Thursday, April 08, 2004

Moodle first impressions

Our campus has not provided online course management systems, such as Blackboard or WebCT, for on-campus instructors; they've been reserved for online course instructors due to the high cost of licenses. I and a few other on-campus instructors have managed to squeeze our way into the system, but we're the exception.

That's all about to change because our campus is testing Moodle, an open source course management system. Since our tech folks have installed Moodle on local servers we have no license limitations, and they plan on allowing all instructors to use Moodle in the fall. I've just created a Moodle site for my zoology lab course, so thought I'd share some first impressions.

So you know where I'm coming from, I currently use WebCT in my lecture class to administer weekly knowledge checks and post handouts and lecture slides, but have not had an online course management system for lab. I've used WebCT for about 2 years, and before that was trained in Blackboard.

I found Moodle's interface to be very intuitive, and have created my course page containing PDFs of handouts, discussion forums, a live chat, and a mini-survey with a minimum amount of background reading. Moodle courses are usually organized by either topic or week, and you can add as many activities to each topic or week as desired. Possible activities include:
  • assignments/lessons
  • live chats that are recorded for later viewing
  • threaded discussion forums
  • quizzes
  • non-graded surveys
  • choices (single questions you can pose to the class)
  • glossaries
  • journals
  • "resources" including uploaded files, wiki pages, web links, and much more
  • a scheduler
  • a workshop peer assessment tool

Here are some of the positives I've found in my short trial:
  • It's easy to access just about everything in Moodle. Very few things are more than one or two clicks away from the main screen as a designer, and for students the root page of any given item should never be more than one click away from the homepage.

  • The menus and navigation are simple, at least compared with WebCT. Even though uploading and posting a file requires about the same number of clicks in Moodle and WebCT (around 10), the menus are clearer and the process feels more intuitive in Moodle. For example, the initial menu to add a file in Moodle has 7 menu options, two dialog boxes, and three navigation items visible on the page, whereas in WebCT the initial menu to add a file has 26 menu options and at least 14 navigation links displayed, with my course displaying 29 navigation links on the page.

  • Tracking individual student activity is easy with Moodle. In WebCT it's difficult to get detailed log information for students; most of the logs are summarized as hits per type of material or total counts of discussion board posts. In Moodle you can easily see what each student has done down to individual page loads, and can also see which individual resources have been accessed by which students.

  • With our campus's setup the students create their own accounts on their own time, and course enrollment is controlled by an easily-set registration key given to the students. In contrast, to create a WebCT account for a student anytime after the first week of class I have to e-mail our tech support staff. Note, however, that this enrollment system can vary, as I've worked at other campuses that let students create their own WebCT account.

  • Text editing in Moodle is easy, as the program auto HTML formats everything for you. Surprisingly, WebCT doesn't do this (or I just haven't figured out how to tell WebCT to do it, which is probably more likely).

  • I haven't created a live quiz in Moodle yet, but have explored the options and it seems to have just about all the features available in WebCT, if not more. I should be able to easily move my knowledge checks to Moodle.
If you're looking for an alternative to WebCT or Blackboard I'd highly recommend giving Moodle a try; so far I'm quite pleased with it. However, I'm only just now letting students access the Moodle page, so we'll see in the coming weeks what kind of problems appear. Also, I was not involved with installing and configuring Moodle on our servers, so have no idea how difficult (or easy) that process was.

For more information see Moodle's official page at, and which can provide Moodle hosting and installation services. is designed using Moodle's software, so when you go to that site you're entering a live Moodle course as a guest.

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