[pulledquote]I used to be a language teacher, and one of my main problems in the classroom was always to get students to speak (in the foreign language, that is). There would never be enough time, students would be too shy, etc. I wish I had access to the newly released Moodle audio recorder assignment type[/pulledquote] 

Is the Moodle audio recorder any good?

There have been other attempts to integrate an audio recorder in Moodle, some requiring technical know-how and others that are no longer supported and/nor working with newer versions of Moodle. This new audio recorder assignment uses Flash player 10.1 and is compatible with Moodle 1.9.x to Moodle 2.1.x so anyone accessing those Moodle flavours with a computer running Windows, Mac or Linux should be fine – that’s pretty much every Moodle user out there. Word of warning, this will not work on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches. In a few words it works, and it works well!

 

What can the audio recorder be used for in Moodle?

One thing you must keep in mind is that the audio recorder is an assignment type, so it’ll show with the rest of your assignment types; the recorder is NOT available anywhere else (at the moment anyway).

Foreign languages

  • Oral practice at home. Always short of time in the classroom? Here is your solution.
  • Oral assignments. This could even be used under controlled conditions at school, much the same as the old ‘language labs’.
  • Exam preparation. As a language teacher, I was always amazed at how little students listen to their own voices. This gives them the chance to record themselves and, with clever use of permissions, self-assess their work against a set of pre-defined rubrics.

Music

  • Weekly assignments can be used so that student can self-assess their work.
  • Teacher can check that instrument practice is done at home
  • With clever use of permissions, students could even peer-assess each other’s work/practice

All subjects

  • Some students do not feel so comfortable writing in English, yet it doesn’t mean they’re not full of great ideas. This gives them an extra opportunity to express themselves

 

What does the Moodle audio recorder look like?

 

 

Once you have created your assignment, which is pretty much the same as creating every other type of assignment in Moodle, you are taken to a ‘one-time setup’ of the Flash player, giving you control over recording levels, reduce echo etc. I have found that some of those settings are disregarded by the software however. For example, although I tried to set the recording of my microphone to ‘low’, I still got a fairly distorted recording. These are teething issues and I’m sure the developer will get on to it pretty soon. Once that setup is done, you’ll be prompted with the recording UI. It’s all very simple to use and self-explanatory from there on; Your students will have no problems whatsoever using it.

Overall, the size of the recorded files is pretty reasonable and the quality is relatively good. You can listen to this example [mp3j track=”example-of-a-fileonline-audio.mp3″].

 

What could be improved with the Moodle audio recorder?

 

Availability throughout Moodle

This plugin is victim of its own success; it’s so good that you want it to be available throughout Moodle but it’s ‘only’ available as an assignment type. Nanogong is better in the fact that it is available wherever the HTML editor is shown on a page. That means audio could be used to feedback on a student’s piece of work, easily create glossaries with pronunciation, etc. The developer seems to be having issues with the Moodle 2 file management ‘beast’.

Better User Interface

Aside from making it available in ‘more places’ in Moodle, the audio recorder would benefit from having a recording volume dial on the recorder itself, and not just in the settings, as I’m not convinced children and the less confident IT users will feel like fiddling with the settings. On the other hand, I think it’s great that the UI looks so simple, so I hope it doesn’t get cluttered in the future – volume would be enough for me.

Video?

Imagine the possibilities if video was added to it?!

 

Conclusion

I think the developer has done a great job and I am really grateful that he decided to share it with the rest of the Moodle community. I strongly recommend you to install this assignment type as it is quick and easy to get it to work; I’m sure lots of teachers at your school will thank you for it.

 

Top picture by Stallio

Moodle Health Check

[pulledquote]I have been trying to get Moodle 2 (and 2.1) working properly on a GoDaddy Linux server for the past week so far to no avail. This has seriously been winding me up and many times have I pictured myself throwing my computer out of the window. Considering my poor computer isn’t at fault, I decided it would be more constructive to share the tools I’ve used to help me solve my problem. [/pulledquote] 

Moodle forums

This should really be your first step. If you found my website using Google and have never used the moodle.org forums, please do yourself a favour and go there. If you have already visited the forums and have not found the answer you were looking for, maybe you’ll be lucky and find it here (make sure you check the comments at the bottom of the page). I cannot stress this enough – the Moodle community really is fantastic.

 

Debugging mode

Turning on debugging really comes in handy. Basically it will display extra messages usually at the top of your Moodle pages. You can turn it on in the Administration> Development> Debugging.

There are different levels of  debugging – choosing ‘ALL’ is usually enough and will be useful if you need to report an issue in the Moodle forums.

Moodle Debugging

 

XMLDB Editor

This tool can be found in Administration>Miscellaneous>XMLDB editor

Although it has a scary name, this tool is very easy to use and can return some useful messages. I recently upgraded our Moodle installation at school and noticed a few errors with indexes using the ‘Check indexes’ tool. It was nothing that stopped the installation working, but it’s always good to have everything working properly.

 Moodle XMLDB Editor

 

Moodle health check

One useful tool that I have come across is the ‘health-check’ built-in function. I only found out about this function a few days ago whilst doing some digging in the code. It is worth noting that it is ‘Unsupported’ but you can access it using http://www.yourmoodleaddress.com/admin/health.php (changing ‘www.yourmoodleaddress’ with the site you want to diagnose). It’s not really a one-stop shop to get your Moodle installation working great but it’s a nice start. Each problem is given a level of severity i.e. notice, annoyance, significant, critical.

As it stands, it will return the following problems with suggested solutions for each:

  • Extra characters at the end of config.php or other library function
  • $CFG->dataroot does not exist or does not have write permissions
  • cron.php is not set up to run automatically
  • PHP: session.auto_start is enabled
  • PHP: magic_quotes_runtime is enabled
  • PHP: file_uploads is disabled
  • PHP: memory_limit cannot be controlled by Moodle
  • SQL: using account without password
  • Random questions data consistency
  • Multi-answer questions data consistency
  • Only multianswer and random questions should be the parent of another question
  • Question categories should belong to a valid context
  • Question categories should belong to the same context as their parent
  • Question categories tree structure

Moodle Health Check 

Unit tests

You can find this in Administration>Reports>Unit tests

This has never returned anything useful for me, but it could be for you. It only takes a few seconds to run and you cannot break anything, so I say go for it!

 Moodle Unit Tests

 

Has all this worked for me?

Mainly but I’m still getting an error with the ‘slasharguments’, off to the Moodle forums now…

 

There are many other things that can be done to check if Moodle is working properly e.g. Server performance, optimize/repair tables in the database etc. but I thought I’d keep this posts simple and accessible to everyone as it uses only tools available in Moodle. If you have anymore tools you’d like to share when you are trying to work out what is wrong with your Moodle installation, please share here. 

Bangkok Protests - Red shirts on Sukhumvit road

[pulledquote]Today marks the first anniversary of the crackdown by the Thai army on the so-called ‘Red shirts’ who had besieged the city centre of Bangkok for over a month. The 19th May 2010 will stay engraved in my memory forever for obvious reasons, and less obvious ones.[/pulledquote]

Our school had to close for about a week at the height of conflict as it wasn’t deemed safe for students and staff to travel to and from school. As a teacher and e-learning coordinator, that week was one of the busiest ones for me. What did I learn from it, and what did Moodle help us achieve during that crisis?

Disclaimer: these are my views, not the school management’s/owner’s. I am not speaking for them, just sharing my own account of what happened. This blog is in no way endorsed by my school.

The situation

Tension was high for weeks prior May 19th, the ‘red shirts’ had paralyzed parts of the city for over a month, and this was (is) part of a wider political struggle that started at the end of 2006. The school was therefore on high alert and the community were fearing the school would need to close for a while, after all it wasn’t the first time that the school had to close in the past few years. Mentally, teachers were definitely prepared for such an eventuality.

Moodle, head and shoulders above the rest

If there was ever a time to get ‘technophobes’ on board to use Moodle (or IT in general), last year was the time!

It is important to mention that Moodle was not the only medium used to communicate with students, but it certainly was the one that allowed for the best interaction with students and that provided them with the best learning experience. Our in-house online ‘Homework’ database was the most widely used system to communicate with students, as we were required to use it, Moodle was optional. I witnessed teachers use e-mail, Skype, personal websites and blogs, as well as Moodle to stay in touch with students during the crisis.

For those using Moodle, it was almost ‘business as usual’. Teachers were able to carry out their daily duties using Moodle – namely setting and collecting work, returning it with meaningful comments, easily keep track of who were lagging behind, etc.

Although students could not benefit from the face to face interaction they normally get at school, they certainly engaged in useful asynchronous discussions through the use of forums for example. This crisis gave the opportunity for some teachers to try some new collaborative tools, such as wikis. I would be lying if I said that all (even most) teachers tried that, but some tried, and were successful. I would say that most teachers who used Moodle did so using it as a file repository. Even that was great. We have to keep in mind that students were extremely worried, and Moodle really helped them keep on top of things and organise themselves. Yes, email was fine, but I struggle to keep on top of emails, nevermind an 11 year old juggling between as many as 15 subjects and teachers.

Overall, I genuinely believe that using Moodle helped us function as a school, even in time of crisis. Many a teacher came to see me after it was all over to praise Moodle, and their eagerness to use Moodle more often in the future – many did continue. On the other hand, it gave teachers who do not like using Moodle, or do not see the benefits of using it, a reminder that it is there to stay and actually works

How we prepared students prior to the closure

  • Students were reminded to update their contact details on Moodle – especially their email address. We do not provide email addresses for students.
  • Students with no email account received help from tutors.
  • Students were asked to login to Moodle to ensure they remembered their usernames/passwords.
  • Students were also asked to login to all relevant courses, and enrollment keys were provided in case students were not enrolled.

How I prepared teachers

  • Luckily enough, Moodle training is part of our INSET here, so most teachers were Moodle proficient.
  • I reminded teachers where to find the training materials and videos that I produced in case they didn’t remember how to perform a Moodle task.
  • I shared with all teachers a Google Docs with all students’ email addresses. This document was edited by teachers as some students had several email accounts but stored only one on Moodle.
  • I answered countless emails of the ‘How do I upload a file again?’ type…

What I did to ensure Moodle would remain accessible through the crisis

  • Ensured good operation of Moodle (server stress tests, uptime, etc.).
  • Checked Uninterruptible Power Supplies with IT team – there were many power cuts during the unrest.
  • Full Moodle backup on external hard drive – which I took home with me (just in case).
  • Setup LAMP at home (I have a home server) – which did not get used
  • Restore Moodle on home server to check if it was usable – it was, but not great due to lack of bandwidth.
  • Daily Course backups to server and copied to home server – initial seed done with backup on Hard drive. I used Tonido software to achieve that.

What about you?

Obviously, you might never have to manage Moodle in an area where a major crisis occurs (hopefully), but there are many reasons why a school might need to close: snow days, natural disaster, etc. As they say “better safe than sorry”…

Has your school been forced to close in the past? How did you manage it? Please share your thoughts using the comments section below.

Differentiation using colour code

[pulledquote]Working in a non selective school is rewarding but brings its fair share of interesting challenges. Catering for the individual learner needs is at the heart of most educational institutions.[/pulledquote] I am lucky enough to have assistants to help me cater for all needs in my classroom, but I see no reason why Moodle should not also receive the differentiation treatment. Luckily there are a few simple strategies that can be used to offer differentiated courses with little effort (and subsequently time). This post presents you with three easy to implement Moodle differentiation strategies.

1. Use a (colour) code

As explained in one of my previous posts, you can use labels and colours to offer differentiated materials/activities. In short, place all of your activities in the same course, and then divide it up using coloured labels, or simply place a prefix before your activities/resources names. You could easily spice things up by using relevant symbols (warning signs, traffic lights, etc.). – Click on the pictures to enlarge.

 

Differentiation using groups

Differentiation using groups

 

Differentiation using colour code

Differentiation using colour code

  • Pros

    • This allows students to choose the most suitable task/activities by themselves and can be especially useful for homework activities.
    • Students who decide to go for the easier option can then move on and try the harder tasks.
    • When I used to offer printed differentiated homework, some ‘weaker’ students would feel embarrassed to pick up the ‘easy’ sheet; this problem no longer exists.
  • Cons

    • All students can see all tasks and it could lead to confusion.
    • Some students might decide not to ‘push’ themselves, it might be a good idea to set expectations for each student (can be done informally)

2. Use separate courses

Although this one is easy to achieve, I would recommend you against using this strategy – for most basic uses at least. The idea is to have as many courses as you have abilities in your physical courses. Have students enroll in the courses matching their ability and only place the required resources/activities in the appropriate courses.

  • Pros

    • Students are only presented with the material they should view/take part in.
    • Easy to manage if course content/activities never changes.
  • Cons

    • File management can quickly become a nightmare. 1 change might need to be mirrored to rest of your courses.
    • Students cannot be in charge of their own learning.
    • A student may struggle with some activities, but may feel very comfortable with others – no flexibility.

3. Use groups/groupings

This is my personal favourite. Say you teach a year 7 MFL French class. In that class, you teach students who have studied French at KS2, students who have never learnt French, and students with EAL, or a combination of the above. Overall, you have a group with a wide range of abilities, but limited time to use Moodle. Groups/groupings might well be your savior.

The idea is that you have one course with all of your activities/resources, and then manage access to those on a granular basis. The screenshot below depicts groups in action.

Differentiation using groups

Differentiation using groups

  • Resource A is available to all participants.
  • Resource B is only available to EAL students.
  • Resource C is only available to students who have learnt French before.

Students part of the EAL group won’t be able to even see Resource C, as it won’t show on their screen. As a teacher, you are able to view all activities/resources and the group name (in brackets) lets you know which group can view/engage in the activity.

  • Pros

    • Easy file management.
    • Very granular access management, down to labels.
    • Set it up once, use it every year. All you have to do is to change the participants in your groups at the beginning of each academic year.
    • Students can ‘move up’ a group. It is easy to miscalculate
    • Students can be part of more than one group
    • Course looks less cluttered to students
  • Cons

    • Students are not in charge of their own learning
    • Can be a little confusing to setup

Let me know your thoughts on this issue. Just so you know, I do not differentiate every course (exam groups for example). Do you have any other strategies to share? Please drop a comment if you do.