Book Review: Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Just over a year ago I reviewed four Moodle books published by Packt Publishing. Since then, a lot of new Moodle titles have been added to their catalogue. Richard Dias, Marketing Research Executive at Packt, has kindly sent me a copy of one of these new titles for review: Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques by William Rice and Susan Smith Nash, first published in January 2010.

William Rice has already published a couple of books with Packt. This book seems to be an effort by Susan Smith Nash to  build on an earlier version of the book by Rice. She adds some learning theory and instructional design essentials to the earlier text.

The fact that this is an update of a much older book, doesn’t work very well. Let me share some examples of where it goes wrong:

  • Chapter 2 used to be called “Forum Solutions”, now it has been retitled to “Instructional Material”. This is weird: Moodle’s core functionality and strongest pedagogical tool is first introduced as a way to clearly display course information and structure. Then on page 25 there is a paragraph titled “Creating a Separate Group for Each Student”. The context from the earlier book (you might want to do this to create private conversations with students) is omitted, making it a confusing set of pages.
  • Chapter 4 has a section that explains how you can exclude quiz grades from a particular quiz in the grade book. The screenshots and explanations are taken from an earlier version of Moodle and do not relate to Moodle 1.9. Moodle 1.9 has a completely different grade book (and has been released since March 2008). It is unforgivable for a book that is published in 2010 to get this wrong. I don’t understand how the reviewer missed this. Hopefully a corrected version will be published as an erratum.
  • The introduction to the book explains that  a basic level of Moodle understanding is assumed for the reader as it wants to focus on learning theory. However it then spends more than 5 (of its 193) pages on explaining what an IP address is and how it can be used to restrict access to a quiz. It gets the Linux part on how to see your IP address wrong (another one for the errata).

The book doesn’t really make optimal use of the new and advanced functionality that Moodle 1.9 has on offer. Two examples:

  • The concept of “groups” is used in the book in some descriptions of course activities (although not enough to call for its own spot in the index), but the concept of “groupings” isn’t mentioned anywhere. If I were to teach a course with Moodle tomorrow, I would definitely use this functionality as it allows you to be much more flexible in your course design.
  • Ever since Moodle 1.7 it has been possible to play with roles and capabilities in Moodle. That functionality is relatively hard to understand and needed some maturation. It is much more usable now in Moodle 1.9. This functionality is only used once in the book (during the discussion on forums) and isn’t explained well enough to my taste.

Does the book have some valuable things to offer? It is not all bad:

  • Some of the introductions to learning concepts are theories are good starting points for further exploration. For example, I liked the reference to Bruner’s “scaffolding” concept and spent some time reading the Wikipedia article on instructional scaffolding.
  • The pages on basic chat etiquette and wiki etiquette are quite useful. They describe rules you can agree on with your students to make the online learning process more pleasurable.
  • The ways of using the choice activity have been slightly expanded compared to the earlier version of the book.
  • The last chapter has a nice example of a capstone project assignment that you could adapt for your own teaching. To use the workshop module as the basis for this project assignment is a bit risky, as I would not recommend anybody to use the workshop module in its current state (Moodle 2.0 should solve that problem).

All in all I would not recommend anybody to get this book. If you have 30 euros to spend on a Moodle book (this book isn’t cheap!) choose one of the ones I recommend here. If you have a basic understanding of Moodle and are looking for generalised teaching techniques for online courses you are much better served by Gilly Salmon‘s work on e-moderation (see E-moderating and E-tivities).

Hopefully I can be more enthusiastic about the next Packt title I get to review…