It may seem a somewhat strange thing to say and an odd way to start this post, but the purpose here, where we do a bit of learning Moodle, is not to learn Moodle. Unless you are an organization without a current learning management system (LMS), I think that the chances of you implementing it are probably pretty slim. So what then is the purpose?
As we have noted a few times in this LMS series, part of your evaluation process should be to test your work processes and course elements against those systems you have found and which have made it to the final selection. You are going to spend a great deal of time and effort evaluating the LMS you select, and I believe spending some time learning the process of evaluation itself is a worthwhile effort. Think of it like driving a car. Before you can tell if the test drive lives up to the advertising, you need to have a driver’s license.
So, with that as the prelude, let’s poke at Moodle a bit.
Once the various install scripts have downloaded, unpacked, and executed you will have a working copy of Moodle installed on your machine. How it works and what you need to do to run it will need a bit of explaining.
Unlike an application like a word processor or the web browser you are using to read this post, starting Moodle is a two-step operation and adds a new understanding of the word “application.” Walking those two steps will help you build the model of what is happening inside this (and other) LMSs.
The first part of the operation is to start the XAMPP environment - that is, the web and SQL servers. You can do this by going to the XAMPP directory and right clicking on the xampp-control script icon. Select the “run as administrator” option. This brings up the control panel which you see here. Once the control panel is running, press the start button on each of the components in order, waiting on each one to start before pressing the next one. You will know you are successful when you see the success message in the dialogue box in the bottom of the control panel.
You now have an operating web server on your machine. To confirm that it is working, open a browser window and type “localhost” into the address line. You should see an informational page regarding XAMPP and the control panel.
The second step to start Moodle is actually much easier, although if you are not familiar with it, it may require a paradigm shift. Moodle is not a program as much as a series of web pages, scripts, and databases that contain information on your courses, your users, and how you have configured your look and feel. You may see references to it as a “content management system.” You don’t start it as much as you access what you have configured. To do this, you load the home page, which if you accepted the defaults, is now available on your machine at http://localhost/moodle (and by the way, Moodle is not the only LMS that runs like this).
You should now see this screen which is what the install scripts put on your machine.
The most notable feature is that there is nothing there. This is a brand new install. You have no classes and no students, but you are the site administrator and you are in control. .
Before we start making any changes to this nice clean environment, let’s establish a very simple starting checklist for our new LMS so that there is some consistency in our explorations. (We will follow these same steps as we peek into the other LMSs in future posts).
As previous discussions in this series have pointed out, there are many decisions that you need to make regarding the organization of your learning. To establish the baseline of comparison and to allow you to build a consistent mental model, we will execute a few simple tasks. In this post, we will add a course and register a student in that class. Next post, we will add a variety of content to explore that process and see the result. Along the way, I would like to point out a few of the learning resources that address the specifics of the Moodle.
Every change you make to Moodle starts with changing the environment from one you read to one you edit. On the home page there is a button that says, “Add a Course.” Pressing it opens the dialogue where you will give the course a name, a description, and address some very nuts and bolts questions about the course such as how it will be organized. Some of your options here are a week by week or topic by topic organization. I have created something that I think may fit in a number of organizations - a basic first aid course - which you see here. When you press the save button, it writes the changes to the database that is referenced to display the content.
Final step: Add a student.
To enroll a student in our safety course, we are going to again follow a two-step process. First, the student will need to be added to the overall Moodle database, and then they will need to be enrolled in the course (another entry in the database). While there are many shortcuts in this process, for the first time you will do this manually. For this exercise, you will be creating an alter-ego for yourself and adding it to the course. This will allow you to see what a student would see upon entering the course.
I have opened the path to the user admin screen that you access and left the path open so you can see the location (Administration/Site Administration/Users panels). Replace the username with your new student. Once you have a new user enrolled in the site, when you go back to the course listing and go down to the user screen, you will see your new student listed as a potential student in the course.
There are multiple shortcuts to this process that allow the bulk import of students into the site and allowing students to self-register in courses. You have a site and can explore these on your on schedule.
If there is one process that summarizes Moodle, it is this: every change starts with turning editing on and ends with saving and turning editing off. This can be somewhat disconcerting and runs counter to many user expectations of how software works (or should work). It also reformats your content as you change roles which remains annoying even if you expect it.
There are a number of excellent learning resources for learning the administrative and student functions of Moodle. The best place to start is probably back at http://moodle.net. If you click into the documentation page on the site, you will find most things you can do with Moodle documented quite well, with many screencasts embedded into the content. With your own local copy of Moodle, you should be able to follow and test the various functions readily.
Lynda.com has a number of Moodle courses, but some caution is needed. If you have followed along to this point, you have a Moodle 3.1 site running. Many of the Lynda courses are older, covering 2.x versions. There are some changes that you might find confusing if you jump between versions 2 and 3.
Next time, I would like to remain in Moodle and add a variety of content into your course.