I recently joined a colleague and her Year 7 students during a lunchtime detention that she imposed to make up for a lesson ‘lost’ in her absence. While she was away, she had expected her students to access the well-documented instructions and excellent resources that she had posted to her Moodle course. Instead they complained to the substitute teacher that they didn’t know what to do. There are, no doubt, a number of factors contributing to the students’ helplessness. The question I’d like to explore here is; why hadn’t her students explored the contents of her Moodle course and how could we redesign it to make this more likely?
Moodle is fairly new to my colleague and, like most teachers, for the most part her course at this stage contains links to web sites and documents that she has uploaded. I’ve noticed over the years that people, teachers and students alike, are unlikely to independently explore a list of links, no matter what the circumstance. I’ve found that it helps to embed the hyperlinks of a Moodle course into a narrative that is designed to clarify the context and purpose of the resources and activities of the course. I therefore typically locate the hyperlinks to the activities of my Moodle course into a separate topic area. I discovered that if I hide the topic but unhide the individual activity hyperlinks within it, students cannot see the topic or the links it contains but that the activities still work and can still be accessed by students, as explained below.
Note: it is also possible to hide topics using the course ‘Settings’. For example, by setting the topics in the subject course to 12, topic number 13 above would be hidden – but remain active.
Now that students can’t see my list of hyperlinks to activities, in the example below, I’ve created a narrative using a ‘label’ in topic 6 and embedded links to several activities within it. Remember, any activity has a unique URL and so it is possible to create a hyperlink to it from just about anywhere in Moodle, e.g. a label, a topic, a web page.
The ‘Book’ activity, a non-standard module in Moodle version 1.9, has many advantages. One handy feature is that each chapter of a Book has a unique URL. In the example above, the two links to videos take students to chapters in a Book of videos, as pictured below.
Now, who hasn’t gone online to look for something and become completely sidetracked by various enticements along the way? The hyperlink in my Phishing narrative takes students to an entire Book of videos on various aspects of cyber safety and is intended to entice students to continue to explore. Similarly, the link to ‘phishing in the news’ takes students to a Book in which I’ve embedded RSS feeds from Google News, as explained here.
The aim of learning design should not be to get students to cover only what they’re supposed to but to also create opportunities and enticements for them to go further and deeper and, in the process, differentiate themselves. Technology offers many possibilities in this respect.