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Creative Ideas for Language Learning with Moodle




Written by Phil Bird.

Moodle logoMuch has been written about the uses of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in education; here I want to look at specifics – how can Moodle be used to support language learning?

I would like to present here some of the tools and techniques that I have used with my learners.

Interaction with Web Content

Don’t just add a link to a website. If you add it to a forum, you can get some fantastic language production. For learners working at a lower level I have used simple travel information websites to get students to ask for and give travel directions (many cities have public transport journey planners available online). I have also asked students to use online shopping sites to find presents for people in the class, having given them an imaginary £50 to spend.

Forums appear to be best for fluency practice, but as they leave a written record, they work very well for identifying individual students’ error patterns. While accuracy corrections online in a public forum are probably inappropriate, there is nothing to stop you printing off the forum page for each student and marking their corrections on it. For learners who have a low-level of confidence or accuracy in the target language, you can use the forum to get them to plan out a conversation, which they can then try out without that scaffold. For learners working at higher levels you can greater exploit forums for fluency practise. For example, add a few links for travel and tourist information, suggest places to go and the best way to get there (justifying their choices, in the target language, naturally). I have also had students find courses they want to study and job vacancies and explain what they find interesting, or why they think that they are suitable. This could be a great way to get learners to continue practising outside lesson time. Ask learners to debate a topic on the forum and use posts as stimuli for discursive writing.

Developing writing

As discussed above, forums are great for fluency work, but they might be a bit too public for a real in-depth focus on accuracy. This is where wikis come in handy. A wiki is basically a webpage with an edit button (think Wikipedia). While most wikis are public, Moodle allows you to set up individual wikis private to each learner and the teacher. These can be used to create collaborative documents between teacher and learner. As both have equal access, it is easy for a teacher to go in and leave subtle but constructive feedback (this can be as simple as changing the colour of text where there is an issue, or inserting smiley faces to show missing words). This can allow a longer piece of writing to be built up over time. Not only that, but the whole history of the text’s development can be seen and retrieved, and can be used by learners to reflect on their writing process. Public wikis can be set up to get students to collaborate on a project, or for peer correction; learners are often keen to share content that they have created.

Managing Multimedia Content

One great bonus of using Moodle is how it handles multimedia files.  It is really simple to embed video files from YouTube, or add audio files. However, the real power of this approach is when you get your learners to film themselves and upload their videos to Moodle. If you upload a FLV or MP3 file into Moodle and link to it on a page it displays in an embedded player. You can then easily create a feedback exercise, asking students to reflect on their language use, grammar and vocabulary choices, pronunciation etc. If you do this regularly throughout a course it allows students to build up a portfolio, allowing them to literally see (and hear) the improvement in their language skills.

Fantastic Organisational Tool

Aside from these aspects, I find that Moodle is just a great way of tying things together – grades, learners’ work, Individual Learning Plans, useful links, etc. Should you have access to this tool, you should make the most of it.

These are just my ideas. Please comment and leave your own below.

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  1. Moodle’s great. My favourite way of using it so far has been to create a class learning diary by asking for a volunteer at the end of each session to log on and enter what learning has taken place during the session. It’s a great way to revisit the aims and check learning and it provides a permanent record. Individual students can then reply to posts in the forum to give their own comments on the session (i.e. the class as a whole may have been working on a particular topic, one student may post to say it was difficult/ another might post to say he achieved something personally relevant during the session).

    I also found that putting a link to an etherpad page – no longer available but Google Wave should hopefully do the same job – was a great way to access something specific quite easily.

    • Yeah, I think there’s great potential to use Moodle to increase learner reflection around the content of the lessons – and it is just a great way of ‘tying’ things together. I remember doing lessons using the internet before I could use Moodle – and half the lesson was me going round typing in URLs for students (The other half was me getting them back on to the right sites).

  2. There are some really interesting ideas here. Our college has had Moodle for just a year now, (after merging with a college that already had it). It has not been easy to access and is not something that I have used with ESOL students (yet) as there are still discussions about how this is to be structured (seperate coures for each tutor/outreach centre/level/etc).
    however, I have used it for a year with my CELTA trainees, and comparing this with using Blogger and PBWorks, which I was using b4 Moodle was available, I am impressed with it. It has been a steep learning curve as, although the techies at college have been supportive, they are all with the technical aspects and little with the practical application.
    i know of an ESOL tutor who has been doing a lot of good work on moodle and I’ll be forwarding her this post.

    • I found that the best way to get used to Moodle was to find a few activity modules and use them a lot to get used to them.

      Another golden rule is that if you don’t understand one of the settings that you can edit – just ignore it 🙂 90% of the time it really won’t matter… I haven’t destroyed anything yet…

      On my blog, I’ve got a few posts that go more in depth into a couple of the modules (especially forums) – you might want to have a look – it’s at https://classroom201x.wordpress.com

  3. […] Anyway, I know that OUP are always looking for new contributors, so if you feel like contributing, get in touch with them. Written by Phil Bird. Much has been written about the uses of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in education; here I want to look at specifics – how can Moodle be used to support language learning? I would like to present here some of the tools and techniques that I have used with my learners. Interaction with Web Content Don’t just add a link to a website. If you add it to a forum, you can g … Read More […]

  4. Thanks for these ideas, Phil. We’ve been using Moodle for online teacher training for a while, and picking up on Chris’ comment above on learning journals, one thing we’ve found especially useful is the journal function in Moodle, as a reflective learning journal for teachers, and to provide a channel of 1 to 1 communication with the course tutor on progress, queries, doubts etc. At the same time we use a public forum for sharing regular learning insights on a topic (e.g. weekly), but the private nature of the journal is excellent for ensuring that participants have a safe and private feedback channel directly with the tutor. I had the experience in the past, for example, of a teacher participant expressing how she felt she wasn’t up to the standard of the rest of the group, and was thinking of dropping out of the training course– having weakly structured Journal tasks allowed her to express this concern in her journal only to me, whereas she would not have wanted to say this in a public forum. It was also unlikely that she would have contacted me by e-mail to express this. This to me was a powerful learning experience about how a one-to-one communication channel in a fully online course is vital, and how opportunities for ongoing feedback need to be incorporated into task design. This is obviously especially important in teacher training, but I can also see that it could function in online language learning.

    By the way, I have a series of postings of specific activities that can be carried out in online courses, covering the beginning, middle and end of a course. Please feel free to check the postings out and see if there is anything useful in there: https://www.emoderationskills.com/?p=71

  5. Thanks for the comments Nicky – That blog link is really useful. I agree that Moodle is a fantastic resource for student-teacher communication.

    We’ve been using electronic Individual Learning Plans where students can comment on their progress on a regular basis – as can staff. It’s a great opportunity to ask learner’s questions.

  6. I think we can all agree Moodle is great and has huge potential with the open source community that’s involved with the development of it. I am currently working for University College Falmouth in the Learning Technology department and we use Moodle for our VLE. We use it for all our courses which is around 50. We understand the importance of having a set of guidelines for the development of the courses but we also know that each course is bespoke. Moodle allows us to develop different learning environments for each of the courses with its easily adaptable programming language PHP. I to see the benefit of the activities built into Moodle such as the forums, feedback and journal modules. The one thing I don’t think many people see with Moodle is the possibilities of adding content that isn’t standard within Moodle, such as incorporating social networking. On courses I have developed I have incorporated Twitter and RSS feeds so that students can get relevant information from a large resource base without having to surf around the internet. Communication also another factor within Moodle that can be easily mastered by using a block called Moodle Mobile. Now this allows teachers of the courses to send out messages to all the students enrolled on the course via SMS and also email. Now we have found this extremely useful as we all know students don’t necessarily check their emails as often as they would their mobiles as they have these on them pretty much 24/7. I think that Moodle can most definitely support language learning and I also think that developers of courses should definitely look at the HTML block and the huge possibilities this brings to Moodle.
    Any questions give me a shout Damien.hogan [at] falmouth.ac.uk or https://twitter.com/Damien_Hogan

  7. They sound like some really useful ideas Damien… Do you mean that you create activities using the HTML block? Or are these new activity modules that you’ve created? I don’t really have the PHP skills to create module – but I can see that the open-source aspect to Moodle can allow for real innovation.

    • A lot of the modules that we use you can download from moodle.org and install them pretty easily. I have developed various different tools using the HTML block be it directly putting it in there or using iframes.The social aspects like twitter ect are really easy to implement as you can use their widgets and simply add them to the HTML blocks you add.

  8. Using Moodle can help to create a new environment of studying English. Students have chance to work with new types of documents and tasks. It is easy for them to choose what to learn and improve their skills. Also , it will be easy for the teachers to know how the students are studying.

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