More and more districts, schools, and teachers are interested in conducting online courses or adding online components to existing courses. A course management system allows teachers to manage their classes, courses, assignments, activities, quizzes and tests, resources, and more in an accessible online environment. Students can log on and work anytime, anywhere.
What is Open Source?
Open source means software that is freely available for people to both use and modify. Software such as the Linux operating system, the Mozilla Web browsers, and the Apache Web server are open source. Thousands of people contribute to revising and upgrading the software.
If you have ever thought about using such a system in your school or district, you may have been put off by the cost of commercial packages. In that case, Moodle may be for you.
The Moodle course management system is an open source system that educators can use to create online courses. Begun in 1999, the Moodle community has now grown so that by early June 2005 there were about 3,500 Moodle sites in more than 100 countries (and that counts only registered users).
To use Moodle, you first need to install it on a Web server that your teachers and students can access (both at school and at home). After your network specialist installs Moodle on your school or district's Web server, they need to set up your teacher account; then you can create your online course. You begin by specifying course settings, such as the format of the course, its title, when it starts, and so forth. From there, you build your course!
Three Format Types
A Moodle course can be set up in one of three formats — weekly, topics, or social. The social format revolves around a discussion forum for its participants.
Many modules can be implemented in Moodle, including Lessons, Quizzes, and Resources, three very useful modules. The Lessons module is exactly that — lessons you develop and post online for your students to navigate. Questions at the end of each page in a lesson can be multiple choice, true/false, short answer, numerical, matching, and essay. As an example, to create a question page you would decide on the type of question, give the page a title, add page contents (for example, ask the question), provide the answer(s), include feedback to be displayed depending on the student's answer, and also supply a "jump," to where the student should go next depending on the answer given.
Quizzes test pupils on content. Resources give your class access to Web sites, articles, and readings for reference. In addition, Assignments can be given; these can be typed directly in to Moodle, uploaded (for example, a word processing file), or done offline, with results graded and listed online. Through Chat users can "talk" to each other in real time, just like an instant messaging system. Want to take a poll to get your class' opinion on a topic? Use the Choices feature in Moodle.
Moodle's friendly interface gives teachers free rein when managing assignments and tests.
Forums, and glossaries are also available, with forums allowing your students to discuss a wide range of topics; teachers can create glossaries of terms and link to them from other areas of Moodle. Other available features include workshops and surveys. For more information about Moodle and its features, see www.moodle.org.
Jeffrey Branzburg is a contributing editor and regular columnist for Technology & Learning.