Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Moodle for electronic assignments

Ron Sharma from USQ is at ANU talking on "Using Moodle, electronic assignment and other tools to support Engineering students" (after a general workshop yesterday). USQ changed from Web CT to the Moodle Learning Management System several years ago. ANU is still making that transition. One difference is that USQ has a central set of standards, whereas this is devolved at ANU to the colleges (Oxbridge style). At USW assignments are electronically set, submitted, marked and returned to the students. This is necessary as the external student numbers are increasing rapidly. It is therefore infeasible to have students submit assignments on paper. Also USQ has to respond to the needs of industry, such as the energy sector, for engineering education.

At USQ the same Moodle template is used for all courses at the university, with the same standard information resources, such as contacts for the course and assessment. This is provided at the top of the main screen for each Moodle course. The specific course content then follows below. This looks to me a very good approach, so that students knew where to find the information for each course . Having standard conditions for assignment submission saves confusion.

Professor Sharma reported that using the LMS resulted in a reduction in lecture and tutorial attendance from 70% to 30%. This seems in line with my experience. He suggested that just putting lecture notes and audio recordings online was not sufficient: it was necessary to also provide online tutorial materials. This makes sense to me and I was assuming that about 25% of the students would still want to attend in person. The issue then is from a business point of view is if the university can afford to support those students. My suggestion for ANU was to replace the large lecture theaters (which typically easiest 100 or more), with small ones which seat about 24 students. This would be sufficient students to have a class and provide an audience for the lecturer to perform to for audio and video recording.

Professor Sharma teaching energy auditing to the engineering students. This is similar to he green ICT energy audit I teach in Green Technology Strategies.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

mLearning plugin for Moodle

MLE-Moodle is a plug for Moodle to make it work on mobile phones. That is this extra open source software makes the Moodle Learning Management System into an m-Learning system. The standard release of Moodle seems reasonably compatible with smart phones. I have tried my Green Technology Strategies Course on both an Apple iPhone and a Google Android phone.

Obviously typing a 4,000 essay would be difficult on the tiny keyboards, but reading notes and entering into online discussions seems doable.

Assuming the course designer doesn't do anything silly with their content, such as put it up in the form of very large PDF documents, Moodle should work reasonably well with mobile devices. It will be interesting to see what MLE-Moodle ads to make Moodle more mobile friendly.

Has anyone tried MLE-Moodle?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Making teaching a systematic process

Michael SankeyMichael Sankey, Director of the Learning and Teaching Support Unit at University of Southern Queensland gave a brief talk at the ANU in Canberra today on the way that USQ undertakes course development. USQ has a very systematic process for Learning and teaching design. USQ use Moodle, Mahara and other tools common to the ANU. What is different is the priorities of the two institutions, with the ANU having an emphasis on research, rather than teaching.

Michael mentioned that USQ have found audio enhanced slide shows the most popular delivery method with students, particularly overseas students with English as a second language. Formative quizzes are also popular. Some of the reading I have done suggests that while these are popular, they may not provide any better teaching than plain text. But it might still be need to to keep the students happy, or spend a lot of time convincing them it is not needed.

USQ student alumni can keep their Mahara e-portfolio online after finishing their courses.

USQ see Moodle 2 as being used for core activities and then
referring students out to external social networking/web app/web 2 sites. They also have some "Second Life" islands (which I am sceptical of the value of).

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Android and Moodle for m-learning

The School of Industrial Management (Escuela de OrganizaciĆ³n Industrial EOI) in Madrid is issuing students with 3G Android mobile phones and using the Moodle learning management system (English translation and Spanish original). This looks a good combination. I found that my Moodle course notes for a Green ICT Course worked fine on a Google Android. This was because I made use of the Moodle "Book" module, for
the course content. This produces plain web pages, which render well on the small screen of smart phones. Of course if you used very large and complex PDF, Powerpoint, Microsoft Word or other formats, it would not look so good.

There could even be some problems with ordinary HTML (I am trying to convince one of my fellow course designers not to use very large complex tables in course notes. These tables are hard to read at the best of times, but make accessibility and mobile access very difficult.

While I didn't try it, podcasts should also work well. Obviously typing a 2,000 word essay on a smartphone would not be a good idea, but participation in forums should be feasible. Some changes to the Moodle user interface would be useful, as it does use HTML Table statements for some layout, which does not adapt well to a small screen.

I was handed the Android at Google's Sydney office, when giving a talk on my Green ICT e-learning course and only had it to try for a few minutes, so this was not an exhaustive test. Also it was running a beta version of the operating system.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

SPICE Learning Management System

Greeting from the ANU Software Engineering Showcase. Teams of third and fourth year students are showing off their projects. One of these is the SPICE Learning Management System. This uses Moodle and LAMS to provide a system to assist volunteer teachers in Canberra. The most interesting part of this is that normally the students write software. In this case they decided the original idea of custom software on a bootable flash drive was not a good one and configured an Internet connected web based learning manageemnt system instead. This was a good decision. I have been invvled in sevceral court cases as an expert witness where a system development team did not stop, question what they were doing and choose another path.

One aspect the students do not appear to have realised is that they can still provide paper based materials from the Moodle system.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Moodle and Mahara in Adelaide

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society office in Adelaide where I am taking part in an e-learning course. The ACS is using Moodle extensively for its professional certification course and is intending to use Mahara. While conventional distance education courses using Moodle on the web are working well, the issue is how to introduce more reflective learning and self assessment. The students report what they are doing at work and reflect on its role in their future development. E-portfolios are frequently cited as the way to do this, but up until today no one has to explain to me exactly how they would be used.

Moodle Journals

So far we have been introduced to the Moodle Journal feature. This seems to be a lightweight e-portfolio which might be used for a single course or even a brief part of the course, such as a week. However this is not the sort of long term ongoing record of work, which some thing like Mahara would be used for.

The interesting part for me is how to introduce structure to the journal and how much structure should be provided. To just give the student a blank text editor window doesn't seem enough. The journal can be pre-loaded with a list of topics, but there is no support for an analysis of what the students put under those categories.

Moodle Workshop

The next activity addressed was the Moodle workshop module.This allows for peer assessment; that is other students assess the student's work. A random group of students can be allocated to assess others work, so for example each student might be required to assess the work of five others and be assessed by five (but five would be a lot).

Deadlines for submission of the student work and the assessment can be set separately. This way the students cannot see the other student's assignment before they submit their own. Text and files can be uploaded as part of the submission. It is important to describe clearly what the student is to do.

The proportion of grading from peer assessment can be set (so the peer assessment might be 20%). Examples can be provided to the students as to what to do. There is an option for the student to assess their own submissions. The assignments can be made anonymous and the assessor (which would be normally used).


Mahara is an open source e-portfolio products developed with funding from the New Zealand government. Mahara complements Moodle, by providing social networking features orientated towards the student, rather the instructuor. Mahara is similar to Facebook in its features, but has the advantage of being an educationally orentated facility which can be more safely provided within an institution.

Mahara has an export/import function so that, in theory the student can take their portfolio with them from institution to institution. It supports some interchange formats (such as LEAP2A specification). There are also discussions in Australia between education facilities for common portfolios. In the case of the ACS interchange with Australian universities would seem an advantage. The ANU is looking at Mahara and it seems to be favored by the vocational training sector.

Mahara appears to have limitations compared to products such as LinkedIn, as an example the user has to enter their employment history in cronological order as it can't be sorted automatically or rearranged. Being open source there is work going to to fix this and to alloow export and import to systems such as LinkedIn. An obvious one for Australia would be export and import to the systems which the ACS and unviersites provide and to systems such as the Australian Government's GAM system used for assessing research grant applicaitons. At present the professional has to manually enter their details into each of these systems. Being able to enter the data once and export would be useful.

The information about the student is entered by the student in Mahara. A simple way to verify claims about educational and other qualifications mentioned was for the institutions to provide a URL on testimonials which can be entered to verify the details. This is a much simpler approach that proposals for digital certificates on e-portfolios which were previously proposed (and it is the technique I suggested the ACS use).

Mahara also includes facilities for blogs and to import from external bloggs using an RSS feed. One issue this creates is keeping your professional persona separate from your private one. In my case my blog has a mix of items, only some of which are relevant to my work. I would need to create a filter, perhaps using Yahoo Pipes, to supply only the professionally relevant material for the e-portfolio.

Mahara has provision to create groups of people with a common interest. ACS with its
ICT Environmental Sustainability Group and EdNa with its Edna Groups have used Moodle to create groups, but this takes some mangling of Moodle's functions. Mahara would seem to have more potential.Link


In passing dimdim was mentioned. This is an open source web meeting product, similar to Wimba Classroom. The comment made was that this was developed in India and so is designed to work with low speed dial-up Internet connections, whereas the commercial web meeting products emphasize video and require a broadband connection. This product might be of use for disaster management for this reason.


The training was provided by BrightCookie. This is one of two well known Moodle support companies based in Adelaide.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

University of Canberra moves to Moodle

Allan Christie from Netspot sent me a copy of their "Moodle & Sakai News for Enterprise-Level Education", which has a few interesting items on Australian universities working with e-learning products. They point out that University of Canberra has decided to replace Web CT with Moodle. and USQ is using Wimba with Moodle.

Replacing Web CT with Moodle is a sensible move, but a difficult one (apart from the technical changes, Moodle looks less glossy than Web CT). I am not sure how much integration would be needed, or possible between Wimba and Moodle, as
Wimba is a real time audio, video application and Moodle is a mostly text based stored message sort of application. Apart from just having a hypertext link to start up Wimba from within Moodle, I am not sure what other integration would be needed, or possible.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Learning Management System for Government

IP Australia, the Australia Government office responsible for Patents, Trade Marks, Designs, and Plant Breeder's Rights has issued a request for tender for a Learning Management System. This is combines the functions of course scheduling and tracking people's training with that of online course delivery. This does not sound like a good idea to me.

Keeping track of what courses people do and delivering courses to them are two very different functions. The former can be handled in a human resources system and the later in a Course Management System (CMS). IP Australia could start by looking the Australian developed free open source Moodle CMS for the latter function.
IP Australia has identified the need for a new Learning and Management System (LMS) and is inviting Expressions of Interest. In consultation with the various business lines with IP Australia, a set of high level functional and non-functional requirements have been identified for an organisation-wide Learning Management System. The requirements have been developed to meet the needs of the business processes of each business area, and in response to the issues identified for each of those processes.

Functional requirements for the Learning Management System have been categorised under the top level headings: Administration, Employee Self Service, Reporting and Online Learning.

Non-functional requirements of the Learning Management System include: Security, Audit Trail, Performance, Capacity, User Interface and System Integration.

From: Learning Management System, ATM ID IPAC2008/11000, IP Australia, 10-Apr-2008

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Making access easier to online forums

In the absence of anything better, I used Moodle to create a web site for the Open 2020 Summit. I used the default Moodle authentication system for people who wanted to take part in online discussion. This lessens the possibility of Spam and inappropoirate comments being posted. Also I set the option to allow Google to index all the public content. But one problem was that once someone found the site with a search engine, or read the address i9n the newspaper, they were contronted with a login screen, even if they wanted to do was just browse, noit post. There is an option on the Moodle login screen for guests to enter without resistering, but this is not prominant and I suspect many people stop at this point. The ACS Moodle does not have this problem and it took me days to remember where the option was I set to let people in.

It turns out that the Moodle option for "Auto-login guests" is at: Stie Administration > Users > Permissions > User Policies". It isn't under "Security", where I would expect it to be. With that button clicked, people can go straight to pages in the site. Those who want to post to a forum will be invited to register and directed to the log in screen.

It will be interesting to see how many more people now visit the site.

There are still some problems with using Moodle for the Summit, such as people in the forums being referred to as "Students" by the system and no easy way to pretty up the format of the pages. But the simple layout has advantages, such as working reasonably well on a handheld device with text only.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

How to Create On-line University Courses in Electronic Archiving: Part 9 - Units

In Part 8 I looked at how to repackage traditional lectures, tutorials and labs for flexible learning. Now I am thinking about what are the 12 units for Electronic Document Management. What I have to start with are six one hour lectures, two one hour tutorial/labs and several assignment questions. In fact the lecture notes do not divide up neatly into the six notional lecture slots, but are in eight units:
  1. Introduction
  2. Metadata
  3. Standards for eCommerce
  4. E-commerce Examples
  5. Electronic Document Management
  6. Digital Library
  7. Publishing
  8. Future Use
In addition, the National Archives of Australia recently changed their web site, with a simplified description of records management, similar to the style introduced by AGIMO with their Web Publishing Guide. With this approach there is a short web page with a few key points in non-technical direct language.
Records management
The reader is then directed to the detailed technical guides. These guides appear to have been changed from the previous HTML versions to PDF and Microsoft Word documents, which is unfortunate. The HTML documents were easy to read and refer to online. The PDF and DOC versions are a step backwards to a much harder to read and use format.

This change happened just as I was preparing to present the material to ANU students. As a stopgap measure I changed links in the notes to refer to an archived version of the material at the Internet Archive. But I now need to redo all the links to the new version. It is not clear how I am going to point to material which is now somewhere in the middle of hundreds of pages of PDF.

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How to Create On-line University Courses in Electronic Archiving: Part 8 - Lectures?

In Part 7 I looked at how provide course notes in a web friendly fashion. Now I am thinking about how to take the one hour lectures and make them into smaller units suitable for small group teaching. The approach at the MIT TEAL flexible learning center has been to use "... 20-minute lectures interspersed with discussion questions, visualizations, and pencil-and-paper exercises ...". This agrees with advice from Flinders University which suggests changing the pace, medium, or importance of the material every fifteen minutes.

The course is 12 hours in total spread over 3 days with 4 teaching hours per day, with 6 hours of lectures, 2 hours of practical classes, 2 hours of tutorials and 2 hours of assessment exercises. So I started to divide this up into units of 15, 20 or 30 minute units. The idea being each unit would be self contained and of the same length. However, this would result in a very large number of units:, if 20 minute units were used:
  • 18 lecture units (6 per day)
  • 6 Practical sessions (2 per day)
  • 6 tutorials
  • 6 assessment exercises
That would make for a timetabling nightmare. My experience of short course plans is has been from courses for local government staff and museum staff in Samoa is that an overly complex plan does not survive more than the first few minutes. Also it would be useful if the units of instruction would fit into the usual university format.

The MIT Teal material is divided into one or two hour blocks, made up of the 20-minute lectures, discussion, exercises and assessment. I was disappointed not to find any guidelines for the instructors on how to prepare and deliver a block, but I did find some criticisms from students of the early versions of the TEAL delivery. From this it would seem to make sense to structure the content more like traditional delivery.. The ANU uses one hour units of instruction, so it would make sense to use either one or two hour blocks, with the content of mini lectures, tutorials and labs. This also makes the timetabling easier.

So now I plan 12 one hour units, each with a 20 minute lecture, plus a discussion/tutorial, practical session, and/or assessment exercise. This format differs from that being used by Peter Christen for his Data Mining and Matching module. That has Six lecture sessions and four practical sessions. This is a more traditional format, also with a change of venue between a small presentation room and computer lab.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How to Create On-line University Courses in Electronic Archiving: Part 7 - Notes?

In Part 6 I looked at Moodle in more detail as an example of a CMS. But one of the practical realities of a course is that you have to tell the students what the course is about. The usual method for doing this would be to provide them a set of printed notes (commonly known as a "brick").

Usually the notes for courses are in the form of some introductory text, printed versions of the Powerpoint slides and some readings. But produing this material for printing can be remarkably difficult. While it is possible to print handouts from Microsoft Powerpoint, there does not seem to be any efficient and easy way to incorporate this with a word processing document. The same seems to apply with the OpenOffice word processor and slide program.

You can insert a whole slide presentation as an object into a word processing document , but then you just see an image of the first slide (or in MS Word one selected slide). If you want all slides to appear in the WP document, you appear to need to insert each slide, one by one.

A better option may be not to. While compound documents are feasible, something always seems to go wrong at the last minute, when the final version is due at the printer, but someone wants to change something on one slide and then the formatting of the whole document goes haywire.

A better approach might be to accept the limitations of the software (and our ability to handle complex arrangements of information) and simply arrange the document as a sequence of pages from different software packages. Usually this would be a word processing document with the introductory text, followed by the slides and then possible a web page with some references. This could be simply done by manually printing each document from the appropriate program, or using some sort of automation and desk top publishing.

But first two other potions should be considered:

  1. Don't use printed notes: Use an online course management system
  2. Course Content Genrator: Use specialist software for course notes.


According to the Microsoft documentation, you should be able to link to each Powerpoint slide from within the word processing document. See: "Insert a linked object or embedded object from a PowerPoint presentation". You would have to do this once for each and every slide, but when done any changes to the slides can be automatically be reflected in the document with "Update linked objects".

Note that you need to use the "linked" option, otherwise you will be creating lots of "embedded" copies of the Powerpoint slides.

As far as I can tell OpenOffice allows similar linked objects, but not selecting a specific slide (you always see the first slide).


An option is to not have any printed notes at all. For the course I ran for local government staff, all the notes were online. All that was provided on paper was a one page timetable for the course. The students were able to look at the notes on the screen in the classroom and on the web (using a password) when they got back to the office. I used the Moodle Course Management System, but others, such as Web CT could be used.


USQ's "ICE" system is specifically designed to prepare content for courses. This allows the slides to be created inside the word processing document, without the need for Powerpoint. But that requires redoing all the slides for an existing course. ANU is working on more general purpose systems based on ICE.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Using Moodle live in the classroom

This week I used Moodle for a one day course on "Writing for the Web" with 24 participants in a training room in Australia. It was only after the event that I realized that this may not be the usual way such online course management systems are used and others may benefit from a description of how I did it.


This course was prepared for presentation in a one day in-person workshop. However, it was intended the content could also be adapted for online self paced delivery later. Therefore the Moodle system was used. In addition I needed a web based authoring tool for the students to use for web authoring exercises. While I had planned to use Google Aps for this, it turned out to be easier to use the web editor built into Moodle. This turned out to be useful for use in the classroom. Moodle was used to supplement person to person interaction.

Having been asked to deliver training for local government staff I had to see what content I had available and how it could be delivered. Previously I had run a week long course for 24 museum staff from around the Pacific in Samoa, in 2005.

The course is divided into four sections, each with introductory material, exercises and references. As the participants would not necessarily have access to locally installed software, the emphasis was on the use of tools available via the web.

I adapted material I had prepared for:
The format for the course came from the course in Samoa.


First of all I took the description of what the client had asked for in the course and what materials I had to hand and pasted these into a topic outline of a new Moodle course. I then created each of the four sections of the course, starting with a title. Under each title I then added a paragraph summary and bullet point outline.

Under the outline of each topic I then added a link to an exercise using Moodle's "assignment" resource requiring submission of a text document prepared with the Moodle editor. These were not intended to be assessed, but Moodle system was very useful for me to monitor progress, by seeing how many students had submitted the assignment.

Then I added a set of student notes and set of slides. The notes and slides are edited versions of those I have previously presented. The notes and slides files are actually the same web document, using the Slidy format. I used some web server instructions to tweak the Slidy format so that by default the students would see the detailed notes when they opened the document, not the usual slide format.

With the assignment and notes done, I then added links to some relevant web based resources. Some of these are documents for the student to read. Others were web based tools to be used.

The Classroom

The classroom was arranged with two rows of desks in a "U" shape. Inside the U was a desk for the presenter and a video projector for the class to see presentations on. Each two students shared a desktop PC and undertook exercises together. In Samoa the students each had a computer of their own, but tended to end up working in groups, with useful mutual support, so one PC per two or three people seems to work well.

The format of each section of the course was that I would present the slides suing the projection screen. At the same time the students were encouraged to follow the notes on their PC. They were welcome to read ahead if they got bored. After some questions they were introduced the exercise, to be done in pairs. The students used the Moodle editor to prepare their responses, along with web based tools and documents in multiple windows. I monitored how many students had completed the exercise and answered queries. When it appeared most were finished we had discussion.

Wireless MouseThe presenter desk was equipped with a standard keyboard and mouse. To this I added a USB wireless mouse. The mouse was particularly useful as I could hold it in my hand while standing up and use the mouse buttons and scroll wheel to move through a presentation. There are specialist wireless presenter control units, but the wireless mouse is cheap, readily available and easy to work.

The Results

Moodle proved to be reliable and response in the classroom environment. The Moodle system was running on a server remote (several hundred kilometers) from the classroom and worked well. There was one database error during the initial startup, but the students didn't notice.

Enrolling students in the Moodle system turned out to be the most difficult part of the process. Rather than use bulk registration I had each student register individually using a secret key for registration. The students logged into their usual workplace account on their corporate computer system in order to be able to receive the message confirming their identity. The problem was than when they then entered the Moodle system it was difficult to find the link needed to enroll in the course.

Using the Moodle system to obtain course material and enter an assignment did not prove difficult for the students (who were all experienced computer users). The students did have difficulty keeping the course open in one browser window and other material in another. The students needed a practice exercise to avoid loosing what they had typed.

What I would do differently

The entire Moodle course content turned out to be a remarkably small 24kbytes. It would have been feasible to have all the slides and notes on the Moodle system as well. It may also have been useful to run a Moodle server on one of the PCs in the classroom, in case of communications problems.

It would seem quite feasible to create a portable classroom system from one laptop running Moodle and communicating with WiFi to low cost web terminals. The student terminals need only a minimal operating system and web browser.

This approach to teaching would seem to have potential for longer and more formal university courses, combining the benefits of computer based and live teaching.

What also could prove useful would be more web based tools specific to the subject topic. As an example tools which would give feedback as to the quality of writing for the web would be useful.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

How to Create On-line University Courses in Electronic Archiving: Part 6 - More on Moodle

In Part 5 I looked at Moodle as an example of a CMS. Some of the issues of pedagogy for an online course are covered in Doherty, C. (2005). Understanding trouble in paradise: Intuitive natives and
screaming aliens
. A paper presented to the OLT 2005 Conference, QUT, Brisbane, 71-80.

Heres is more detail on Moodle as an application. I mentioned that Moodle should be usable on small screen and smart phones without many changes . I was able to get it work okay on Opera web browser in small screen mode (this emulates a PDA type device), but on with the Openwave SDK Mobile hone emulator. The web pages displayed on the mobile phone, but each column of text was squashed to fit on the small screen and so was unreadable.

The Moodle team need to install an alternate CSS style sheet for mobile devices, to tell the web browser to use just one column (this is what the Opera browser does for its small screen mode).

Leaving that to one side, a good way to see if the advocates believe what they are saying is to see if they use their own tools. So I tried the Moodle Features Demo Course. The is a Moodle course to show off the features of Moodle.

The course first presents you with a typical three column screen. The screen is a bit too busy for my tastes, but that may be because the designer is trying to show off all the features of Moodle in one place, or perhaps because this the page the student will keep coming back to. I found a box offering to enroll me, so I clicked on it and was then presented with a "Topic outline", equivalent to about one A4 page of text (which is not too big).

What I found disappointing was that the course gets immediately into the details of Site, User and Course management. The stuff about the philosophy has been left behind and there doesn't;seem to be anything about how or why to prepare a course.

Interestingly there were 975 people enrolled in the course, 14 of whom had used it in the last 24 hours and four of who were in Canberra (including me). I noticed that participants had Blog entries to introduce themselves, so I created one. The Blog function uses a web based editor, much the same as ones used for other Blogs. This worked fine, even on my slow (64 kbps) wireless link.

While providing a Blog and user profile is useful in getting the students to get to know each other, there is also a danger they will say too much. Participants in courses need to keep in mind that they cannot entirely trust their fellow students and should not reveal too much.

The demo course has a "news" forum. This had nothing in it, but would be typically used for course announcements. There are also "Learning forums" for group discussions . The forums can have RSS feeds, making it easier for the students to keep up with developments. In the past I have found such on-line forums a bit overwhelming. Moodle has options such as allowing each student only one discussion topic, to stem the flood.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

eXe eLearning tool from New Zealand

While a course management system systems like Moodle may help deliver online learning, you still have to create the content. New Zealand is helping with a free open source tool called eXe:
The eXe project is developing a freely available authoring application to assist teachers and academics in the publishing of web content without the need to become proficient in HTML or XML markup. eXe can export content as self-contained web pages or as SCORM 1.2 or IMS Content Packages.

This project is funded by a grant from the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand and is led by the Auckland University of Technology and Tairawhiti Polytechnic.

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