Setting up Moodle’s course settings the right way will make future decisions about the open source content management system easier.
Once teachers get their sites running, they will usually be able to go back and change decisions to fit their goals better, but these hints will at least help the novice get up and running. Filling out the form “Edit course settings” will be the first task in getting a Moodle running after the content management system is set up. Keep in mind that these instructions are based on version 2, but most of the initial decisions covered in this article have not changed significantly in years.
Edit Course Settings
The general settings for the class are important, but remember that as each teacher’s expertise grows, he or she can always click on the “Edit settings” button on the main page that, depending on the selected theme, can usually be found at the bottom left or bottom right of the screen.
In the section of the page titled “Edit course settings,” teachers will start with a drop-down box where they will need to select a category. If a school administrator has set up the Moodle, the category choices probably coincide with the teacher’s department. The next two boxes may require a little more thought and planning.
Course Name and Summary
The box labeled “Course full name” should definitely have the entire course because the longer name will appear in larger spaces, making the course easier for the students to find. For example, the name “AP Language” may not be as easy to find in a list that includes other advanced placement courses. The full name “Advanced Placement Language and Composition,” for example, will be easier to find. In some cases, teachers should decide whether other teachers will have the same course. If this might cause some confusion, the teacher’s name should be a part of the course title, possibly in parentheses.
The “Course short name” box should really have an abbreviation for the course because students will see this after they log in, usually at the top left of the page. The same language class above may be abbreviated as “AP Eng Lang.” This decision isn’t vital, but the shorter name keeps the page from being as crowded in some areas.
The “Course ID number” is very important if the site is being synchronized with other programs. For example, if students’ grades will be automatically entered by other grading programs or if student data will be extracted from such programs to keep the Moodle updated, the course ID must match what is entered in the other program. Usually teachers do not have to worry about this when setting up a course unless the teacher is having to set up the entire site.
The “Course summary” should have some explanation for visitors and parents about the class. Quite often, the opening paragraph from the syllabus would be good. Sometimes, it’s important to know what to spend little time with as it is important to know what to pass by quickly. The “Course summary” sounds vital, but it really doesn’t show up often on the page.
Teachers’ first major decision really is the course format. The name of the course, at least, has probably already been decided, but the format with which to organize the course may depend on the course and each teacher’s style for delivering that course. Again, this article is designed to speak plainly to people aren’t experts, so for that reason, only two choices will be considered: “Topics format” and “Weekly format.” The other formats may be better for teachers who are used to using other content management systems, but for teachers who may be new to the idea or who do not have a lot of time invested in setting up courses with other systems, the topic and weekly formats will work fine.
This decision needs to be considered more than most because it will impact other decisions. As a general recommendation, the easiest format to set up is probably the “Topic format” because teachers simply set up assignments according to what they want to teach. For example, most courses will need some kind of general area where a syllabus and other course information can be uploaded, a “Course Information” area perhaps. This is also a good section for the main glossary. After that, the course can be divided by the types of activities that are planned. For example, that Advanced Placement Language and Composition class may start with the “Course Information” topic and progress to the areas that will be on the AP exam. The second topic may be “Multiple Choice,” where all of the lessons preparing students for the multiple choice section will appear. After that, a “Analysis Essay” topic will hold activities for that section of the test.
Teachers may simply want to organize topics according to state or common core standards. If each topic were labeled according to a standard, the Moodle would help teachers prove that the class follows and that students meet the standards. The topics could also include literary periods, rhetorical modes, thematic studies, historical periods, mathematical units, et cetera. The topics unit also allows teachers to worry less about due dates. If a teacher is less concerned about when an assignment is due, setting up the page according to topics rather than time helps the teacher get started in general first and make specific decisions later.
The “Weekly format” requires teachers to know when assignments will be due, but this decision may make the page easier for students to use. After many assignments are listed on the page, assignments get lost in the clutter. Of course, all activities can be hidden, but that requires more effort and more planning to hide what’s not needed and to reveal what is needed on a given day. The “Weekly format” would take care of all of this for students. Assignments appear right where they need to be for that week, and students have no reason not to know what is due that week.
While this format may seem to imply busy work rather than standards-based education, the format does not necessarily prohibit meeting standards according to specified weeks. Furthermore, the format may help a teacher stay on track. For example, a drama teacher may want students looking at several items to research a character and writing weekly journals leading up to a production. The weekly format would help make sure that these activities are done weekly so that the larger standard—a show in this case—will be met on time.
Although the “Topics format” is recommended, neither of the formats are necessarily hard to deal with, but the decision has to be made beforehand, and changing from one to another format after assignments appear may be tricky and may require backing up each specific assignment. In short, it’s best to decide on one of these two formats and stick with that decision.
Topics and weeks can be easily added, subtracted, and even hidden later, but ten topics/weeks is usually a good start in he space labeled “Number of weeks/topics.”
Deciding how to put students in groups will be a big decision at some point, but it does not have to be a major decision at first. Groups may be as simple as periods of the day a class is taught if students in one class will receive different assignments than students in another class. Students may also be grouped by abilities and for various other reasons. Regardless, unless teachers have a clear and necessary reason to group students in some way all the time, the group mode is not recommended at first. Even if a student is labeled gifted, the grouping may not be the same for every assignment. Deciding on groups may not cause a lot of problem, but it’s simply not a necessary means for getting the site running.
Various Other Decisions
After that, hidden sections need to be completely invisible, and both the gradebook and the activity reports should be shown. These statistics will be shown only to the appropriate student. Unless the site is set up as a foreign language course and the language matters or a specific theme that applies to this course, the language and theme should probably not be forced. Again, though, that is easily changed later. Also, make the course available to students, and unless told not to by the administration, allow guest access. It’s the best way to share with teachers.
Once the changes are saved at the bottom of the page, the course home page comes up. A button that says “Turn editing on” must be clicked before anything can be added to this page. Then, a host of truly educational decisions have to be made, but again, keeping the site simple at first will cause quicker success and less frustration. Advanced skills will come with use and experience.
The following sites provide an example of free Moodle sites that I run for testing purposes. Both show Advanced Placement Language Arts classes, and visitors should be able to log in as guests. Guests are allowed to see the assignments, but they usually can’t take the quizzes. Visitors can sign up to take the classes at the FreeMoodle site if they want to dig deeper.