Five reasons why every teacher should just install their own Moodle setup

Some backstory

I was in the middle of Nay Pyi Taw two years ago, teaching a class called “The Anthropology of Education” (whatever that actually meant. I didn’t choose the course title). It was supposed to be a Bachelor’s level class, but the students were not quite at that point themselves. My school wasn’t a bastion of education resources and it didn’t even have many office supplies (we had one inkjet printer, no laserjet!) So, I figured that the best way to dole out assignments would be to do so online. However, many of the rich-kid students I was teaching at the time didn’t know how to properly use the laptops their parents bought for them. So, I had to think of an all-encompassing way to get them to do assignments and turn them in. I had heard of Moodle before and knew that it was basically an open-source clone of Blackboard, but I had never actually tried to build a Moodle site myself.

So there I was during my break intervals plugging away at the computer thinking… “Should I start my own website to put Moodle on it? … Nah, I don’t get paid enough for that. Hmm… Is there a free Moodle hosting service like there was for BulletinBoards?” It turns out there was: (#notanad) Gnomio allowed me to set up my Moodle board like I wanted it and put quizzes and essay prompts that could be answered online. All for $0.00.

The biggest hassle was actually getting everyone registered. Many of my students had e-mail accounts for the sole purpose of activating their phones and Facebook accounts. They did not, however, remember their passwords. Luckily, Moodle had a feature where I could assign passwords to users. So, I bulk registered my students using Moodle’s specifications and generated random passwords for them all. I then printed out the spreadsheet with their login info and cut up the sheets which contained each student’s username and password. Success! I was able to get everyone online and participating!

Now that COVID-19 has become a catalyst for moving everyone to an online platform, I think it would be to a teacher’s benefit to learn how to use Moodle, if they’ve never had to learn a platform before, due to budgeting reasons or lack of professional development.

1. A lot of work for so much reward

I know that web design is not on the top of a lot of teachers’ TO-DO lists. It certainly isn’t on mine and it’s something I like to do! But think about it as a lot of donkey work that has a huge pay-off. Just trust me on this one. Just a simple Google search brings a lot of results for how you can get your own Moodle board deployed. A fair warning, though: Moodle’s own hosting is a bit expensive. So, do your research and find something that’s good for you.

One issue that I had when teaching the Anth Ed course is that I had to do a lot of curving. It was my first college-level course and many students didn’t have the English skills to catch up to the required topics. So, I designed a curve. I was easily able to implement curved grades and weighted grade categories in Moodle. Something that would have taken a bit more thought in Excel. Yes, it’s a pain to set up a gradebook and design assignments, etc., etc. The benefit for you, however, is less hand-done paperwork in the end.

Let’s not forget, either, that you can re-use your entire course modules for a later date. That means that all of the grade categories, assignments, files uploaded, and the like remain inside of your Moodle course, even after a co-hort has finished.

2. Moodle does half the grading for you

If there’s one thing that I don’t like, it’s sitting down and mulling over paper after paper. And I’m an English teacher, which means essays! By assigning something in Moodle, however, you have total control over the type of assignment:

  • Multiple choice quizzes
  • Discussion boards
  • Group chats
  • Essay prompts
  • Document uploads
An example of what you can add in a module

If it’s a quiz that can be graded by short-answer or multiple choice options, Moodle can calculate those for you easily and leave you with the rest. Essays are easy to mark up with a built-in PDF annotator (only on advanced plans or self-installs) and discussion boards and group chats allow you to interact with your students easily.

Grading per-assignment can be set by different parameters, such as number of questions correct or even just completion of assignment. Even opening a document from Moodle can be counted as completing a task, if you set it up that way. There’s so much flexibility.

3. You control the Moodle board? Then you control the content

While I do not advocate for piracy or anything of the sort, some schools are not very flexible as to what teachers can and can’t show on their Blackboard pages (or similar program). Look, copyright is copyright, but maybe you’re in an underprivileged school district where kids can’t afford a certain book. With Moodle, you could simply upload a PDF of the book (or its individual chapters) and then assign the children to read it from their browsers or download it. Do you need to watch a film? Well, good luck convincing your Blackboard admin to let you link to a full film. If you control the Moodle, however, you can decide whether that is something you want to do or not.

Again, everything in its context, of course.

4. Moodle is an inexpensive option for teachers living in school systems that can’t afford other software

While I may come from the United States, I am now living in Burma and I totally understand how much of technology in schools is either taken for granted or under-utilized. In an ever-progressing technological world, students in America should be striving to learn as much about computers and web development as possible. We have the resources.

Try convincing a school in Burma with a largely techno-illiterate faculty to adopt Blackboard as their grading system. Even if they had the money, the learning curve may prove too much for some of the faculty and the project would be abandoned.

However, that doesn’t stop individual teachers from requiring students to use Moodle for their class. Just do what I did and make custom logins for all of your students.
(Hint: Moodle does require an email to register a user, but I used fake ones for my students who don’t have email accounts. It worked just fine)

A program like Moodle could even allow a teacher to pre-record lectures à la Khan Academy and flip the classroom!

5. It lets you stay connected to students from their homes

Students are able to send you private messages (without trying to add you on Facebook, like my students often want to do), you create discussion groups, you can hold video conferences with Jitsi or BigBlueButton, there is a live chat module, and so much more.

Your students don’t stop being your students when they leave your classroom. They need to re-apply what you have taught them and Moodle gives them a way to do it. Likewise, you don’t stop being their teacher when they leave at the end of the day, either. So, Moodle allows you to monitor their progress, send reports to the family, and to even create certificates upon completion of certain things (in my personal opinion, it’s easier to do that in MS Office or LibreOffice with MailMerge and a certificate-esque template).

So, take a step toward pedagogical independence and look into setting up your own Moodle board, if your school has not provided you with something similar already. I promise you, it will pay off.

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