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Using Moodle

Jason Cole and Helen Foster
Published by O'Reilly Community Press
ISBN: 978-0-596-52918-5
282 pages
£ 24.99
Published: 7th December 2007
reviewed by David Cohen
   in the March 2008 issue (pdf), (html)

Moodle, as the book subtitle tells us, is the popular course management system. As a jobbing university teacher I have been using Moodle for content delivery for several years now and thought it was going quite well. This book made it clear to me how much I was missing.

The first three chapters are: Introduction, Moodle Basics and Creating and Managing Content. These get you started and whet your appetite for more detail.

Chapter four is called Managing your Class and tells you how Moodle roles can be creatively used to allow more interesting teaching and learning. Here you find out about Moodle's roles and capabilities, which are powerful enough to allow you to be really creative. I discovered that I could override basic permissions for students to allow them to grade each others posts on a particular Moodle forum inside my course. This was a revelation and the very next day I set up such a forum. Chapter four also discusses Moodle groups, which allow you to divide up your class. You can restrict how different groups interact within each activity on your Moodle course. For instance, if you enable groups, you get to create a per-group Wiki that students can use to help with online collaborative work. Also a per-group forum gives project team members a private place for thoughtful discussion and can even be used a simple online file repository.

The bulk of the book is concerned with describing the activities and resources with which you can populate your Moodle site. There are lots of chapters because Moodle is a very rich environment: Wikis, blogs, journals, quizzes, lessons, databases, assignment, glossaries etc. What was particularly nice about these chapters is that each finishes with a section giving some effective practises to help you deploy the Moodle features. An example I used straightaway was to create a glossary students can edit (with moderation). Moodle automatically links glossary terms from anywhere else in your course if you ask it do — great. Moodle is extensive so any book will miss out some stuff that you end up using. I use a course diary block on my courses and this is not described in the book. It is, however, very easy. Perhaps a more important deficiency is that there is very sparse material on Moodle setup and administration. Moodle is likely to sit in amongst a quite complicated set of tools for managing students, libraries, internal web portals, etc. However, in its defence, this book is aimed at teachers, not at administrators.

I particularly liked the style: information you need given succinctly; the text is clear and chatty. I particularly enjoyed the asides describing the two authors' experience of Moodle, including pitfalls to avoid and tricks they have deployed. Necessarily, this book is a bit repetitive as each new feature merits the same kind of discussion. That said, I read it from cover to cover in three days. If you are web savvy you probably won't need the book because the Moodle interface really is easy to use and all the information is online anyway. If, like me, you are the sort of person who likes a book to carry with them on trains, bending the pages and making notes, then this is a very good book on Moodle. It gives clear instructions for using features, good illustrations, useful tips. Maybe, once you've set up a course or two, you'll know exactly what to do and won't need the book, but until then…

I wish that I had read this book before I started using Moodle.

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