Using Moodle for Postgraduate Professional Education with eBooks and Smart phones

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM

Adjunct Lecturer, Australian National University

For the Moodlemoot AU 2010, Melbourne, 11:30am, 12 July 2010

The first globally accredited Green Information Technology course for computer professionals commenced in January 2009. The course uses Moodle to teach how to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sponsored by the Australian Computer Society as part of an international program for professional education, the course now run at the masters level by the Australian National University.

Course designer Tom Worthington discusses how the course uses e-learning with mentored and collaborative techniques and how it has worked with three cohorts of students from around the world. He also discusses the process of having a course approved by Australia's leading university, with no prerequisites, no lectures, no examinations, all open source Creative Commons content and able to be conducted via a smart phone. Some changes to the course in the light of experience with Moodle will also be discussed.

The use of the Moodle Book Module to bring together material is a more coherent way will be shown. Tom will also show how it is possible to convert material from a Moodle course to publish an e-book for the Amazon Kindle, a printed paperback and hardback book.

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM

Tom Worthington preparing to depart the USS Blue Ridge by Military Helicopter during Exercise Tandem Thrust 97 Joint Operations Control Center (JOCC) on aboard Blue Ridge during Exercise Tandem Thrust 97

Here is the usual bio I provide for conference:

Tom Worthington is an independent ICT consultant and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the ANU. He designed the Green ICT Courses for the ACS and ANU. Previously he advised on IT policy at the Department of Defence.

Tom was the founding chair of the ACS Green ICT Group. In 1999 He was elected a Fellow of the ACS for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy in Australia. He is a past president, Fellow and Honorary Life Member of the ACS, a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

One experience at the Department of Defence, while doing web pages for military exercises, seems relevant to the mobile stream of this conference. At the invitation of the web master of the U.S. 7th Fleet I visited them on the Flagship on exercises off the coast of Queensland, for some extreme mobile computing. The 18,500 ton, 1,550 crew USS Blue Ridge is a mobile floating headquarters, equipped with ordinary desktop computers used to run military exercises. Standard office software and web browsers are used. This reduces the cost and allows systems to be easily upgraded. Temporary staff, such as the he US Marines bring their laptops and stick them to the desktops using green gaffer tape.

The lesson from the US Navy was that that applications and digital content needs to be in simple standardised formats which will survive. One format which has stood the test of time are standard HTML web pages. Applications requiring specialised software and hardware have come and gone. In preparing educational content we should avoid specialised "apps" which only work on operating systems and hardware from one manufacturer. We should not create educational content assuming one style of use and one size of screen. There is no long term value in creating different educational systems for desktop PCs, tablet computers and smart phones: the same content should work on all.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions with ICT


Climate Scientists have recommended a 25% to 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. This is substantially more than reductions which have been debated in Parliament, such as 5% to 15% in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill.

Computers and telecommunications (ICT) are responsible for 2.7% of Australian greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report for the Australian Computer Society. This is primarily from the burning of coal to generate electricity to run computers and telecommunications.

The Climate Group estimate that more effective use of computers and telecommunications can deliver a reduction of 15% in emissions. This would be by using ICT more efficiently so it uses less energy and applying ICT more effectively so that emissions from industry are deduced.

Existing ICT infrastructure can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relatively quickly, without the need for extensive new investment in equipment of infrastructure. However, this does require ICT professionals to have new skills to measure emissions, design systems to reduce emissions and convince their clients to do so. These skills can be provided using e-learning.

First global Green ICT Course

Green ICT

Students learn how to:

Green ICT (Green IT or Green Computing) is the study and practice of using computers and telecommunications in a way which maximises positive environmental benefit and minimise the negative impact.

The energy efficiency of operating equipment is a major concern of Green ICT. The embodied energy and life-cycle of the materials used in the design, manufacture and reuse and recycling of equipment and components are also concerns. Green ICT seeks to inform accepted management practises to achieve efficient and effective business interaction.

Students Teach Each Other

Moodle e-learning system provides:

  1. Online discussion forums
  2. Tools to author content

The tutors foster discussion, not present content.

See: Computer Professional Education using Mentored and Collaborative Online Learning, David Lindley, IJCIM Special Issues on e-learning, Vol.15 No. SP4, November, 2007.

The ACS and the ANU use the Australian developed Moodle open source Learning Management System. This is used to provide forums for students to discuss what they are learning, not just receive content prepared by teachers. This also teaches students how to use the same on-line collaboration techniques in the workplace.

The techniques of using mentored collaborative on-line learning for computer professional education were developed for the ACS by David Lindley.

Course Accreditation and Assessment

Zonbu miniature PC

The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) provides a common reference model for the identification of the skills needed to develop effective Information Systems (IS) making use of Information & Communications Technology (ICT).

The Green course targets SIFA Level 5 competencies: "ensure, advise: Broad direction, supervisory, objective setting responsibility. Influences organisation. Challenging and unpredictable work. Self sufficient in business skills".

The course uses two traditional written assignments for assessment (mid course and at the end of the course), plus weekly assessment of contributions to on-line forums.

No "final" examination is used. The requirement for weekly forum contributions with weekly assessment by a tutor (who as 24 or fewer students) limits the potential for cheating. No difficulties were experienced with approval of a course with no examinations, as neither ACS nor ANU require examinations.

The ACS allowed original content to be released under a Creative Commons licence. This simplified obtaining permission to make use of existing material and to reuse of the material for the ANU course.

Changes to the Course

The course originally asked students to fill in a glossary of terms to be shared by the class. However, it was not clear if students would receive any marks for this work and so none made any entries. This was replaced with a provided glossary.

When the course was designed in late 2008, there were no SFIA IT skills defined specifically for green IT. So suitable generic skills were selected to teach. SFIA has now added four sustainable IT skills and the course will require modification to match these.

The four new skills are:
  • SUST Sustainability strategy (in Strategy and architecture)
  • SUMI Sustainability management for IT (in Strategy and architecture)
  • SUAS Sustainability assessment (in Business change)
  • SUEN Sustainability engineering (in Solution development and implementation)

From: "Sustainability skills for
Information Technology SFIA 4G
", Newsletter, SFIA Foundation, May 2010

The course was originally designed with a separate set of course notes for each week. Each week's notes was made available only that week of the course, so as not to overwhelm the students with material. Students when asked supported this approach. However this caused maintenance and revision problems with a large number of separate documents. The Moodle Book Module has been used to consolidate the material into one "book" with sections corresponding to major topics of the course and one chapter for each week.

Moodle Book Module

The Moodle Book Module provides a simple implementation of an e-book, with each chapter as a web page. This was used to consolidate all of the weekly notes for the green course. The notes were removed from each week of the course and replaced with a link to the book (listed at the top of the course page). Weekly chapters are grouped into topic sections. The weekly material is still revealed week by week, but students can read ahead in the book, if they wish. This prevents students being overwhelmed by the volume of material at the start of the course, but still have access to all notes.

The book chapters were exported to create a free web version of the notes. This version has been selected by the National Library of Australia for long-term preservation in the PANDORA Archive of online publications by Australian authors.

The book chapters were then imported into the OpenOffice.Org word processor, with each chapter retained in HTML format. A master document was then created with a table of contents and all chapters linked. This was then exported as PDF print on demand publishing as a PDF e-Book, Paperback, Hardcover and Large-print Paperback.

The "print" version of the Moodle Book was uploaded to Amazon.Com's e-publishing system to create a Amazon Kindle e-Book.

Producing a ePUB format book for the Apple iPad has proved more difficult due to the lack of suitable tools. This will likely await the next revision of the course material. However, the PDF, Moodle and web versions of the material are usable with an iPad.

Mobile Devices and iPads

The green course notes are formatted as web pages, using standard HTML and accessibility guidelines. As a result the material can be displayed on a wide range of web browsers, on desktop computers, smart phones and tablet computers (including Google Android and Apple iPad). No special mobile version or "app" is required, as the one web version is designed to work on a wide range of devices. Students can read the notes on a small screen and participate in the weekly discussion forums using Moodle on a smart phone or tablet computer. However, it is unlikely a student will be able to research or write a multi-thousand word assignment using a hand held device, so a laptop or desktop computer will still be required.

Some thoughts on the future

The process used to design the green course is documented in 15 Blog postings, from "Part 1 - Where to start" (October 2008) to "Part 15 - Revision" (June 2010). When first commissioned to design an e-learning course on green ICT, I had little knowledge of how such courses are prepared. I assumed the result would be a collection of interactive multimedia materials constantly being updated, along with frequent real time on-line video discussions with students. Instead the result was conventional looking notes with no video or images, in a fixed textbook-like format. This is then supplemented with limited text based non-real time forums and conventional text based assignments. Rather than hampering education, I consider this places a useful discipline on both the teachers and students which enhances learning.

The limitations which e-learning systems such as Moodle place on the designer may be the key to the success of such courses. The developer needs to prepare material in advance and so has to think carefully about the design. The user interface provides the student with only a very limited commutations medium, as a result the designer has to think very carefully about how much information to provide the student and when. The system provides the student with only a limited ability to respond to the tutor and to other students, this requires the student to think carefully about their responses.

Offline Educational Web Applications in HTML5

It would be feasible to provide a course in advance as an e-book. Weekly discussions could then take place using SMS or email, with assignments submitted by email. Such a format could prove very useful in developing nations (and parts of Australia) with limited Internet access. It should be feasible to modify Moodle to transparently support such a mode. The instructor and student would use the same Moodle interface as at present, but with materials cached on their computers, smart phones or tablets. The course updates would take place when the system was on-line, using SMS, email or direct Internet access. In typical use the student would need either a copy of the course on disk, or to go to an Internet cafe with good access to download the materials at the start of the course. After that they could use a slow intermittent connection. Such a model could be implemented with the using Offline Web applications in HTML5.

Work has been done on an "Offline Moodle" allowing offline caching of Moodle content. This adds a "Go offline" control to the standard Moodle screen, which downloads resources to the client computer and a "Go online" control to resynchronise any new data in the local client with the remote server. However, this requires modification of individual Moodle modules (currently only Forums and Assignments). It also requires the use of a Google Gears plug-in and Gears on the client computer. This adds complexity and requires a level of trust of the client computer to run Google Gears correctly.

Instead of trying to duplicate all Moodle functions offline, a simpler option would be to allow caching of relatively static content and allow limited creation of new content offline, with manual synchronisation. Some of the logging of what the student has been looking at would need to be relaxed. These student could read material offline and create completely new content, but the system would not automatically meld old and new content. Such a system could be implemented relatively simply with HTML5, without the need for additional software on the client computer.

More Information

  1. Green ICT Strategies COMP7310, Masters program, The Australian National University, from July 2009
  2. ACS Green ICT Course
  3. Green ICT Book
  4. Social inclusion and cooperative education with ICT: Social Networking and mobile accessible web design for better learning, for the ACEN Forum, University of Sydney, 20 August 2009
  5. Translating Learning Outcomes in Moodle, Srinivas Chemboli, Lauren Kane, Lynette Johns-Boast
  6. Tom Worthington
  7. This document is available at:

Slides for these notes are also available.

Copyright © 2010 (Version 1.3, 8 July 2010) Tom Worthington

Creative Commons License
Using Moodle for Postgraduate Professional Education with eBooks and Smart phones by Tom Worthington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.