Extreme Makeover: Moodle Edition

We are in unprecedented times. This current term has been a time of triage, of doing what we can to meet students and create any learning experience possible. Many have used our learning management system, Moodle, for the first time (Kudos!) And some are relying on it just a bit more than they have before. According to data being collected by colleagues in the Office of Research Administration, student experience in this new paradigm within Moodle has varied. Some have been able to take it in stride and some have experienced challenges. The purpose of this post is to provide brief design examples and recommendations that an instructor may implement in their Moodle course to help make the student experience as good as it can be.

As an aside I will mention that Shannon Newman and I presented a workshop where we shared strategies for making a course more inclusive with Moodle tools. You may see the slides here.

What follows are some strategies with examples that you may choose to implement in your Moodle course(s).

Strategy 1 – Use Topic Zero With Care

The first topic section in every Moodle course is “Topic 0.” One special characteristic of this section is that it is always visible no matter which course format you choose.

Moodle course page with the first topic section, "Topic Zero," highlighted inside a red box.
Moodle: Topic Zero

This makes it is great place for more static information like a syllabus, office hours, and course description. Care should be taken to only place what is necessary in this section. Keeping the information in this section concise will limit how much the students to have to scroll to access other course materials.

Strategy 2 – Use images

Images can bring color and increase interest on your course page. While cliché, there is some merit to the phrase, “A picture is worth 1000 words.” Used in the right way, an image can additionally help bring clarity to a concept or provide commentary on a specific idea. Below (1) is an example of a banner image from Martyn Smith’s RLST 205 course, “Religion and the Biosphere.” The image adds interest and is tied to the course theme.

A Moodle course page showing a banner image of white flowers in front of green leaves and a list of emoji images for students to use on Instragram.
RLST205S20: Images in a course.

The second image (2) is used to convey information to the students about how they can interact in the course.

One note on using images: Best practice would dictate that all images be accessible, containing alternative text (alt text) where necessary. The Moodle text editor provides you direction for entering alt text and/or giving you the option to not include it if the image is decorative. In the above example the banner image is most likely decorative and doesn’t need alt text. The second image would require a description to allow those using screen reading software to know what the image was about.

Strategy 3 – Limit Cognitive Load

Limiting the amount of content that students must consume in an interaction with your course can open mental bandwidth for them to focus on the course content and work that you have for them. There are a number of ways that you can support students in this. One way exampled in both Martyn Smith’s RLST 205 and Shannon Newman’s BIOL 354 course, is that only the most current week/topic (RLST 205,) or all past and current are visible, but future topics are hidden (BIOL 354). Topic sections may easily be hidden by the instructor.

Moodle Edit topic settings menu with the "Hide topic" option noted with a red arrow.
Moodle: Edit topic menu.

Activities and resources may also be hidden/shown to students based on a number of criteria including date, grade, completion of another activity or combination thereof.

Another way to help focus students’ attention is to use an alternative course format. Two useful ones are collapsible topics or weeks. They function as they sound, allowing each topic to be collapsed or expanded as the student needs or desires.

The Moodle course settings page with the Course Format sections expanded and the Format drop-down menu expanded to show the available course formats. These include (in this order from top to bottom): Collapsible topics format, Collapsible Weeks format, Single activity format, Topics format, and Weekly format.
Moodle: Course Administration > Edit Settings > Course format.

We can see an example of this in the image below from Shannon Newman’s Molecular Biology course. There is an option to expand all sections in the upper right. Each section contains an arrow on the left to expand or collapse that section. Two benefits of this format are that 1) it provides a list of the activities and resources contained in that section, and 2) shows a progress counter so that students can see how much they have completed in a section. This supports their executive function.

BIOL354S20: Collapsible topic sections.

One last way to limit cognitive overload is to group information within a Book, Page, or Folder resource. Each of these provide a way to consolidate large amounts of information or files into a single link on the course page.

Strategy 4 – Use Consistent Organization & Visual Design

A Moodle course is an extension of the class environment and in this current circumstance THE class environment. An instructor can provide context for the course materials which will in turn help students navigate, locate, and use those course materials. This is accomplished by using a consistent layout and visual design. An example of this can be seen in Shannon Newman’s Molecular Biology course.

One topic section within a Moodle course page displaying four chunks of information: an overview, lecture recordings, laboratory, and assignments.
BIOL354S20: Consistent topic content layout and design.

In the image above we see four distinct sections within the topic section: an overview, Lecture Recordings and PowerPoints, Laboratory, and Assignments. Each of the subsequent sections in Shannon’s course follow this same format. Doing so provides a consistent structure to help the students find what they need. Creating sub-sections within a topic section can be accomplished by using a Label resource to create a heading and then indenting (“Move right”) the items below the heading.

Where the section structure may differ from topic to topic with additional or less materials, e.g. there is an additional section for “Exam Information” in the second module of Shannon’s course, the order is kept consistent to allow the students to easily scan over the materials and find what they need.

Strategy 5 – Avoid the Scroll-of-Death

Moodle makes it very easy to add materials to a course. It is simple as dragging them from your computer’s desktop or folder into your Moodle course. As a result a course can end up consisting of a long list of documents and activities requiring students to scroll and scroll to see materials later on in a course.

A scrolling Moodle page.

A number of the strategies mentioned above may help combat this (Collapsible topics/weeks, hiding topic sections, using Book, Page, or Folder resources.) Making an effort to limit scrolling is especially important as more and more users access Moodle from a mobile device. By way of illustration during the first four weeks of winter term 41% of users accessed Moodle from a mobile device. During the first four weeks of spring term this number has increased to 53%. Ignoring this trend means creating barriers for users and creating a less inclusive environment.

Using the handful of strategies presented can help make your course more accessible, pleasant, and useful to students. The easier it is for your students to navigate your Moodle course the more they can concentrate on the task of learning. Please reach out to Instructional Technology if you have any questions about the strategies shared here.

Workload Estimator

The Workload Estimator from the Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University is a helpful tool for instructors to inform themselves about how much work they are giving students. This tool can be part of an instructors transparent approach by providing a way for instructors to communicate to students the amount of work that instructors require of students.

Making Accessible Office Documents

One part of creating an inclusive classroom is making sure that the materials we use are accessible to those with disabilities. As the University of Washington Accessible Technology blog points out, there are some common steps that one can take regardless of the type of document. These include:1

  • Using headings
  • Using lists
  • Using meaningful hyperlinks
  • Adding alternate text to images
  • Using tables wisely

I will include links below to helpful resources for each of the three Office tools. This link to the University of Washington page on creating accessible documents contain very helpful information. There is also a link to Microsoft’s accessibility video training hub that has helpful information and examples.

Word

PowerPoint

Excel

References

1. “Overview of Accessible Documents.” n.d. Accessible Technology (blog). Accessed February 20, 2020. https://www.washington.edu/accessibility/documents/overview/.

Lightboard!

The Lightboard, LU’s version of Learning Glass, is a way to engage students with lecture while maintaining eye contact with them. The current iteration supports recording of video that may be used in a flipped model. Instructional Technology invites any interested faculty to contact them about using the Lightboard.

Schedule a Demonstration

To schedule a demonstration of the capabilities of the Lightboard, please contact inst-tech@lawrence.edu.

Recording Tips

  • Plan to wear dark (not black) clothing so your writing will stand out better.
  • It may be helpful to practice on paper to position yourself correctly in relation to your writing.

New Resource: Podcasting 101

I write today to share a video playlist resource for faculty, and their students developed through a collaboration between Instructional Technology and Mudd Library staff. We have created a series of three videos in support of podcasting projects.

The videos are hosted on the Podcasting page within the Digital Media Toolbox. we invite any instructor interested in having students complete a podcasting project to use these videos. Not to prescribe use of this resource, but the videos could be used in a flipped workshop model, where students view the video(s) ahead of time and then Instructional Technology or the Mudd Library staff could attend a class to facilitate work on a facet of the actual project.

The playlist shares recording tips, resources the Library has to offer, and how to get started editing in Audacity.

Individual Videos

  1. Recording Tips (6:22)
  2. Library Resources (7:43)
  3. Getting Started with Audacity (10:44)

*** Make sure to check out the video description in each video for linked bookmarks to specific points in each video and other resources.

ID2ID: Professional Development Event Synopsis 2

As a means of supporting our growth and knowledge in the area of universal design for learning and inclusive course design, over the last my ID2ID colleague and I read and discussed the book, Supporting College and University Students with Invisible Disabilities by Christy Oslund as our second part of the professional development requirement.

We both enjoyed the book and found it helpful in our practice. The book opens by dispelling myths and then sharing about the legalities around meeting the needs of those with a disability. The next five chapters were most useful, helpful, and illuminating for us as each shared a different invisible disability. These chapters included background information, co morbid disorders and support recommendations for each disability. These chapters helped to illuminate the challenges that those with each disability face and tangible recommendations for supporting those with a particular disability. The last few chapters launched into a discussion around universal design, universal design for learning, and consideration for administration. While informative my colleague and I did not find this section to be as helpful as the last. The recommendations here were a bit too general to be helpful.

In my work at Lawrence University this work will be a great resource for instructors helping them to better understand the students they teach. As we embark on a journey toward inclusive excellence the information in this book will help instructors exercise compassion toward students with a particular disability as well as have a better understanding of the legalities around disability. we plan to use this book in a faculty reading/discussion group in a near future term.

ID2ID: Professional Development Event Synopsis 1

I had the opportunity to attend the UDL-IRN’s UDLHE Digicon. (So many acronyms!) This was a one-day, web-hosted, virtual conference. It is amazing to me how these virtual conferences retain the best parts (and some of the running-between-sessions feelings) of a face-to-face conference.

The day was full of informative sessions. My motivation for attending this conference was to learn strategies for faculty to implement universal design for learning (UDL), strategies to communicate and teach others about the benefits of UDL, and support my current ID2ID project. I am participating in the current cohort of the ID2ID program. The goal of this program is to pair instructional designers together to facilitate a collaborative professional growth opportunity. Each pair is tasked with creating goals to work toward by the conclusion of the program. The goal that my partner, or buddy in ID2ID-speak, are working toward broadly, is to use the UDL framework to support faculty in creating inclusive teaching and learning experiences. This conference directly supports that goal by providing a learning opportunity centered on the topic of UDL.

There were two sessions that resonated with me that I will highlight here. The first was titled “Emphasizing Student Choice, Engagement, & Flexibility in Hybrid Courses.” In it, the presenter Lauren Tucker, outlined the methods and tools that she uses with her students to help them internalize the philosophy of UDL and provide them opportunities to use technology to support a UDL approach. One of the things that Dr. Tucker provides her class and individual students is a UDL Toolkit. This facilitates an opportunity for her students to experience the tools themselves, and to see how they might leverage these tools with their own students (Dr. Tucker’s students are teachers or pre-service teachers.)

The second session that resonated with me was UDL, My Choice: Perspectives and conversations on scaffolding choicemaking, with Denia Bradshaw and Andrew Dell’Antonio. This session resonated with me on a number of levels as I have a music education background. Recalling back to all the hours I spent in lessons and practice rooms made Denia Bradshaw’s portion, talking about how she provides students choice in their one-on-one lessons, more impactful to me. Andrew Dell’Antonio shared about how he increases student choice in his music history course. The students are given four options for how they can show mastery in a course capstone project. This session is particularly pertinent to my ID2ID project goal as my institution has a conservatory. I look forward to sharing and discussing this with the conservatory faculty.

IDC04 – Project-based Assessment: Interview with Dr. Kristin Shingler

Listen to ID Corner:
Apple Podcasts | Google Play Podcasts | Spotify | RSS
All Episodes|Music provided by Kimiko Ishizaka

Transcript

In this episode I interview Dr. Kristin Shingler, Teaching Specialist in the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry about the project-based assessment she uses in her classes.

Resources

Microbial Murders Crime Scene Investigation: An Active Team-Based Learning Project that Enhances Student Enthusiasm and Comprehension of Clinical Microbial Pathogens

Kristin’s Documents

Libguides – Teaching and Learning

Logo image for Libguides. A blue cloud with a white laptop icon in front.

I write today to share a link to a number of resources. Since coming to Lawrence I have begun curating a number of guides in the “Teaching and Learning” category. The purpose of these guides is to provide resources for instructors and their students. This list of guides is chosen to support instructors in making their courses more active and inclusive; and supporting students in their coursework.

If you are interested in viewing other guides you may do so by navigating to the Library’s main page (https://lawrence.edu/library), and then clicking the “research guides” link located on the right under the “Research Guides” heading.

Rather than providing a summary for each guide in the teaching and learning list, I prefer to call out a few that I think are most important.

The first in this list is the Universal Design for Learning, Neurodiversity guide. Universal design for learning (UDL) is a design framework for reducing and removing barriers in the teaching and learning experience. Its purpose is to make the learning experience more inclusive and to produce self-directed and engaged learners. This guide provides an overview of UDL, explanations for each of the three principles (Representation, Engagement, and Expression), and an overview of what neurodiversity is and implications for teaching and learning. UDL has great potential to better the teaching and learning experience, particularly in the areas of student agency and executive function. One increasing issue faced on our and many campuses is clinical anxiety. UDL provides the means for an instructor to support a student by providing the structures and tools to help the student manage their work in a more digestible manner.

Second in the list is the Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool guide. One goal of all educators is to help students become producers of knowledge rather than solely consumers. Wikipedia is one tool that can help facilitate this is a pointed way. The platform provides a low barrier to entry for anyone to contribute to the repository of knowledge. This guide provides recommendations for instructors on how to have students evaluate Wikipedia, research with Wikipedia, and resources available to an instructor for teaching and students working in Wikipedia. One resource that I particularly want to mention is the WikiEdu organization. This group provides assignment examples and templates as well as design support for an instructor wanting to use Wikipedia in a course.

The third and last guide in this list is the Digital Media Toolbox. This guide was created with the purpose to be a resource for instructors and students in the creation of digital media. Among other things this guide provides information on copyright and citation of media, finding media that may be re-used in projects, and campus resources for creating projects. Digital media projects are a way to provide students options in how they show what they know (a tenet of UDL and the principle of Expression). They also allow the students to express creativity and participate in something that may be perceived as fun. These are all positives in a learning experience leading to increased engagement.

I invite you to review these guides in particular and the rest in the list too. Please feel free to reach out to me through comments or contacting me directly. I am happy to discuss the content in these guides and how it relates to the teaching and learning process.

Listen Notes Podcast Search Engine

Block letters spelling the words "Listen Notes."

I am new to podcasting, but recently came across what I think is a cool tool for those interested in podcasts. There are applications of this site that may make it a powerful pedagogical tool.

Listen Notes is a search engine for podcasts. You might wonder why a person might want such a thing when there is Google, but hopefully this post might share some reasons why. Listen Notes allows you to search for podcast episodes by keyword or topic. It can be a great way to find content you are interested in and discover new podcasts.

In addition to the search function, Listen Notes provides a Listen Later list. A person can save podcasts or single episodes to this list to listen to … later. Here is an example of my initial Listen Later list. One can even subscribe to the Listen Later feed in a podcast app to a curated list of episodes. In the words of the creator/developer, “it is like Pocket / Instapaper for podcasts.” This function alone can be valuable for someone looking for content about a specific topic. It can serve as a support in a personal learning network.

This same function could be used to create publicly available curated lists of episodes. These lists can be curated collaboratively. I could see this function being used by an instructor to curate a list of episodes for a class or for having students create a curated list on a given topic.

I am excited to use this new-to-me tool and to see how I can leverage it to increase my own learning and support others’ learning.