I recently advertised for readers wanting to review a number of books I was offered by Packt Publishing. There was quite a bit of interest and I had to randomly select three readers to receive one of the books. The second reader to get a review published is Matt Heavner, who has read Moodle Teaching Techniques.
Review of “Moodle Teaching Techniques” by William H Rice IV
Review by Matt Heavner
I’m writing this as an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. We use “UASOnline” which is a home-grown learning management system which includes some components of moodle.
Overall, this book was a worthwhile read for its intended audience of educators, trainers, or professors who are already familiar with moodle (or, I’d add, another learning management system). Moodle Teaching Techniques shines when it sticks to goal of engaging moodle users in thinking about the most effective methods for teaching with moodle. For example, discussion in Chapter 6 on wiki solutions includes a detailed comparison of wiki vs forum, journal, blog, and assignment specifically focused on relevancy to teaching methods. Another successful chapter is Chapter 4 “Quiz Solutions” which describes effectively using the immediate feedback of online quizzes to enhance student learning. The chapter on Chat also had useful discussion of specific teaching methods to improve learning using moodle.
This book veered off of this prescribed path of discussing moodle teaching techniques in two directions. Sometimes too much technical detail regarding an obscure moodle (or worse, network setting) issue was covered in 5 or more pages. The most egregious waste of pages in the book are the section on “Host a Proctored, Timed Test from a Secure Location”. This is probably an important concept for many users of moodle, but the author feels secure in not spending a single word of the text on installation and configuration initially, so why the author would spend pages 77-82 on details such as non-routable IP spaces is not at all clear. The greatest irony of this is that due to a typo in the Figure on page 80, a single IP address is repeated for both networks, completely invalidating the example. Another unneeded lengthy discussion occurs at the beginning of Chapter 2. Pages 21-29 are spent on configuring a single-student forum. As this was the first main chapter, I felt completely derailed after the lofty introduction about learning methods that would be discussed because the author felt the need to spend so much time on a moodle work-around/hack. Another cognitive disconnect in the text occurred in Chapter 5. Immediately after introducing the idea of “moodling through a course” in any order the student desires (on page 87), the author states “We don’t want our students to ‘meander’ or wander through the course items”. I was looking forward to a discussion of when “moodling” through the course may enhance learning and when a more structured series of sequential activities would be better for learning. There was no such discussion, just a six page exposition on how to force flow control onto a class moodle installation.
I would love to see an additional 50 pages added to this book, with 20 pages of the configuration discussion converted to effective teaching methods discussion to add an additional 70 total pages of teaching discussion. I felt the last four chapters were much too brief and did not give enough discussion of teaching methodology of four different techniques which seemed to hold high potential. I would also suggest that Chapter 9 be moved to follow Chapter 1 as it is an overview of “Course Solutions”–and more fleshed out overview of moodle learning concepts in the course context would be a good starting point rather than a detailed discussion of a work-around to setup an individual student forum. Chapter 8 could be expanded and also brought in earlier in the book–if indeed the choice activity discussed in this chapter is “the simplest type of activity” moodle offers. Beginning with an overview of the class and then the simplest activity for a specific example would improve the flow of the book as well as provide much more direct discussion of moodle teaching techniques.
To summarize, I recommend this book to users of learning management systems such as moodle. Several thought provoking sections should enhance a reader’s thoughts regarding effective teaching using moodle or some other learning management system. However, the digressions into unnecessary moodle work-arounds or network configuration discussion are distracting.