mary even anthropomorphises moodle ‘moodle is happiest when when teachers are facilitating their students’ learning.’ That, of course, can mean anything. Some students like to be directed. Others prefer to have the freedom to map out their own learning. Both styles are accommodated in moodle.

So what is improved in Moodle 2?
I’m a seasoned moodler. Moodle is not always easy to use, but it’s usually well worth the effort of making it work. Some of my favourite bugbears from 1.9 have much improved features in 2.0. Let’s take a quick look at some of the changes that the book explains.

File management
This was something teachers often found confusing in 1.9. First files had to be uploaded to a course files folder, then they had to be selected for use in one of the modules. Even worse, the same file had to be reuploaded for use in a different course. In version 2, once files are uploaded to moodle they are usable anywhere within moodle. Even better, there is a search button for quick access to media from sites like youtube and flickr. The book provides helpful examples of this.

HTML editor
The editor has more options than in 1.9 and works on more platforms, including Chrome. A key advantage that Mary brings out is the ease with which users can insert media.

This was so complicated to use in 1.9 that as Mary points out, many teachers were put off. As a moodle evangelist/teacher trainer I was never able to persuade anyone to use it either even though I thought it was potentially an excellent tool for peer and teacher assessment of students’ work. Mary assures us that the new version is ‘better than ever before’. Features that immediately caught my attention are the helpful set-up pages which show how much easier it is to monitor set up of the activity and the automatic assign reviewers feature, which means that Moodle automatically decides which students review which work.

Other key changes are the wiki and quiz modules which have been simplified and made more versatile. The confusing ‘league tables’ in 1.9 have gone, and the teacher has more choice over what and who appears in quiz reports.

As in the rest of the book Mary provides screenshots that give direct comparisons with the older versions it is easy to appreciate the improvements. She walks readers through the process of setting up modules, usefully pointing out potential problems along the way.

What’s new?
In addition to the above-mentioned improvements, there are several new features that are described in the book. The thrust of Mary’s message is that moodle has become more user-friendly and versatile, and is beginning to catch up with other manifestations of web 2.0. Here are a few examples which caught my eye:

        Navigation It’s now easier to declutter pages using the dock for personal and administration menus.
        Cohorts – this is moodle’s term for site-wide groups. This new facility to keep the same group for different courses across a site should save much time.
        It’s now possible to comment on blogs and wikis, which Mary is very upbeat about.
        Another exciting new feature she mentions is community search which allows you to export and import courses from other moodles.
        The repositories feature allows users to store private files on the moodle a hint of cloud computing. I can imagine this being very handy for people working on different computers. This could create huge demands on the server if students upload a lot of files, though admins can still restrict maximum file size if necessary.

Some other changes:
Conditional activities now incorporated – so teachers have a choice between giving students freedom to select own activities, or make access to one activity conditional on completion of a previous one. This is particularly useful if we want to set up adaptive learning. For example, students take a test and depending on the result they get, they are taken to an appropriate next step. The completion tracking is also useful for both students and teachers.

The Social networking aspect of moodle has received a boost. Blogs are more versatile. For example, they can be associated with courses, receive comments, be searched and most interestingly, can receive content from RSS feeds of external blogs. Like Facebook, users can choose to ignore messages in moodle 2.

Look before you leap
All in all, the book is very positive about Moodle 2 and Mary has a winning style. So if you don’t feel like learning through trial and error which is my preferred style, this book will definitely give you a good feel for what’s in store.

But Moodle 2 isn’t for everyone, yet, at least. I’ve just read a posting by Jeremy Schweitzer on the state of readiness of moodle 2.
‘There is often a "chicken vs. egg" problem with open source projects. Until a new version is released into the wild there is little incentive to devote resources to getting plugins upgraded to a new version.’
The point being that a lot of add-ons many of us have come to rely on haven’t been developed for moodle 2 yet, and if you’re happy with 1.9, there may be no reason to change it just yet. As a language teacher one of my concerns was the lack of audio recording facilities in moodle 2. It looks like this is a longer term project. A ‘quick’ fix is for students and teachers to upload an MP3 recording they’ve made using the HTML editor. The audio file automatically produces a flash player.

There are a few areas the book doesn’t deal with in much detail. For example, there isn’t much give much on the problems with upgrading from 1.9 to 2.0. I spent three days working on this last December. The process was prone to error every which way I tried to do it. I ended up agreeing with many forum postings on, that it would be better to wait until the upgrading process has become a smoother operation. I should add that clean installations of 2.0 have worked very well.

Also, moodle still can’t export SCORM — but it can export to virtually any portfolio, including google docs – a great new feature.

So, yes, maybe look before leap from 1.9 to 2.0, but it’s still worth reading the book to get a taste of what is in store for you when you do make the move."

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Moodle 2 First Look

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