Moodle tips – adding an rss feed to your Moodle module

Moving module choice online

Over the summer I worked on helping the administrative team move first year student elective module choice online. The data had previously been collected manually via a paper form given to students. The data then had to be transferred manually by administrative staff onto an excel spreadsheet before the students were enrolled on our student record system, SITS. This was a cumbersome process usually completed at the beginning of the academic year, what was already a busy time for administrative staff. We decided to look at a quick and easy way of moving this process online. I worked with the administrators to find out the type of data they wanted to collect and how they wanted it to display in excel. I then made up a few test forms using googleform for them to check over. Once they had agreed that it would work for them I trained the administrators in how to create googleforms and how to download the data in excel format. This is a very easy process and took very little time for them to learn.

We chose googleforms because it is free, all the administrators could easily get an account, the forms could be distributed via a link sent out by email or on the virtual learning environment (Moodle) and they could also be embedded in Moodle.

I asked the Undergraduate Sociology programme administrator for her feedback on how the change went.

How was the module choice done before moving it online?

The module choice process was previously done on paper. A module choice session was organized between March and May to choose modules that would be studies the following September. Module choice handbooks and forms were distributed at this session as well as information given by tutors about their specific modules.

Why did you decide to move module choice online?

We decided to move the module choice online for first years (2nd and 3rd years had already chosen modules) after the idea was suggested to us by Anna Campbell. The paper forms were a bit cumbersome, so moving to the online method seemed the best thing to do.

How easy/difficult do you find using googleforms for module choice?

I found the process of moving to the online form very smooth, and although I may ask for a little help in setting up the forms for 2nd and 3rd years, I think that using googleforms has improved the process very much.

How did it go?

Because the students were taken through the process during their moodle induction there were very few problems. I have not had very much feedback from them, but usually this can be interpreted as a good thing!

What would you do differently next time?

I think I would label the categories slightly differently for the purpose of sorting, but I would not change anything on a large scale.

Constructing effective online assessment

I have worked alongside my academic colleagues Isabelle Marcoul and Svenja Erich of the Centre for Language Studies at City University London for the last two years to help develop effective online assessment. This project has now been written up for the recently published Learning at City Journal Vol 2 (2). You can download a full copy of our article here for free.

I’m providing a summary of the article here, focusing on the way the technology was used and how we measured the effectiveness of a multiple choice Moodle quiz.


City University London runs a programme of language modules, some for course credit, some are extra curriculum. The languages taught are French, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic and German. Before they can join a class the students need to be assessed and assigned to the language course appropriate to their level of linguistic competence, ranging from beginner to advanced levels. In 2011 more than 1000 students took a diagnostic test.

Prior to 2011, the language tests were handed out in a printed format and marked by language lecturers. The administrative burden for this was heavy with very tight marking deadlines, a lot of administrative work to assign students to the correct course, communicate this to students etc. It was concluded that an online system would help automate this, ensure the students received immediate feedback about which level and class was appropriate to them and would speed up the administrative process.


Each year the university runs a Language Fair during Freshers week. Traditionally this was when students took the written test and completed questionnaire (to gather basic information e.g. degree course etc). In September 2011 this assessment was done via multiple choice quiz on Moodle, the questionnaire was also online in a googleform. This meant that

  • a computer room was needed for the language fair
  • an audio/visual component was deemed to be difficult to manage as a large number of headphones would be required so listening was not part of the test

Design of the test

The languages team wanted to assess different types of language ability while being restricted to using a multiple choice online system. Each language had a test comprising of 100 questions. Please see the article for a full description of the choice of question type and what was assessed.

As a learning technologist I was very interested in how the languages department wrote their multiple choice questions in order to assess different types of language ability. For example, students were asked to read a generic text in the source language and were given comprehension questions to see how much they had understood. Some of the questions also asked that the students not only understand the words but also the cultural context and concept in order to get the answer right.


What would you like as a main course?
A sorbet with strawberries
Six oysters
Steak and kidney pie with chips

To answer this question students needed to demonstrate understanding of it and the choices and to pick the correct answer from their own knowledge.

In the article Isabelle writes about how we construct language and how we can assess higher order thinking skills using online assessment methods so please do access the article if you are interested in this.

Use of Moodle and googleforms

City University London uses Moodle as it’s virtual learning environment. This was seen to be the perfect platform for the language testing. I met with the lecturers that would be preparing the questions for the test and explained how the Moodle quiz tool worked. This was to help them understand the types of question that would and would not be appropriate.

Once the questions had been written we had a two hour hands-on training session where the staff were trained in using Moodle quiz and then used it to add their questions with my support. I would recommend this approach. It meant that I could immediately troubleshoot any problems and the staff involved have been successfully using Moodle quiz ever since.

We also needed to collect some personal data from the students e.g. name, degree course etc. We used a googleform for this as they are very easy to set up and the data can be exported in excel format which the administrator requested.

Effectiveness of the language diagnostic multiple choice test

Effectiveness of the test was measured by the number of students that stayed in the group/level they were identified as during testing i.e. the language level of the course matched the language level that the student tested at. We were very pleased to see that the test proved very accurate in determining level for French, German and Spanish (small numbers of students took Mandarin and Arabic so the data was not conclusive).

This shows that an online test can effectively measure language ability in the majority of cases with very little movement of students between levels.

You can download a copy of the full article here

Case study – creating presentations using prezi instead of powerpoint

Professor Suzanne Franks presenting at the symposium

Professor Suzanne Franks, Head of Undergraduate Journalism at City University London, wanted a more innovative way to present at the International Symposium on “China as a Development Aid Actor: Rethinking Development Assistance and its Implications for Africa and the West”  hosted by the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. We discussed the options and she decided to try to use Prezi is an online, cloud-based tool for creating presentations, exploring ideas and storytelling. Prezis can be played on a computer with internet access, downloaded for playing offline or played on an ipad by downloading a free app.

Professor Franks’ presentation was about the influence of China in Africa, particular in the media and media training. She decided she wanted to use images with no words and wanted to position the images/photos in the correct part of the country. She also used a map of Africa overlaid with the flag of the People’s Republic of China. You can see an image of this to the left (see the full prezi here).

Prezi is a really innovative presentation tool that can be used in many different ways. Here are some reasons to try prezi

1. Prezi moves slickly between images, graphics, text, video and audio so is very flexible

2. A prezi can be linear but is best utilised to introduce concepts or projects

3. Prezi allows you to zoom in and out of a bigger picture

4. Prezi is free for educators to use, just sign up with your university email account

I recommend that you take a look at their popular and award winning prezi presentations to give you an idea of how versatile the tool is and this blog post for tutorial videos

Reflections on the HEA conference 2012 – Great Expectations

I was fortunate to attend the HEA conference held in Manchester this year. The conference theme, Great Expectations, reflects the change that UK HE is experiencing. Here are a few of the things that I took away from the sessions that I attended.

Key note speaker – Martin Bean

The always entertaining and thought provoking Martin Bean, VC of the OU, provided the first key note of the conference. He titled his presentation ‘Great expectations, not a choice but a reality’ and argued a case that is close to the heart of this team; that one of the great opportunities of technology is to enable relevant, engaged, personalised learning with the focus on good teaching. I highly recommend that you watch the key note that is available to view for free here.



Innovation zone

Innovation zone, HEA conference 2012

Innovation zone, HEA conference 2012

This year the conference also had an innovation zone, featuring the work of one of the team, Kate Reader. Her paper an investigation into academic use of iPads to enhance the student learning experience was part of the video presentations that were on a loop during the conference.


At City University London academics in the School of Arts and Social Sciences were issues with iPads in order to support teaching and learning. This was to enable them to explore the role of mobile devices in the classroom and better understand students’ informal use of mobile technologies to support their learning. Effective use of mobile technologies in the classroom have been shown to support effective use of resources, provide students with new skill sets for employability and create flexible, learner-centred and personalised learning environments. The project was evaluated with a series of semi-structured interviews with academic staff one year on. The video provides an overviews of the results, highlighting both the ways in which academics are using iPads to support teaching and the impact on their understanding of student use of mobile devices.

Kate will be writing a blog post on this project soon.

Parallel sessions

Inspirational teachers wordleWhat makes an inspirational teacher? Dr Sally Bradfield and colleagues, Sheffield Hallam University

Sheffield Hallam have an inspirational teachers award scheme. Nominations came through their student barometer survey where students were asked to name an inspirational teacher and/or someone who has inspired them outside the classroom. They were also asked to write up to 200 words. The comments made by the students were anonymised and the data was analysed using Nvivo.

The wordle shows the words that the students wrote about their nominees. Sally concluded that what the students appreciated was being challenged to ensure that they were a different person when they finished their degree. She also noted that the word ‘always’ appeared as many times as the word ‘students’ suggesting that the students were the centre focus of these staff and that they were consistent in their interactions with students.

Transitions to postgraduate study

I went to an interesting talk about transitioning to postgraduate study- Facilitating transitions to Masters-level learning through improving formative assessment and feedback. It was a very comprehensive talk so I recommend having a look at this resource.

A couple of thoughts that I took away were

Studies of PG students find that they aren’t as different from UG students as we believe them to be

Interviews with students at the beginning of the course found them confident but later interviews found that they were confused about the assessment frameworks at M level

Part time students make large sacrifices for their studies and plan their time in advance. They find changes to the expected programme (e.g. change in lecture times, tutorial times etc) more difficult to accommodate and are negative about them

All students should be required to attend at least one writing skills workshop. Students that did attend found it very valuable but said that they would not have attended if it hadn’t been mandatory – they felt it was only for International students

PG students don’t just want feedback about how to improve, they need to know why those improvements in order to conceptualise what they’re being asked to change


The conference was a great opportunity to reflect and plan for our changing landscape. Many of the sessions were recorded and are available to view free here. I’d recommend that you have a look and see if anything catches your eye.

Creating interactive conference posters

I was pleased to have a poster accepted at the EDEN (European Distance and E-Learning Network) conference in Porto, Portugal this year. I have written a blog post about the content of the poster which you can find here.

Being in Education Technology I did feel the need to add a bit extra to the poster! So, alongside a QR code that links to the blog post I also used layar, an augmented reality app. On the poster there was a screenshot from a youtube video of my colleague and co-author Evelyn Reisinger speaking about setting up the course on Moodle (seen at the bottom left of the above image). To view it you needed the layar app on an apple or android device. My colleague Farzana Latif has been doing some work with augmented reality and set this up for me, so thanks Farzana!

By scanning the screenshot using the layar app the video of Evelyn started to play. It went down very well at the conference so I would recommend it. It’s great to be able to make a one dimensional poster more interactive.

EDEN conference poster presentation

We have a poster presentation at the EDEN conference in Porto, Portugal next week. The conference theme is ‘Closing the gap from Generation Y to the mature lifelong learner’. Our poster is a case study of a distance learning course, the PGCert in the Principles and Practices of Translation. The vast majority of courses at City University are blended learning courses (using a mix of face to face and online resources) so we were interested to see how the students on a distance learning course utilsed the tools made available to them in Moodle. The poster outlines how mature students from two cohorts on this course, with different levels of technical experience, have utilised the online resources, focussing on the use of discussion forums and Adobe Connect.

Discussion forums

Evelyn Reisinger, Course Director, set up a news forum and discussion forums in Moodle. These were designed to encourage the students to raise and discuss their own issues as they felt appropriate with minimal interference from university staff. I was interested in whether the students utilised these discussion forums to create a community of practice (or communities of practice as there are a number of language combinations available within the programme). This draws from the work of Etienne Wenger (2006).

I completed a content analysis of the discussion forum postings for each year group. I did this by reading through each post and categorising it in terms of its content.

The contributions on the discussion forums specifically relate to some of the criteria for communities of practice as outlined by Wenger (2006). These include problem solving, requests for information, coordination and synergy and discussing developments (see the percentage interaction for each cohort below).









Adobe Connect

The academic staff were keen to have some face to face tutorial time with the students. This was done using Adobe Connect (AC) web conference software already in use at the university. The sessions were specifically designed to answer student questions just after they had received assessment feedback. The students sent in their questions before the session and the course lecturers answered them in text form on Moodle and through AC.


  • AC live sessions were not well attended
  • Some students suggested that the time of the session wasn’t convenient
  • Some students are studying from different countries so the time zone may have been a factor
  • The sessions were held in the afternoons when many of the distance learning students may have been at work or had childcare issues
  • Students that didn’t attend did access and view the tutorial recordings so the sessions were perceived as worthwhile


From analysis of the usage of the tools, feedback from students, lecturers and the administrator we concluded that
  • Students did use the discussion forums to communicate on many levels and did create communities of practice. In 2009/10 they were focused on the course but in 2011/12 a German to English mothers forum was set up and this includes personal interactions about their lives and similarities. The staff on the course are actively encouraging use of the discussion forums in this way
  • Students were willing to use the online resources made available to them. They had signed up for a distance learning course and were made aware that resources were shared online so this could have led to a self selected IT-confident group
  • Students used discussion forums for a number of different interactions, mostly related to the course but including some personal interaction
  • Age of student was no predictor of their use of the technology
  • Adobe Connect recorded tutorials were accessed if students could not virtually attend at the time of the tutorial so proved a valuable resource type

Interview with Course Director Evelyn Reisinger on using Moodle (recorded during the first year of the programme)