Tag Archive for moodle

Teachers teaching teachers

Ten teachers attended our professional development day today. Seven also presented! Interestingly, all but two were from the upper school, atypical for our professional development activities. We followed a model in which teachers did all the presenting and led the group discussion, which led to an energizing day that focused squarely on teacher interests. Here is a summary of content covered.

Tony presents at the tech training

Ginia shared the sophomore English Moodle site, which is organized by type of assignment (tests, recitations, essays, etc.) instead of unit or week. Forum is more useful than chat for “decentered discussion.” Encourages different voices to speak in the class. Art reported that education research in modern language acquisition has found that success in written, online discourse has transferred to oral participation in class. Teachers differed on how firmly they held students to proper writing form, though people agreed on the desire to do so. The best tools allow one to print a single document from the discussion of the day. English teachers use the forum tool to set up a space where students may post essay drafts and other students may post replies and response papers. It can be difficult to compare three drafts of an essay posted to Moodle. Ginia reflected that students don’t automatically think to check the website for course information. They appear to be more mindful of paper. Lisa and Daisy speculated that upcoming students will be more automatic about this due to online experiences in the younger grades.

Tony built on Ginia’s presentation by showing the Junior English Moodle site. He used one discussion forum for students to write and improve their questions in preparation for the upcoming Tracy Kidder assembly next week. The site uses the Moodle groups feature to keep section discussions separate. The site is most valuable to keep all of the drafts of the writing process in one place for the teacher and student to access. Can be a challenge for the kid who has a hard time staying on task, but teachers can help by monitoring computer use in the room.

Paul commented that the English program may have led to students’ higher comfort level with typing lab reports in science. While this has improved the quality of presentation, students are struggling to produce good diagrams in this format. This has led to a trend in which many students prefer to find an existing diagram and copy it into their document instead of drawing an original illustration. It’s interesting that the use of Photoshop here is widespread, yet use of Illustrator is rare.

Lauren shared a community, service learning project with which her students are currently engaged. She won a small grant to fund this project, working with our development and communications departments to refine her proposal. Her class is creating an online presentation of the Hispanic Presence in Oregon to complement a production at Portland’s Miracle Theater. Their project compares the hispanic presence during the depression to the present day. The curriculum has evolved as opportunities have appeared to interview good subjects around town. They have found no interview subjects from the depression era, but an author helped them understand that the lack of found information is useful information in itself. Contextualize this finding and move forward.

Lauren presents at the tech training

The theater director challenged the kids to make the site truly interactive. So far, they have decided to add a comment box to their website, in order to gather more stories. Also, students will be present at each performance in order to explain the project and potentially collect interviews on the spot! Students are collecting footage with Flip cameras, notwithstanding the lack of proper video lighting. The historical archives has commented that a serious deficit of raw material exists on this topic. The students’ footage has the potential to become an important research source, especially if the site persists and continues to collect footage after the theater performances are over.

Students are using the course Moodle site to manage the project, including notes, interview forms, and links to web-based resources. The teacher has stepped back and left room for the students to plan and execute.

The class built and distributed a survey using our internal survey tool. They got 79 responses to a survey about Hispanic Heritage Month, including a giant collection of narrative comments, which were really useful in guiding their work.

Lisa shared new work she is doing with students to post book reviews into our Follett Destiny library catalog — really exciting work. This has potential to change student perception of the library catalog from an external authority to a community resource. Already, fourth grade students are excited about adding items to this resource. They also rate the books on a five star system. We’d like to post audio reviews as well, and while Destiny may not support audio file playback, we may post them elsewhere and then post links to the catalog. Lisa also demonstrated how a teacher may create a public resource list of library items for students or other teachers to view.

Roberto shared a long-distance correspondence between a Catlin Gabel alum in Quito, Ecuador and Catlin Gabel students. Topics include poverty, energy consumption, and women’s rights, among others. Spanish V students are using an online bulletin board for this purpose.

Roberto also underscored the value of his document camera, which he uses every day. It helps him save time and paper. Roberto uses it for flashcards, homework correction, and editing. Lauren has used it for coins and maps.

For two years, Roberto’s Spanish V class has not used books. All of the resources are posted online. The Spanish I, II, and III textbooks have an online site that includes online activities and audio components. This has been especially valuable for students with learning differences or who want to slow down the audio to listen to it more slowly.

Pat demonstrated his use of the social format in Moodle courses, which transforms the course home page into a student discussion center. He also demonstrated the use of embedded images, YouTube videos, and RSS feeds within his course Moodle sites.

Dale showed how he uses the school website and email system to engage parents in narrative discussion about student artwork well before the semester reporting period. He posts photos of student illustration to the website and then sends an email message to parents with suggestions for what to discuss about the artwork with their children.

Focus on your school!

As I caught up on two weeks’ worth of blog reading tonight, a few thoughts struck me (yes, that’s all ;^). First, I’ve seen an increase in the number of school-based educators writing online, but it’s still not enough. The ed-blogosphere is dominated by people who don’t work in schools, and I want to hear about what teachers and students are actually doing in schools. So if you blog and work in a school, please keep writing about what is actually happening in your school!

Second, if you blog and work in a school, please remember that you have the most impact in your school! Fortunately, most school-based bloggers I follow seem well-rooted in their schools, but a few seem to have forgotten their local context when writing. It’s okay if you only post a blog entry once a week (or fewer). We know that you are spending your work hours meeting with teachers, keeping up a computing infrastructure, helping students, or building a new tool.

This past week at Catlin Gabel, our new Global Connect site gained its third, fourth, and fifth groups. We created Global Connect in order to have a Catlin-hosted, but not Catlin-branded, place to group blog for global ed. The site was originally for exchanges, but now pre-trip planning groups have also joined. I figured out how to use taxonomy access control lite to give groups the choice of whether they wanted their discussions to be public or private. Interestingly, the two groups actually talking with students in other countries opted to go private, whereas the three groups using the site for pre-trip planning went public. We’ll see whether that distinction holds up going forward. Next, I need to put a public commenting system into place, so just hold your horses (or use the contact form) if you were hoping to post a comment.

global connect

One man’s struggle to restore real-world issues to the core of the school program took another step forward this month with the launch of the Economic Crisis Reading Group moodle site. This one is private (sorry, legions of interested members of the public). 34 students have signed up for the Moodle course, which includes news and discussion about the most compelling post-inauguration teachable moment of the year. I hope this takes off, to prove that students are indeed interested in chatting online about serious issues in a school context.

moodle screen shot

This week will be dominated by (yet another) presentation, this time to our board of directors. Seriously, it’s been a great year for our IT team to discuss social networks and other compelling issues with teachers, students, and parents in the school community.

Social Networks at Catlin Gabel

The following parent evening presentation includes statistics on social network use in our school and examples of social software in the classroom. I wanted to provide some basics to parents unfamiliar with Facebook, inform the discussion of student use of social networks through data, and keep the focus on teaching and learning.

Faculty Professional Development

We have scheduled spring professional development sessions for our teachers. What are you focusing on as priority teacher professional development goals? We want to offer sessions that appeal to learners at their own stages of technology vision.

Moodle Workshop
Come set up your Moodle course in this hands-on session. Post assignments, readings, and links. Set up discussion forums for students. Learn how others have integrated Moodle into their classes.

Backup Basics
Is the backup process still not quite clear to you? Are you worried that you aren’t getting a good backup? Do you want to make sure that you are backing up what’s important and filtering out what’s not? Come with your questions and leave with a solid understanding of how to backup your important data!

Video Showcase
We have so many ways to use video in the classroom. This session will help you choose one to investigate more deeply for use in your classes. Together, we will briefly demonstrate each technology, discuss capabilities, and show current uses at Catlin Gabel. Technologies will include: YouTube, United Streaming, Blip.tv, TiVo, digital TV, cable TV, satellite TV, video in Drupal, video in Moodle, video cameras, digital cameras, and Flip video recorders.

Getting the Most out of Your SmartBoard
Do you have a SmartBoard in your room but you’re not sure you are using it to its fullest potential? We’ll show you lots of tips and tricks to help you maximize this useful tool. Bring your questions and your laptops as we will have hands-on practice time at the end of the session.

Tying Technology to Your Curriculum
If you’re looking for ways to enhance your curriculum and make it more effective using technology, then you’ll want to attend this workshop. We’ll provide numerous resources to get you thinking about where it makes sense to use technology in your curriculum to engage your students and how to continue to improve learning. You may have some good ideas you’ve already tested. Please bring them along to share!

Video In-Service Training

I could use your feedback on a digital video training session I am designing. The purpose is to provide an overview of different video technologies that we make available to teachers at our school, so that they may subsequently choose one and pursue it in-depth at a later date. I would like to make it hands-on without getting project-based during this one-hour time session.

I plan to provide a short conceptual overview of different video technologies and then take the group through a series of hands-on stations, rotating the individual who sits at the setup each time. This will provide a nice balance between hands-on and time constraint.

Here are my planning notes for the session. How should I improve the plan? Please submit comments below!

Why video?
– the MTV and YouTube generations
– reaching all learners
– visual literacy

Where to post video
Catlin web site

Web video
– if you see it, how should you share it?
– “Share” links, embed code, HTML rights
– HTML editing modes: Catlin web site, Moodle, Drupal
– other formats

United Streaming
– what it contains
– how to bookmark or share

Video cameras
– capture
– Firewire and USB cables
– software (iMovie, MovieMaker, Premiere Elements)
– transfer, edit, export

Flip Mino
– capture
– USB transfer
– conversion

TV Recorders
– Cable and satellite sources
– Schedule on TiVo web site (incl. login information)
– Burn to DVD
– Finalize recording

Live TV in the classroom
– Best for momentous events (when it has to be live)
– Few live cable or satellite connections
– Over-the-air digital TV setup

Web Site Design Portfolio

This portfolio shows major sites I have designed and built for organizations.

Catlin Gabel School (2009-present)
The school’s main, public-facing website provides a complete content management system, multimedia publishing tools, user accounts for students, staff, parents, and alumni, and ties into the school’s student information system. A layer of the site is login-protected, so that community members may publish articles, photos, and videos to the school community.

Catlin Gabel website

Tools: Drupal and Blackbaud, including custom PHP development.


insideCatlin (2006-present)
This intranet web portal provides operational tools for the members of Catlin Gabel School. Teachers provide students with course materials and interactive discussion areas, departments publish commonly-used forms, and individuals schoolwide exchange information such as community service hours and textbook orders. The portal is organized by commonly-desired content and transactions, rather than by tool.


Tools used: Moodle, Drupal, Blackbaud database access, and custom Perl and PHP scripts.


Shasta Mountain Guides (2005 – present)
The guiding company uses this site to publish trip information, collect reservations, solicit customer questions, and sell merchandise. Customers may browse through trip descriptions, photos, and testimonials and then book a reservation online, including payment. The co-owners maintain the Backcountry Blog and photo galleries on the site. A live weather feed and equipment lists help hikers plan their trips.

Shasta Mountain Guides

Tools: Drupal, osCommerce, custom Perl scripts, custom graphic design


San Diego Hat Co (2001 – present)
This web site allows the company to quickly publish an online catalog of hundreds of items to wholesale customers twice each year. Within the login-protected site, customers browse or search for hat styles, zoom in to view close-up detail, and see available colors for each style. The site also includes static pages for company information and an online store for retail customers.

San Diego Hat Co

Tools: Web Site Baker, osCommerce, custom Perl scripts.


Maru-a-Pula School (2006 – present)
The school upgraded its web presence with a content management system and custom graphic design (Elavacion, Inc.). I moved the hosting service to the U.S., to improve upon the reliability of Botswana-based hosting services.

Tools used: Drupal


San Francisco University High School (2002 – 2006)
This site provided for all of the public-facing web site needs of this school community: a description of the school program, faculty and staff contact directory, admission inquiry toolkit, alumni profile and notes tools, and Arts department mini-site.

San Francisco University High School

Tools: Dreamweaver, custom Perl scripts.

insideUHS (2002-2006)
This intranet school portal provided the community with communication and information tools: course web sites, athletics schedules, community service project database, independent study project database, community announcements, schoolwide events calendar, student photo directories, online file access, and student discussion forums.

Tools: Moodle, YaBB, phpBB, FileMan, Blackbaud database access, custom Perl scripts.


site snapshot at The Internet Archive (original site no longer available)

Gateway High School (1999-2002)
The graphic design of this site communicates the school’s unique position as a public charter school in San Francisco. Learning Center and People receive high visibility, and student work is featured on the home page.

Gateway High School

Tools: Dreamweaver

www.gwhs.org at the Internet Archive

Learning from snow days


Portland isn’t accustomed to snow. This week, light snowfall and freezing roadways led to five consecutive snow days at Catlin Gabel and Beaverton public schools. It’s been different. What have we learned?

Upper school English classes proceeded with business as usual. They already run most of their class activities through Moodle. Only the in-class presentations had to wait. Other classes shifted to independent work or went completely on hold. Seniors applying to colleges continued to manage their materials using Naviance.

When (if?) we return in January, we will likely consider whether to create an online learning plan for extended school closures. Some schools in Seattle and mountain regions have these plans in place. I will want to find out more about their planning process. Most teachers use their course web sites to host some materials — only a few operate their entire classroom process through it. Most teachers would have to learn how to manage an online learning environment and what activities could transition well to the online space.

The IT department successfully stayed home all five days but continued necessary work through our various network services: email, web sites, and SSL-VPN.

The web-based VPN was most critical. Our $500 Sonicwall SSL-VPN appliance requires no client-side configuration, a major step forward in usability and administration from our previous VPN technology. It supports up to seven concurrent users, which has been more than enough for our small user base, since we typically work on campus. Yesterday, our communications team used VPN to send out a large email blast to the community. The alumni office used it to prepare an upcoming communication. I used it to reset two passwords for stranded users.

With everyday business conveniently out of the way, I spent a lot of time on Drupal site configuration. As we consider the platform for our next public-facing web site, I have learned the most from building a prototype. I enjoyed starting anew with a fresh install of Drupal 6. I also installed Plone but haven’t had the chance to open the requisite firewall port to really play with it. At what point does an open-source test become part of the development of the production site? I am at least migrating a lot of content as I go.

Working from home for several days makes me appreciate the in-person contact more than usual. This is why we work at a school — for contact with students, teachers, and staff attempting to create the best educational environment possible. These three weeks should comprise a true break.

Happy holidays to you.

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.

Learning from our peer schools

I spent a day and a half in Seattle to visit Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences and attend the PNAIS Teacher Conference. I got to spend a good chunk of time with Vicki Butler, who graciously toured us through the Seattle Academy campus and gave us an in-depth look into their Moodle installation.

Seattle Academy has deeply leveraged Moodle to organize assignments and track student progress. Every teacher maintains homework assignments for every course. Teachers and students thereby benefit from Moodle’s aggregation features — each person has a meta-calendar that shows all of their outstanding work program-wide. In additon to built-in features, staff have installed optional modules and written custom code to more effectively track student progress. On their course home pages, teachers can easily view what assignment submissions remain to be graded and advisees who are falling behind on their homework. Advisors can quickly view overall course progress of their students. The school is experimenting with Mahara e-portfolio integration. I hope to learn from their use of roles and permissions in order to create a way for our parents to view course content without having to enroll in each one.

I am most interested in using Moodle to create immersive, social learning environments for students. Vicki showed me several examples of students maintaining glossaries, posting science videos, and holding discussions using Moodle’s activity modules.

After checking Michael Thompson‘s keynote on boy education, I soon settled in with my colleagues from Lakeside, Billings, Meridian, Evergreen, and Seattle Academy to plan the PNAIS TechShare conference, scheduled for June 28-30, 2009 in Welches, Oregon. We selected a theme, “Small World,” an exploration of global education and social technologies. This should lead to sessions on GIS, trip planning, international collaborations, global education, Skype, Drupal, uStream, and more. We are also hoping to walk the talk by coordinating live, international participation in the conference through uStream and Skype.

We speculated that it might be particularly effective to put a single person in charge of the remote participants in each session. Instead of occasionally reading out remote contributions, the backchannel facilitator could arrange Skype connections with remote participants and pull them into the discussion.

I also added Billings and Meridian to my list of schools with Drupal-powered public-facing web sites.

Can you imagine how much richer our daily professional life would be if the staff from all of these schools blogged?

Junior English as Moodle site

Here is another great Moodle design that two teachers are trying for the first time.

Entire course home page

The teachers wanted a course site to replicate as much of their current course design as possible. Of all the different Moodle tools, Forum ended up being the most versatile, because it respects groups and allows students to easily upload files to share with the entire class (unlike Directory or Assignment).

The two faculty members teach six sections between them, which we created as groups. This will keep the class discussions sorted, just to make it easier to find the work of your classmates. If you give each group and the course unique enrollment keys, then the students will automatically sort into the correct section when they log in for the first time. You only tell the students the enrollment key for their section. No one ends up using the course enrollment key.


Throughout the course, students write each paper using the same writing and peer editing process. Moodle discussion forums allow each student to both make their work available to the entire class and specifically to the individual who will be reviewing it. The reviewer then writes a formal response paper and uploads it to the same forum. This keeps the original and review paired together (using Reply in the Moodle forum).

writing process

When the time comes to submit the final draft, the student uploads the file to the Assignment object rather than the forum. Why? This is the “instructor reviewed” draft, intended for the teacher instead of their peers in class. This is set up as an “advanced file upload” assignment object, though I renamed this type “Upload multiple files” in the English language file, because that more specifically indicates what our users will be using it for. Students upload their instructor reviewed draft and metacritical essay, and then the teacher responds using the Moodle grading interface, not to mark grades, but rather to upload a Word file that includes teacher comments as floating notes. This exchange between the teacher and student remains private.

Students complete WEDGE (Writing Every Day Generates Excellence/Ease) activities to start each class. These are posted to a separate forum. We take advantage of a nice feature of Moodle that allows any participant in the class to start a forum topic. This way, the students take charge of the operation of the class, creating the new container for the day.


Of course, the teachers also use the site for routine class management, posting syllabi, links, and calendar events to help the course run smoothly. They chose to use the Topics course format and organize the page by assignment type.


Most announcements will simply be posted as text to the front page or sent via email — no need to take the extra steps to post to a News forum when the teachers are seeing the students most days of the week.

We considered using the Glossary activity for Word of the Day and then decided that a simple Forum would be just as easy to use and more familiar to the students. The teachers did not need the auto-linking feature that the glossary provides.

word of the day

We only ran into two issues using these features. If the teacher creates a single forum prompt for all sections, then the students cannot reply to it! This Moodle “feature” is documented on Moodle.org but there do not seem to be any plans to change it. So, either the teacher posts the same prompt to three sections, the students post the prompt, or the teacher starts a thread to which you cannot reply and the students start a new thread to reply to it. A minor inconvenience that we will hopefully solve one day.

The other issue was the sharp dividing line between forums and assignments in terms of privacy of replies. Wouldn’t it be ideal if one could post a “private” forum reply that only the author of the original post could see? Or if a student could submit an assignment but allow the rest of the class to view it?

Do you have experience setting up a high school English course in Moodle? What other features have you leveraged to make your course hum?