Moodle Administration (Alex Büchner, Packt Publishing)

Moodle Administration

How ironic it is to read a commercial book about open-source software! I was nonetheless intrigued when Packt Publishing invited me to review a complimentary copy of Moodle Administration. Why not give book learning another try? I might find new value and improve my knowledge of Moodle.

Moodle Administration presents a clear and thorough review of essential concepts and tasks for Moodle site administrators. Büchner consistently focuses on his priority audience, staff who are tasked with installing and managing Moodle. He stays away from systems administration or course construction tasks. The guide will make sense in a variety of contexts, from campus-based schools and universities to virtual schools.

Moodle’s own structure guides the book’s organization. Chapter topics include installation, course management, user management, look and feel, security, backup and restore, backup and restore, and networking. This makes the book easy to use for a variety of purposes: an introduction to the new Moodle administrator, a refresher for a current Moodle admin, or as a quick reference for specific topics.

The Moodle community maintains its own documentation for administrators. These freely-accessible, maintained documents also cover the basics of site administration and follow Moodle’s structure. Why buy the book? Overall, Büchner’s focused effort demonstrates greater thoroughness and consistency than does the online documentation. One finds an appropriate level of detail and visuals throughout the book. That said, some explanations of the administrative interface reference and borrow from existing, free Moodle documentation.

The book helped fill a number of gaps in my knowledge, many of them new features in version 1.9 and some older. I will look into the Accessibility Options module as a way to provide screen-reading and high-contrast themes to three of our users. I enjoyed the clear explanation of how to set up parent roles using the mentee function, though I did not find the answer to my longstanding question of how to most easily provide parent access to their child’s courses. I had heard of Mahara e-portfolio integration, but the book’s explanation provided me with more complete context for the relationship than I had previously encountered. I learned a lot about how to synchronize enrollment with our student information system, which we may do one day. I also learned about file access via WebDAV, which could help teachers who maintain large file collections, but I was left curious when the book only demonstrated how to connect a Windows client to a WebDAV-enabled system.

I wish the book had spent more time on year-to-year transitions. Büchner alludes to year-end and start-of-year administrative tasks, underscores the importance of planning your course organization ahead of time, and explains both importing activities and restore from backup. Büchner could more fully explain different ways to help teachers who want to carry their course from one year into the next. I don’t recall a reference to the Reset Course feature or manual approaches that teachers may use to keep some content and remove others from one year to the next.

Ideally, the Moodle community would make this quality of documentation available online. In the meantime, this book should find a receptive audience. I am pleased to read that Packt donates a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book to the Moodle project. I trust that Büchner’s company, Synergy Learning, regularly contributes core code and modules to the Moodle project.

While academic technology specialists and teachers bear the most responsibility to understand how Moodle may support a constructionist learning environment, the Moodle administrator also plays a role. Moodle Administration misses the opportunity to educate Moodle admins on what makes Moodle different from its peers and competitors. The book could draw particular attention to configuration and maintenance tasks that facilitate student-centered instruction. For example, what block configurations typically accompany the Social Format for courses? How could students use their personalized calendar views to manage their own assignments? How may one allow more student control over course content? What features do students use to monitor course activity, especially in discussion forums? How does one configure inline commenting to provide more opportunities for teacher-student dialogue around completed work? In other words, it is great to know the function of each configuration setting, but should we not also teach the purpose?

The book encourages me to explore two of Packt Publishing’s other Moodle titles, Moodle Teaching Techniques and Moodle E-Learning Course Development. These may provide more of the broader perspective on administering Moodle that I seek. On the other hand, how many school staff would spend about $150 US in order to purchase them all?

Moodle E-Learning Course Development  20081108-moodle_teaching_techniques.png

Moodle Administration fulfills its primary goal, to provide clear, comprehensive explanations of all of the major components of Moodle 1.9 to staff responsible for system installation and maintenance. It should serve as a useful introduction to new Moodle administrators or a reference manual for current admins. Advanced Moodle administrators may find the text useful as a refresher.

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