[pulledquote]Most of the Moodle courses I have seen are full of extremely useful and meaningful information/activities. It is not always practical to ensure whether students have interacted with an activity or viewed a resource, as it can be very time consuming to check Moodle logs. Come ‘conditional activities’. In this post, I discuss ways to use this great feature to increase students’ engagement in your courses.[/pulledquote]

What are conditional activities?

Since the introduction of Moodle 2, it has been possible for users to track which activities/resources they have completed. This means that resources/activities are ‘aware’ of their completion status for each course user. This completion status awareness allows a teacher to have activities/resources show up only when certain conditions have been met, for example Resource B will only be shown to users who have completed Activity A. There is a comprehensive explanation of how this feature works on the Moodle HQ website, this post is not a ‘how-to’ for conditional activities.

 

Gamify your Moodle courses – badges

Younger students seem to respond very well to this strategy. I have ‘gamified’ two of my middle-school courses and I have noticed a sharp increase in student engagement in both (i.e. they complete more activities, more often and to better standards). Moodle should soon benefit from an integration with OpenBadges, but until then here is what you could do.

  • The idea is to create a bunch of badges that students can ‘unlock’ by completing activities or viewing resources. 
  • My ‘badges’ are simple images inserted in labels that are completely hidden until specific conditions have been met (see figure 1). 
  • When students complete activities or view resources, those images will appear on their screen, giving them the impression that they have ‘unlocked’ it. 
  • A student will only see the badges that they have unlocked, thus Moodle course pages look different to all students.
  • There seems to be a bit of healthy competition happening between students as they compare the number of badges when they log on to Moodle in the classroom (see figures 2 and 3). 
  • Some badges are harder to get than others and those students who manage to unlock them tend to keep the tricks and locations to themselves. 
  • I will be conducting a study between 21st March and 7th July to measure the impact of gamifying a Moodle course; I will expose one group to the gamified course, and another group to the un-gamified version and compare. Visit in a few months time if you’re interested in the results. 
Figure 1
Teacher view – some possible badges and the conditions to ‘unlock’ them
Click to zoom in
 
Figure 2
Student view – Each student only sees the badges they have ‘unlocked’
This student has collected 2 badges
 
Figure 3
Student view – Note that students do not see the conditions to unlock badges. This can be changed in the settings
This student has collected 4 badges
 
 

Tips & tricks

 

School reward system

If your school rewards effort through house points, or other, you could link your ‘badges’ mentioned above with the actual school reward system. For example, with my 11 year old students 2 badges = 1 house point.

 

Orphaned activities

This actually started out as a bug in Moodle, but now has become a feature. It is possible to have resources/activities hidden from students but still accessible through the URL. Consider the following example:

  • You create a course with 10 sections and you have activities/resources in every section.
  • You want the activities/resources in section 10 to be accessible by URL but invisible on the course page.
  • Cut down your course to 9 sections, but you do not remove the activities/resources in section 10.
  • The activities/resources in section 10 become invisible to students, but can still be accessed through the URL, as they are not hidden as such.
  • This means that you can now add ‘Easter eggs’ to your course by linking directly to the orphaned activities.
Example of an ‘Easter egg’
  • I want my students to spot 10 subject specific words in my course and click on each to read the definitions.
  • Those 10 words can be anywhere in the course e.g. webpage, quiz question, lesson, etc.
  • Each word is linked to a popup webpage, where the definition for that word is available.
  • The webpages are in the section that is invisible to students e.g. orphaned activities
  • When a student finds a word and clicks on it, the linked webpage opens in a popup.
  • That webpage automatically gets marked as ‘completed’ and remains invisible on the course page.
  • When a student has found and seen all words, he/she unlocks the ‘Vocabulary’ badge.
 

‘Must not be marked complete’

This is slightly difficult to get your head around but the idea is simple,

  • Setup activities/resources
  • They will show up as default e.g. a student new to your course will see it on their course page
  • Some activities will ‘disappear’ when a user has completed specific activities. 

Example

  • Course with 4 activities, A, B, C and D.
  • Activity A (easy activity) – Set to be marked complete if viewed & to show only if Activity B is not marked complete.
  • Activity B  (difficult activity) – Set to be marked complete if viewed & to show only if Activity A is not marked complete.
  • Activity C  (easy activity) – Set to only show if Activity A is marked complete.
  • Activity D (difficult activity) – Set to only show if Activity B is marked complete.
  • If a student clicks on Activity A, then Activity B will ‘disappear’ from their course and Activity C will become available.
  • If a student clicks on Activity B, then Activity A will ‘disappear’ from their course and Activity D will become available.
  • This is great to gamify your courses, or to differentiate your courses.

 

Conditional sections

Since Moodle 2.3, it has been possible to make entire sections of a course appear when certain conditions have been met. This can greatly reduce your workload as you won’t have to go and set the conditional status of each activity/resource.

 

Please share your creative uses of conditional activities to increase students engagement in your Moodle course by writing a comment.

 

 

Peer assessment overview

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, I strongly believe formative assessment is key to quality learning, and is in line with the IB MYP approach to teaching & learning. When I found the ‘Peer review‘ assignment type I was excited and I have not been disappointed with it.

In a nutshell

Students upload their assignments, they are then given (at least) two of their classmates’ assignments to peer review, against a set of criteria defined by you. Each student has their work reviewed by two peers (at least) and once that is done, you review the work yourself. This is an extremely powerful learning tool!

The essence of it

The developer and maintainer of the ‘plugin’ strongly believes that assignment criteria should be as simple as possible to understand for students for maximum efficiency. From experience, I can vouch for this as well. When setting up the activity, you are asked to create a set of ‘Yes/No’ criteria e.g. the essay has a title. Students (in my case 11-18 years old) find it easy to understand and I also find that it helps them assess their own work. The criteria are usually quite easy to setup if you had a mark scheme to start off with. I usually have between 10 and 15 criteria depending on the task, but I don’t think there is a limit to the number of criteria you can set. Once the criteria have been set you are ready to go.

 

 

 

The great…

Peer assessment is awesome!

When doing my PGCE I remember colleagues telling me “how much time you can save getting students to peer mark”. While this may be true to some extent in some situations, I don’t believe this is the case. However, students can really benefit from it as they get an even greater understanding of the task at hand.

Peer assessment can now be done at home, properly

I lack time to do this kind of work in lessons, but I find this to be a very meaningful homework. As long as you explain the criteria thoroughly -I often define the criteria with my students, guiding them to choose the ones I had  pre-defined prior to starting the task, and adding their own – students will be just fine doing the peer reviewing at home. Though my area of expertise is 11-18 olds, I am pretty sure that this type of peer review would be suitable to students of a much younger age, such as middle/upper Key Stage 2.

Students are asked to give constructive comments

When all criteria have been checked by a student, they are then asked to write a comment on their peer’s work. This part is the most challenging for students, but also the most rewarding. I usually give them a minimum of words to write and a few ideas. The most able students usually have no problems finding ideas of their own, but I find that less able students benefit from having set phrases (I have a web page set up for that) that they can use and ‘fill-in’ really helps.

Some of the work is done for you

I said earlier in my post that peer assessment does not really save time, well it does a bit, let me explain. Say student A has their work reviewed by student B, student C and student D. If Students B, C and D all ‘agree’ on their review (i.e. they all ticked the same boxes), then there is a good chance that their review is accurate and you can then only ‘scan’ the work, looking for missing pieces. This might shave off only a couple of minutes per student, but that quickly adds up to an hour if you have a big class 🙂

Lots of support

The creator and maintainer has really made an effort to document and provide support for his work (videos, etc.). This is to be noticed and is much appreciated.

… and the could be (will be?) great

Groups are not yet supported

I share all but one of my Moodle courses with colleagues, and while it is great for sharing resources and our workload, peer assessment should really happen within the same teaching group (in my opinion anyway). One workaround that I have found is to make as many copies of one assignment as there are teaching groups in my courses and make each copy available to one group only. This is not perfect by any means but allows me to use this great plugin which would otherwise be useless to me.

Teacher cannot assign work to be reviewed by particular students

I teach in an all inclusive school, and while I have a great time in the classroom, differentiation can be challenging. I have some very able students and some students who need more support. Sometimes, I would like to be able to assign particular assignments to particular students so that everyone can benefit from the task as much as possible. The solution described above (using groupings) allows for this to happen to some extent but is cumbersome to maintain.

Labels are not supported

It would be great if criteria could be ‘grouped’ together, unfortunately this is not yet supported.

In short…

I love this assignment type, use it all of the time and really think that my students have benefited from it a great deal. A million thanks to the developer!