Appendix 1: Operational issues

Appendix 1a: Constraints and benefits

Moodle third-party modules

The table below indicates the rationale for each addition, and a link to the original third-party author.

Problem to address Third-party addition Constraints
Inflexibility of ‘poll’ and ‘quiz’ tools to auto-compile results for certain learning activities. Questionnaire module Full module, maintained externally with strong following. Easily added to Moodle. Requires PHP developer if problems. Tutors and students able to run poll exercises.
No method to upload photos and create ‘galleries’ of events and community activities by non-technical staff Slideshow module Full module, maintained externally. Easily added to Moodle. Unknown support, may require PHP developer to maintain. Non-technical staff able to upload and create photo galleries.
Inefficient creation of areas for each student as Moodle ‘courses’, to act as eFolios. Bulk course tools Code snippets, drop into Moodle admin folders. Requires some knowledge of Moodle systems to understand usage. Full documentation and training to be provided.

Recording online lectures

The lectures were written and presented by the module author (an academic in the Department). I was responsible for training the author in digital presentation using the screen-capture software. I was also responsible for editing and producing the content post-recording, and making it available online for students in the most appropriate format. The reason for creating online lectures, was to explain an otherwise complex subject with animated graphs and visual cues. The two screenshots below illustrate how the material was presented as both an embedded Flash video, and as text and diagrams in PDF format.

Screenshot of an online lecture recorded using Camtasia and an accessible PDF equivalent.

Portfolio update note: A link was provided to the demonstration site. This is no longer available.

Appendix 1b: Technical

Moodle customisations

This documentation is a record of work to inform my line manager and to be used by the Moodle hosting company during upgrades. It demonstrates my technical knowledge and application to specific tasks, in these cases around student privacy. This particular documentation is designed for someone with basic PHP knowledge.

RSS feeds (modifications to Moodle code)

This is a very important modification when using RSS feeds. Until better security protocols are in place by Moodle, all discussion post content is removed from the RSS feed itself. This is because the feed is publically accessible and we do not want personal or commercially sensitive comments in students’ posts made public.

In:

moodle/mod/forum/rsslib.php

Find the two instances where $item->description is given a value.

Replace:

$item->description = format_text($rec->postmessage,
$rec->postformat,$formatoptions,$forum->course);

With:

$item->description = "";

Around lines 194 and 251.

Stopping assignments appearing on recent activity lists

When students submit work, their name appears in the „recent activity‟ block in Moodle. Staff therefore are able to match a student in the „recent activity‟ block to a recently submitted anonymous assignment. Applies to Moodle 1.8+. Requires commenting out two functions in mod\assignment\lib.php. (Ref: http://tracker.moodle.org/browse/MDL-130)

1) Comment out the complete function:

assignment_print_recent_mod_activity()

Used by the following:

course\recent.php

Where an if (function_exists()) statement checks if present, hence no error.

2) Comment out the complete function:

assignment_print_recent_activity()

Used by the following:

blocks\recent_activity\block_recent_activity.php

CALLING print_recent_activity($COURSE)

FROM course\lib.php

Where an if (function_exists()) statement checks if present, hence no error.

Appendix 1c: Supporting deployment

Extract from SPSW strategy document

I was the lead author of this document, with input and suggestions from the department’s ICT/VLE group. Some of the key points include: addressing the student perceptions of inconsistency by implementing a consistent baseline approach where each module will have a minimum VLE presence; encouraging use of the supplementary and administrative tools such as seminar sign up lists, electronic reading lists and announcements as a first step to both staff and student engagement with the technology; showcase how the early adopters in the Department have used the VLE to support their teaching in a meaningful way. This opening section demonstrates an awareness of University procedures (modularisation) and how this affects the implementation of the VLE.

The Department’s undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are supported by the VLE in subject-wide sites. These sites hold administrative information, lecture materials and some learning activities.Changes to administrative and teaching procedures that come with modularisation commencing in October 2010, provide an opportunity for integrating VLE tools more effectively. The Department will avoid significant changes to core undergraduate modules until modularisation in October 2010, however development will take place during the 09/10 academic year. The key aims for development of existing programmes are:

  • Improving how the VLE is used to support specific learning outcomes, where the VLE adds value to the student experience.
  • Increasing teaching staff usage of the VLE by developing blended learning skills and knowledge and empowering staff.
  • Providing support for the Department in-house and showcasing best practice.
  • Ensuring quality of VLE content across the Department.

To increase participation, the Department will ask for academics with an interest in using the VLE to trial use and act as champions within the department. One example of potential interest is altering existing group-based work to incorporate the VLE for off-campus collaboration, reporting back to face-to-face seminars.

With the support of the programme leader, postgraduate Social Policy taught programmes will trial more extensive use of the VLE, including but not limited to online assignment submission.

The following section from the document outlines the future direction based on student feedback:

The Department will harmonise the approach taken by module leaders over the next academic year, leading to a renewed implementation based upon module sites rather than programme sites. Student feedback suggests improvements need to be made to the navigation and layout of Department VLE sites. Consistency with module sites and programme hubs needs to be established over the next academic year by creation of a baseline template and style guide. The Department should look into how a Departmental VLE ‘look and feel’ can be implemented as part of this process.Whilst support resources are available over the next academic year, staff are being encouraged to become trained and empowered to develop their own module sites. These may be baseline sites or include blended learning content.

Discussion board implementation in Blackboard

Scope

One of our academic staff was keen to find some way of managing queries associated with dissertation writing across a whole cohort. Traditionally, questions were raised individually in person or by email with personal supervisors and this led to many duplicate queries and possible inconsistencies in answers. My colleague had not previously used the VLE, but was inspired by a showcase session I organised earlier in the term. He initially wanted to use a blog, however, I suggested the discussion board tool would best suit this type of activity as the students could create a single thread per question to which the dissertation tutor could respond to in a more structured way.

I suggested that the discussion ran for a limited period of time (e.g. ten days), and that he was visibly present in the discussion boards during this time. This outlined what the students could expect from the activity and that the students should focus participation in a set time; both were contributing factors to student motivation. I facilitated this by training my colleague in how to use the discussion board (and only that specific tool), guiding him in instructional writing and working with him to write the guidance specific to the learning objectives.

I was responsible for managing the discussion board tool, ensuring correct staff/student access for a specific period of time. My colleague felt that the process of using the VLE had been very worthwhile and is currently planning a repeat exercise later in the year. Feedback from students is due to be requested specifically on this exercise and will further inform how the VLE can improve the dissertation writing experience.

Instructions on how to use the discussion board

The screenshot below shows how I have structured guidance on using the discussion board tool for a particular exercise. The framing of the task was outlined in a previous section, this section focuses on how the discussion board should be used.

Screenshot of the discussion board instructions. Text of instructions copied below.

1. Adding a new question

  • Each note topic of question should have a new thread.
  • The subject line of that thread should be as helpful as possible to identify your topic/question.

To add a new thread:

  1. In the Discussion Board, click the “+ Thread” button at the left side of the Toolbar. This will display the Add Thread form.
  2. In the Subject field, add your question/topic.
  3. Complete the rest of the Message.
  4. Click Submit to post to the discussion board. NB You will need to scroll down and click ‘submit’ in the bottom right-hand corner. You will then see your new thread on the Discussion Board screen.

2. Reading and replying to a post

  1. In the main discussion screen, click the title of the thread to open that thread.
  2. Click the Reply button at the bottom of the post you wish to reply to. This will bring up a reply form.
  3. Write your message and click Submit to post your reply.

3. Navigating the discussion board

A discussion board may contain many ‘threads’, each with its own subject. A thread will comprise an initial post and replies to that post. Attached here is a quick guide to navigating a discussion board thread, including how to view all replies within a thread.

The discussion board in use

In the original portfolio I was able to provide a screenshot of the live discussion board that shows how the tutor has responded to my advice on regular feedback, responding to each of the students’ posts. The students have created their own questions in separate threads and also used meaningful thread titles.

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