Using the Moodle VLE to support learning on the PEC

A key part of the redevelopment of the Physics Enhancement Course was to improve use of the Moodle virtual learning environment to give a more successful ‘blended learning’ student experience.

This process took three parts;

  • An investigation into suitable Moodle tools
  • Devising strategies for resource-sharing, including digitisation of existing resources
  • Development of more interactive, supportive online resources, activities, and assessments

This post details the development of my skills in using Moodle, and records some observations from its usage. It evidences an engagement with UK PSF dimension A4 – developing effective learning environments and approaches to student support, and incorporates dimension K4 (appropriate learning technologies).

The online element of the course was extremely important; given the range of backgrounds, ages, and personal circumstances of PEC students a variety of avenues by which to access learning was essential. Barriers such as childcare and unavoidable additional employment impact upon attendance perhaps more than other courses, and a degree of flexibility promotes participation and increases equality of opportunity. This fits with dimension V2 of the UK PSF.

Investigation and consultation

Already having a background in the Moodle basics I first sought to improve my skills by enrolling upon the Learn Moodle MOOC. This gave me a better understanding in the types of resources that might be available, but was not specific to my institution.

In order to promote effective use of the Moodle MMU employ several Technology Enhanced Learning Advisers (TELA). Given that one day per week of the PEC timetable was scheduled for consolidating learning and portfolio building, effective use of the online platform was critical to student development. A meeting with the Education TELA highlighted several existing Moodle functions that could be applied in our context;

  • File organisation is easier with folders
  • The quiz module has much flexibility for questioning and surveys
  • The assignment function allows a wide variety of submissions
  • Embedded media and animations are handled fairly well
  • Links to external sites allow additional tools to be used

Sharing lecture and tutorial resources (such as presentations and handouts) is a common use of Moodle, and many people are familiar with the upload process and organising files in folders. Students on the PEC found this particularly useful, as can be seen in their course evaluations. Below I concentrate on the remaining four uses of Moodle listed above.

Using the quiz functionality

At the start of the course all students complete a subject knowledge audit. This self-assessment allows tutors to judge current levels of understanding and confidence to ensure learning sessions are pitched correctly and tailored to students’ needs.

The audit has traditionally been completed on paper, or as an Excel document. However, this has prevented effective analysis as data is distributed between sources and in a variety of formats. To centralise this data, and make the audit process more simple for students, I used the Moodle quiz module to put the audit on the VLE, as can be seen below.

Figure 1: The use of the quiz module as a subject knowledge audit.
Figure 1: The use of the quiz module as a subject knowledge audit.

In addition to simplifying the audit process, it became an easy exercise to repeat the audit at the end of the course and see what progress students thought they had made. I used downloads of data from Moodle and a Microsoft Word mail merge to create a documentary record of individual student’s perceived progress, which was used in both assessment and at the exam board.

Using assignments flexibly

The assignments function in Moodle allows students to upload any text or document for assessment. Rather than be limited to essays or exam questions in this case I had students use an online tool to produce a crossword then upload it as an assignment, as seen below.

Figure 2: Linking to external pages then allowing students to submit the results of their activity.
Figure 2: Linking to external pages then allowing students to submit the results of their activity.

The thinking behind this was to provide the words and force students to seek out appropriate definitions, therefore not only learning standard meanings but also experiencing what it would be like for school pupils who were set a similar task in dealing with a plurality of definitions. This ‘thinking like a pupil’ is an important part of developing effective pedagogical practices, and as such an important skill for trainee teachers.

Embedded media

Sporcle provides a range of trivia quizzes, some of which can be used as a tool to inform or engage students. For most quizzes there is a ‘share’ button on the page which allows code to be downloaded and inserted directly into Moodle.

Figure 3: A Sporcle quiz about the periodic table.

On the PEC we used the above quiz on naming elements as a session starter and discussion point. When it transpired that students wanted to practice in their own time I uploaded it to Moodle. This not only gave access to the quiz, but also forced students to use Moodle, thus displaying other resources an assessments stored there.

External sites

The below example again shows a use of external sites for assessment, engagement, and submission through the assignment module. Timeglider allows the creation of timelines including notes, images, sounds, and videos. This was used to assess students’ ability to describe the history of our understanding of the atom in an engaging way – an important skill given that the Dalton, Thomson, and Rutherford models are all used in GCSE Physics.

Figure 4: A link to an external site on the submission link.
Figure 4: A link to an external site on the submission link.

Figure 6: A section of a student Timeglider showing the history of our understanding of the atom.
Figure 5: A section of a student Timeglider showing the history of our understanding of the atom.

Observations

This use of engaging, appropriate Assessment for Learning (Black & Wiliam, 1990) was certainly successful; all students submitted all assignments, and it gave valuable information on their abilities mid-course that informed the shape and focus of sessions in the second half. Student evaluations were universally positive. It is also important to try new approaches and exemplify good (or at least different) practice, especially as the PEC course is 20% subject pedagogy.

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References

Black, P., and Wiliam, D. (1990) Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment. London: GL Assessment Limited/Kings College London.