Difficult to share?
Is it difficult for teachers to share materials and online activities at your school? Would you like togive your students increasingly richer multimedia activities on Moodle—with audio, video, and images? Many language teachers are dealing with these questions as Moodle has become the most popular open-source learning management system in Japan and the world. Many schools use it as an institutional approach to add password-protected Web 2.0 tools into language classrooms. Teachers love to share their work with colleagues and these new Moodle plug-ins can lead to accelerated lesson improvement and faster course authoring.
First, do you just want to share a single document or a single quiz that worked well? Are you frustrated with email attachments, or the complicated way that Moodle does backups, restores, and imports to your school website? In this case, the Sharing Cart is ideal for you. The Sharing Cart is a pick-and-choose tool that lets you roam your entire school Moodle site, enter other courses, select only the item you want (without user data), and pop it into your own course. It’s an easy, intuitive tool for duplicating the teaching materials and activities we use every day.
Second, the Project Course Format for Moodle allows any teacher to package sections of courses (what you may now be calling "units" or "topics" or "projects"). These packages can be moved around easily and the media files will move with them, so a teacher does not have to worry about changing links or fiddling with permissions.
At Sapporo Gakuin University, we developed both the Sharing Cart block and the Project Course Format as free add-ins to Moodle. We have been using them this past year in over 50 classes taught by our six-person teaching team. Recently, we also released second versions of the modules at a national Moodle conference in Hakodate (15-16 Feb 2008). In this article, I will outline these two sharing tools for Moodle, along with tips to make installation go smoothly. In addition, I will outline plans for a public repository where teachers all over the world can share Moodle projects.
To install the Sharing Cart (or any add-on, non-standard module), go to the Modules and Plug-ins database of moodle.org and search for “Sharing Cart” to find a downloadable package. The Sharing Cart is free (as are all Moodle modules), but you need to ask your site administrator (hopefully that is you) to put it into the blocks folder of your Moodle program. After that is done, go to your course and click “Add a Block” and find “Sharing Cart” to add it. Once you do that, you will see little icons everywhere in Moodle for picking up any learning object that appears in a Moodle course— a document, a forum, a quiz, or a survey, for example. Click on the icon, and a clean duplicate of that activity is zipped into your Sharing Cart, minus the student data of course. You can organize your cart with folders if you like, and store these objects as long as you want, inserting them into your courses here and there. Here is a screenshot of the Sharing Cart with a circle around the little icon that is used to insert your learning object anywhere in your course.
Project Course Format
What if you do not want to pick up activities and resources one-by-one? If you have a whole unit of activities, particularly in a project-based course, you may want to duplicate and move that whole set all together. In that case, switch from a Topic or Weekly Course Format to the Project Course Format. Download and install the plug-in, as explained above, and then click on the icons for moving a section box (project) anywhere in your Moodle site. It is also possible to copy a whole course using Moodle’s backup and restore tools, but the Project Course Format copies just the section you need. Here is a screenshot of a what a Moodle section looks like with a set of activities included. Notice the arrow pointing at the icons for backing up and restoring a whole section.
Moodle is open-source and uses international standards for sharing e-learning content, so course materials can be shared between teachers of different schools. However, packaging the materials and moving them is notoriously difficult for teachers with little technical experience. For that reason, we have created a new repository module for easy searching and sharing. With the internal Moodle Repository, developed by Version2Web Development, you can upload your best documents or Moodle activities into an iTunes-like browser for others to view and download. The difference with this repository, though, is the points system used to reward teachers who take the time to upload materials and fill out the information form. For each upload, you get a point and,if it is popular, you get more points. Then you can use these points to download other teachers’ materials. It is a barter system of share-and-share-alike. These types of incentives for contributions are critical to encourage hardworking teachers who may be reluctant to subsidize other teachers who are eager to take but rarely take time to give. The Moodle Repository is in development now and will be demonstrated globally atthe new site for the Moodle for Language Teaching community, a sub-site of moodle.org. Watch for announcements there: <moodle.org/course/view.php?id=31>.If you’re not already a Moodle user, look for the button “Login as a guest.”
A culture of sharing
Once you have these tools, the excitement of sharing will be infectious. Recently, I made a final exam of 80 questions for 100 of my students. It took me 40 minutes to both make it and mark it. The authoring was fast because I re-used 50% from my old quizzes, borrowed 40% from other teachers, and created only 10% new test items. And of course, the marking online was instant. Saving time and getting new ideas is the delight of being “wired” in a culture of sharing between teachers.
Don Hinkelmanteaches English and intercultural communication at Sapporo Gakuin University in Hokkaido. He is a coordinator of Moodle for Language Teaching, a global online community and Englishforum, a local Hokkaido web community. Along with Andy Johnson of Future University Hakodate and Akio Ohnishi of Version2 Web Development, the team has developed numerous modules for Moodle, a free, open-source learning management system.