22 March 2011

Developing Moodle Content

I've been getting some great feedback on the English Composition course I posted and would love to hear what anyone else thinks about it. I've made some changes already and am planning some larger changes already.

On a related note, I've received some questions about the course design/layout that I wanted to address in a little more detail.

How long does developing a course like this take?

It depends. I had a loose framework in my head for a few years from a course I used to teach face-to-face and then on Blackboard and then in Moodle. It was really just the assignments themselves without any additional information. I had the luxury of relying on paper and in-person monitoring of students/work. I ended up not using anything from that course other than a few videos and organization of the units because it was just a bunch of PDF and DOC files. My thoughts on those are documented. 

I also think that adding the online context is important even if you have face-to-face interaction with students. This fits in with my whole Save Yourself Time meme. The more context you can add to your course/assignments/resources, the fewer potential questions you'll have to answer. You can use that saved time for more meaningful feedback. Looking back at that course I'm actually surprised just how little was in there. It was definitely not what I thought it was when I first opened it up.

Back to the question about 35-40 hours I'm guessing. I worked on it on weekends so had time during the week to think about how everything was going and any changes I wanted to make.

Do you have any tips for people developing courses like this?

Here are some of the biggest time savers I can think of to take what used to be a 60-80 hour course down to something that takes half the time.

1. Start out with very few specifics in mind. Things evolve so quickly and are driven by more than just the curriculum you'd like to offer.

2. Get rid of everything in your course and start with a blank slate.

3. Don't worry about course navigation quite yet. Just start making Web/Assignment/Forum and put them in order. This is just creating a web page, calling it unit 1 and moving on. For now these are just place holders for your actual content. As you start filling in specifics later things tend to evolve so you don't want to have to undo too much effort.

4. Put everything in topic 2. You're just going to close it off anyway so there's no sense in having to work with organizing content in the 10 topic boxes that is a default Moodle course (Even if you're developing a standard Moodle course, this can be helpful because you can just drop/drag your content around later).

5. If you use files, zip them and upload them all at once.

6. Copy/paste your text into the HTML mode and then copy/paste the line break code right there
. It saves time trying to lose the formatting from another page/source and it's really fast if you use keyboard shortcuts. (I actually rely quite a bit on keyboard functions to save time for copy/paste/bold/undo/find)

7. In my case, much of the design and layout evolves from the theme and images I find. It's worth taking some extra time here to search for the right images because that can help you decide how it's all going to fit together. (For example, I had no clue what English Composition was going to look like until I found those free clip art images on a creative commons site. http://openclipart.orghttp://archive.org,http://wikipedia.com are all good sources for images in the public domain. This same thing happened with Web Tools and the Google Docs course I created. Once the I chose my images and design, things really took off.)

8. Use the tabs in your browser. I routinely have 4-5 tabs open at the same time so that I can jump back and forth grabbing links to pages and inserting them into other pages for ease of navigation. The other HUGE time saver is copy/pasting HTML code and not text. If I have a link back to the Home Page on most of my pages that includes an image and text, I would've spent over an hour re-creating that. I just copied the HTML code for the text/image/link once and pasted it right into all of the other pages and it took 5 min.

9. Group repetitive tasks together rather than working on one thing at a time. You'll get a routine and it actually becomes relatively mindless so that you can enjoy radio or television while you work.

10. Think of how you would want it to work if you were taking that course. Inter-linking content really doesn't take very long and it goes a long way to improve the usability of the class.

There might be more. Some of it just takes me less time because I've spent a lot of time up front learning how it all works. Being flexible during the creation process really helps it evolve as you develop. It can really take some cool detours if you're not locked into a specific plan.