Today I was asked for advice by a newly appointed Moodle VLE coordinator, a prospective customer but one without money in her budget currently. She has been at a school that uses Moodle for a few years but has herself logged on infrequently before now – it seems like the learning platform was the pet-project of the previous coordinator that has now moved on. Having been given the responsibility to get the site being used by teachers and learners alike, she was in need of help and didn’t know where to start.
This is a common problem we come across (where the school’s one Moodle expert doesn’t knowledge-share and inevitably leaves for another post elsewhere). The VLE has been in place for a number of years but it’s stagnant, barely used and has been customised into the vision of one employee who has since left. Hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to work with her and help to sort some of their bigger issues, but here’s what I’ve suggested she does to get started:
1. De-clutter and freshen up the site
You have the benefit of being able to look at the site with a fresh pair of eyes and the opportunity to make changes that users will notice. What is taking up valuable space, what might distract learners that simply don’t need to be there? What design decisions were taken in the past that are no longer relevant? Get the duster out and give the VLE a spring clean – this should be an environment to support learning so remove anything that doesn’t support that aim. Get the help of a 3rd party if an overhaul or new theme design is required
2. Consider the user experience
Where do you want users to go and what do you want them to do on the site? Make it obvious what the important activities and areas are (move them to prominent positions on the page) and either remove or demote links to areas that are less important. If you’re unsure or not confident yet about the order of priority you can hide items for now rather than delete them permanently
3. Pick your battles
Focus initially on one area / department / team that you know you can work with to improve the course content and then use this as an example to other departments. It’s not realistic that you will get all departments using Moodle like pros in no time. Pick your team and prioritise what you want to achieve with them. It will be important to find someone enthusiastic to work with that sees the opportunity in a fresh launch of the learning platform
4. Focus on course layout and content
- Limit the amount of visible topics to the number that are needed. Use the settings to select the right number of topics and make good use of hiding topics under development and content that isn’t timely – make it easy for students to see what they should be doing and when
- Investigate different course layouts as these dramatically affect the student experience. Instead of a long list of resources, why not use Onetopic or Grid formats to split content into more manageable chunks
- Look at the course content. Is the content useful and interesting for the student, is it just handouts they are given in class, or that they can access in other ways (perhaps on a network drive)? Try to make sure that the content here isn’t just a replication of, but also supplements, what they see in lessons. They need a reason to come to the site
- Fill courses with a combination of uploaded documents and also Moodle activities – start with simple Assignments, quizzes and perhaps forums or wikis. By making the courses more interactive you make it more engaging. Don’t worry about mastering all Moodle activities
5. Get support
Increase awareness within senior management about the importance of the learning platform and the size of the job at hand. This is a time consuming responsibility and needs to be resourced properly if VLE usage is going to improve. If possible request that some CPD budget is allocated to you for Moodle training, and other staff where realistic, so that you can understand the basics and get an insight into what is possible
6. Be consistent
Alongside senior management review the policy of what the VLE is for and how it needs to be used by staff and students alike. When the policy is agreed enforce it and do so consistently. Try and make sure that students know that the use of the VLE will be consistent (e.g. every week their Maths homework will be issued on a Thursday). Build this up over time and ensure that those staff members on your team follow through and don’t let you down. Giving the staff or students an easy excuse to ignore the learning platform will only result in lower usage and underwhelming results
There are many more areas you could also start with but I think this is a fair mix of usability, content and policy decisions that are important to get right at an early stage.
If you’re in a similar situation, or would like to know more about the work Titus Learning do with Moodle, get in touch…we’d love to hear from you!