Book Review: Moodle 2 for Teaching 7-14 Year Olds

When I was first approached to review Mary Cooch’s latest PACKT publication: Moodle 2 for Teaching 7 – 14 Year Olds, I admit to being a little bemused: as an FE and HE practitioner, VLE Administrator and self-proclaimed Moodle expert I couldn’t immediately see what use this book would be to me.  I could not have been more wrong.

So what makes this book so good?  Mary Cooch’s writing style means that even the most tech-wary of readers will immediately feel at ease.  This is a book written by a teacher for teachers – there is no jargon or techno babble, and the writer’s caring, supportive voice can be heard clearly throughout. 

The author assumes no prior knowledge of Moodle, and ‘no particular experience on the web.’ Yet, despite its calming tone and crystal clear instructions, it never becomes patronising.  Colour screen shots help immensely and help to clarify the already clear instructions further. Users are clearly shown how to design a Moodle course that isn’t just another repository of Office documents and PDFs, but a fully interactive and absorbing experience for students.   Therefore, just because the author assumes that the reader is a beginner, she doesn’t go on to assume that it’s only the basics that need to be covered.  And it is at this point that I realised that even an arrogant Moodle ‘Know it All’ like me could learn a few new things. 

Once the basics have been covered the book goes on to look at concepts such as using the popular quiz and puzzle making website ‘Hot Potatoes’ (and ultimately providing a ‘how to’ within a ‘how to’!).  Another section looks at embedding Flash Games, including the infamous ‘Fling the Teacher’.

By chapter 6, the author merrily has her readers adding HTML coding to Moodle pages (thereby embedding Google Maps, Voki avatars, StoryBird essays, Wordles, YouTube films and more.  This is followed by an excellent chapter about accessibility and advice or teachers new to Moodle.  The author then foes on to explain file extensions clearly – something I found incredibly useful, as I’m often getting my ‘doc.’ and ‘docx’ confused and my ‘Jpegs’ and ‘Pngs’ mixed up!

The final chapter looks at more advanced Moodle operations such as lessons, surveys and conditional activities.  I will confidently bet my last cheese sandwich that by the time the typical reader reaches this chapter, their Moodle stage-fright will have vanished and they will feel more than able to tackle these more complex acts, such is the clear, focused and friendly text. 

As an addendum to this review, I noted with interest how parents are encouraged to look at Moodle for evidence of their children’s work and school experience.  In these days of ‘digital transparency’, it’s good to see more and more educational institutions opening their systems up to parents and carers.

So.   I heartily recommend this book for the intended audience…but also believe that this would be a fantastic introduction to using Moodle for any practitioner, be they in the compulsory on non-compulsory sector.  A superb publication all round!

Review of ‘History Teaching with Moodle 2’ by John Mannion

I was asked by PACKT Publishing to write a review of John Mannion’s new publication: History Teaching with Moodle 2.  A link to the book can be found here, along with my review.  But for all of you who are DESPERATE to reads the review, here it is!

“The majority of books examining the use of Moodle and Moodle 2 are generic – that is, they deal with the functions and features of the VLE in terms that any teacher of any subject can follow.  This book goes a step further by tailoring content for teachers of History in the compulsory education sector.  Therefore, not only does author John Mannion look at how to use the popular VLE in generic terms – he also makes suggestions pertinent to specific subject-related content at key stages 3 – 7. At a time when many establishments are focusing their delivery more and more on digital learning  this book is nothing short of a Godsend – and this reviewer  would go as far as to say not just for teachers of history nor, indeed teachers delivering at Key Stage levels, but any practitioner wanting to use Moodle 2 appropriately, imaginatively and dynamically in their practice.

History Teaching with Moodle 2  hits the right note from the moment the book is opened –  Mannion’s   clear and cohesive writing style makes it a breeze to read and guidance is clear and well laid out throughout.  Suggestions and instructions are backed up by ‘clean’ illustrations and screen shots to ensure that even the most cautious Moodle 2 user can develop engaging, dynamic, interactive resources, re-invent tired resources such as worksheets and, importantly in this digital age, invite learners to reflect via blogging and collaborate via wikis and forums, ensuring the online learning experience does not feel isolated or unsupported.

Mannion takes the reader ‘under the hood’ of Moodle 2 too, looking at administrative tools such as course construction and the enrolment of users.  The administrative elements of Moodle can scare many users, but again the author gives clear, illustrated step-by-step instructions in a style that the reader cannot fail to misinterpret.  Areas such as course structure are covered thoroughly, with suggestions regarding the creation of  attractive courses before going on to look at interactive content as online assignments, labels, forums, glossaries,  and the like.  The Moodle 2 gradebook and quiz facility is also examined in detail.

The book goes on to look at other free, open source web 2 applications such as Audacity (audio software ideal for recording podcasts) GIMP  (image editing software) and Xerte (a simple to use and free eLearning development package) that integrate seamlessly with Moodle, and introducing the reader to the concept of the ‘mash up’ or ‘plug in’ – using the digital tools that are already freely available on the internet and weaving  them seamlessly and effectively into the VLE to enhance both learner engagement and the learner experience.

In all then, a book that comes highly recommended for any user of Moodle 2 – but a must for those teaching  History!”