Thursday, September 29, 2011

Off-topic supports community in Moodle

This year, I gave my students a place to converse on the Moodle that didn’t have to be about school.  In the past, I didn’t have this.  I thought maybe it wouldn’t be necessary since many students are already on Facebook.  But the Coffee House has been a popular place, at least for the 8th grade.

They have discussed Rebecca Black, running (I have some serious runners), peanut butter, birthdays...

My only rule is that language is respectful and appropriate.  I get an email for every post.  This gives me less of the conversation – because there are several threads going on – but I get to read each post without having to hunt through the threads for the latest posts (to get this, subscribe when you're setting up the forum).  Clicking on the right place in the email takes me right into the conversation.

I called it the Coffee House because I want my students to think of it as a place to chat that doesn’t feel like school.  So far, that’s what they’re using it for. 

In an all-online course, I know from experience as a student, that this kind of forum really encourages connections, building relationships, and trust.  I hadn’t thought this would be so important in a blended class, since students see each other in class every day.  But I’m glad to see this it’s providing another place for connection.  I don't make them post.  But they're there. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Kid radar flags own errors

Yesterday, a student emailed me, begging me to remove a post he had made that he realized had crossed the line.  After 30 minutes, he couldn’t get back in to edit it (a Moodle restriction), so he needed me to make the change.  He had gone over the bounds of good taste, using vocabulary that would be acceptable in the locker room, but not so good in the classroom.

As it happens, I had seen his post, but decided to wait until school to mention it and then take action.  He beat me to it. 

Last year, I had a similar situation with another student, only this was posting an image that was off-color.  He, too, realized on his own that he had erred, and brought it to me before I ever had a chance to bring it to him. 

Part of letting kids explore online environments like Moodle is that it lets them make these kinds of mistakes in a controlled environment (I get an email for every post) that doesn’t expose their mistakes to the entire world. 

Better still, they had the chance to listen to their own internal radar – that something was off – and to respond to it.  Their self-corrections were spot-on.  And they will remember this for a long, long time.

All  I had to do was agree with their assessment and remove the offending material.  

Not all “off” material even gets posted.  Lots of kids will be working in the computer lab and ask me if something – especially an image – is okay.  Their radar flagged it, but they want to get adult affirmation that their radar is right.  Of course not all kids identify their posts as inappropriate, but I don’t get the usual protests when I discuss it with them, so I suspect they secretly agree when I flag their work.

So cool.  Students get to try it out, use their radar to identify what shouldn’t be posted, and self-correct.  Simple.   Elegant.   The situation teaches them.  My favorite kind of learning.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


    So I introduced Moodle to my 7th and 8th graders this week.  You know you’re doing something right when kids login from home without even being asked to.  You also know you’re onto something when students ask hopefully if we’re going to the computer lab to work on the Moodle today.   Some highlights:

  • Most of the students who keep “forgetting” their permission slips suddenly remember when  they see that everybody else is engaged in something they can’t participate in
  • Having the Start Button activities helps a lot.   Students enjoy adding information about themselves to their profiles, even though some are describing themselves in silly hyperbolic terms. 

  • Having  written directions at the very start  reduces “what are we doing” questions.  I respond, “What do the directions say?”  “Directions?  Oh, yeah…”
  • Some kids still want to be spoon-fed.  “I can’t find …” Have to remember to  turn these questions over to their peers. 
  • Students really like adding pictures to their profiles.  Some kids are very savvy about finding and uploading pictures, while others have never done it.  Uploading pictures isn’t required, but if kids want to do it, they are motivated to struggle with these new skills. 
  • Facebook-like posting is typical – lots of terrible spelling, punctuation, capitalization (see sample).  I’m living with that for now so students can focus on learning to use this environment.  Kids do best when they focus on one  thing at a time.   

  • The second day, students post to a Vocabulary discussion.  The two discussions (netiquette and vocabulary) give them a chance to find the Reply button, and figure out what discussions look like.

Students are conversing with each other and having fun with it.  Yes!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Introducing Moodle to students

My strategy: 

  1. Bulk enroll all my students, See this post about bulk enrolling students. 
  2. Set up groups within each class, so that I can have discussions within groups that are subsets of the class, and thus reduce the reading load for my students.  It’s so much easier to read and respond to 10 or so others – instead of 25 or even (gulp) 50.  It took me last year to get a handle around groups, but now I’m comfortable with them and find them surprisingly easy to do.  See this post about using groups.
  3. Once students have returned parent permission forms (see ), I give them userid (same as the school userid) an initial password which they will change, and the link to the URL for them to click on.  This minimizes “I forgot my userid” and keying in the wrong address. 
  4. Students can then add their email, information about interests in their profile, and an image (they love to add a photo that is either of themselves or of a personal interest).  Our Moodles are private, so students can use their real names and images. 

    Of course, there are always a few students who “forget” to bring in their permission forms, but I have tweaked that, too.
  • Students are still required to do the work, but don’t get to participate directly in any of the discussions and other activities (something to motivate them to get their forms in).  
  • It’s a bit of extra work for me to post the basic assignments on the class Edline page (our non-interactive class webpages which are accessible to parents and students), but there’s an upside there, too.  
  • If kids forget their Moodle password, they can still do the assignments (so no excuses).  
  • And parents can see the work we’re doing, which they like. 

   The next post is about the Start Button and the first work students do in the Moodle.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bulk enrolling Moodle users

It used to take me hours and hours to bulk upload my users and set up groups.  This year, it took less than an hour, even though I’ve expanded from 8th grade to include 7th grade students.  Having done it already made it go so much faster this time.  It does get easier!

I create a spreadsheet with the necessary fields (first name, last name, user name, password, email (I use a dummy email).  I use the CONCATENANTE command in Excel to link the first and last names together to make the user name.  This is also the same user name students use to login to school computers, so students have one less thing to remember. 
   “What’s my user name again?”  
   “Same as your login.”  
   “Oh, yeah!”

I start everyone with the same password, because they are all opening their accounts at the same time in the computer lab in front of me and must change to a new password at that time.  If a student is absent, I change their password.  If my students were working remotely, I would give each a unique password.

The host of my Moodle, Global Classroom, lets me use a dummy email, none@local, since many younger students don’t have personal emails.  (Students can add their actual emails later.)

It’s easy enough to type in first and last names for each student.  In the first record I use CONCATENATE to create the user name, then enter the password and fake email (see sample).  Then I just copy the rest of the information down the spreadsheet. 

After that, I save as a CSV file and upload; each Moodle installation seems to be a little different when it comes to uploading, so ask your Moodle administrator/host or use a little trial and error.  Also check out

While many Moodle books and Moodle Docs will recommend that you have students enroll themselves in your courses, I don’t do that. 

Why?  Because I work with young adolescents who are absolutely stellar in their ability to ignore directions, plunge ahead, and then need individual assistance when they get derailed.  It’s a lot easier to bulk upload students than to spend a frustrating period or three just getting kids enrolled.  And then there is at least one wise guy in every class who deliberately “doesn’t get it” just to jerk the teacher’s chain. My job is to help kids who need help, but I do object to kids who play dumb as a deliberate game, and yes, I do have a few of those. 

Bulk enrolling students minimizes time spent getting kids started, so we get to the good stuff! 

More on what this looks like in class next time.