• Dave Foord
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Reversing the order of a Moodle Course

Many years ago, when I was teaching at a college, and at the same time responsible for the ILT/e-learning provision within that area, I used to hold regular course rep meetings with students (I would give them a free lunch as an incentive) so that I could find out things about what they liked or didn’t like about the things we were doing. These proved really useful meetings and many things were changed or implemented as a result.

Picture of someone doing a headstand in front of a frozen waterfall

Upside down

One thing that came up in a meeting, was a student suggested that it would be better if the content on the VLE was displayed in reverse chronological order – e.g. the most recent stuff appeared at the top and older stuff moved down accordingly. At the time I had never seen this done before and the other students thought it was a stupid idea, but I saw where he was coming from, and as services like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, News Feed etc have evolved the norm is for the most recent content to appear at the top of the list and everything else to move down – so it makes sense that the VLE could do the same – if a course is 30+ weeks long, why are we asking the learners to scroll down through content and resources that they covered 9 months ago?

I have tried this technique with a few courses that I have been involved in, and I think it is a better way of working – the only problem was that within Moodle there wasn’t an automatic way to do this, I either had to pre-create my weeks in reverse order and then set the restrict access settings for each week to make them appear at the right time, or I would create the weeks content as I went and would manually drag this topic to the top of the list when appropriate. Neither solution was ideal and not something that most teachers would have the time or inclination to do.

However – whilst searching for something else on the Moodle plugin site I came across something called ‘Weekly format reversed’ a plugin that will do exactly what I want – automatically reverse the course for me. I haven’t tried this yet as none of the moodles that I am working on at the moment want this approach, and looking at the comments it looks like there were a few bugs, but hopefully if enough people use and contribute to this plugin they will get sorted out. This way of working may not work for all people, but is certainly something that is worth trying, and things look very different when viewed the other way up.

If nothing else – this reduces the need for excessive scrolling, which is one of the main considerations when designing a VLE area.

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Using Word and Office 365 to streamline assessment feedback

In my last few posts I have been explaining some uses of Office 365 to create collaborative activities using PowerPoint or Excel. In this post, I am going to look at Microsoft Word. Word could be used to create a collaborative learning activity in a similar way to the PowerPoint example, but it is set so that only one person can edit one paragraph at a time – therefore careful consideration is required when designing such an activity. In this example I am going to look at the mechanism of student feedback following assessment and h the collaborative nature can be very useful.

If I look at what might happen in colleges, universities and some schools at the present:

  1. Teacher produces an assignment brief and gives this to the learner.
  2. Learner completes assignment and hands it in.
  3. Teacher marks the work and fills in a feedback sheet, hands work and feedback sheet back to learner.
  4. Learner fills in the box on feedback sheet where they reflect on the assignment and their action plan to solve any updates required.
  5. At end of term, teacher realises learner hasn’t updated their assignment – contacts learner.
  6. Learner has lost feedback sheet so has forgotten what needs doing.
  7. Teacher re-issues feedback sheet (luckily they have a copy).
  8. Student does updates, hands work back in.
  9. Teacher remarks work, fills in anew feedback sheet with the additional feedback and final grade.

Although the above may sound like a tedious drawn out exaggeration, I am sure that many will see similarities with current practices  – and whatever ones system, whether paper and pen or electronic there is almost always a significant amount of files moving from place to another and there is seldom an efficient loop where the students use the tutors feedback to help them with their updates or future assignments.

So here is one suggestion. We create a single Word document that is going to contain all of the information relating to that assignment – and this will be used by both tutor and student. This will contain the brief for the assessment, the list of criteria being covered/assessed, and area for the student to reflect on the assignment, areas for the teacher to give feedback, and space for them to add additional information if the work is referred and needs to be upgraded.

Once this document has been created – all the tutor has to do is to share this with the learner through OneDrive (the new name for SkyDrive). The learner and the tutor are now accessing the same document. If the tutor wants to have a situation where all of the students marked work is returned at the same time, rather than piecemeal – they can quickly remove the students sharing rights, mark all of the work and then re-share it.

Image showing the history settings within OneDrive

Image showing the history settings within OneDrive

One of the key reasons why this technique hasn’t worked in the past, is the verification process needs to see the different versions of the work and the feedback given – which in turn lead to the notion of creating lots of different documents. The beauty of using Office 365 and OneDrive is there is a built in history and version mechanism.

With this you can see any previous versions including who made the changes and you can restore or download any of the versions at a later date if required by an IV or EV.

Image showing the history options for a file including the ability to restore, download and who made the changes and when

Image showing the option to restore or download a previous version of the same file.

Having one file to deal with rather than lots of files is easier for the tutor and the student to manage. There are less chances of error due to people using the wrong version of those files, and from a teaching and learning perspective having all of the information in one place for the student is far more likely for them to reflect on the feedback and change their behaviour as a result.

I hope that as organisations start to use Office 365 more and more, there is a real effort for people to think about what they are doing and why – and how these technical advancements can make a huge difference to our overall efficiency and effectiveness.

Simple formatting tips in Excel, to improve quality of learning materials

People often talk about what is there favourite e-learning tool or piece of software, and if I am asked, I answer by saying “If I were to be abandoned on a desert island with 30 students, with computers but I was only allowed one piece of software, I would take Microsoft Excel”

Why – quite simply it is a very powerful tool, which when you know how to use it, becomes a very easy tool within which to create learning materials, and even though I have access to more sophisticated tools, over 50% of the learning objects that I create use Excel. A lot of people think that Excel is about tables of data, with an ugly grid behind and complicated tool bars and navigation system – but when creating learning objects, all these can be stripped out, so when the learner views the resource they won’t even realise that it is Excel.

This short screencast shows a few such formatting tips that can be applied to make a learning resource more user friendly.

or – http://screenr.com/CKp

I will be creating a series of blog post on the use of Excel over the coming weeks, so watch this space for more information.