Learning Innovation Unit, Dublin City University

Learning Innovation Unit

Teaching Reflections

Some Moodle Tips

Elaine Walsh & Eamon Costello, Oscail


Meeting the educational needs of students in an online environment can be both challenging and rewarding. Over the past six years in Oscail, through the running of online courses, Moodle has become our campus. We use Moodle as part of a blended model with a large reliance on the online component and in a particularly centralised way that reflects the nature of the programmes. For instance, all modules across each programme have a standard look and feel in Moodle. For this reason we put a lot of effort into the design and layout of our modules: which Moodle features to use, which to exclude, and how they contribute to overall pedagogy. In this article we discuss a selection of Moodle features that have had particular impact on our programmes.

Online Assignments

One of the features in Moodle that we could not live without is the Assignments activity which allows the submission of assignments online (previously Oscail students submitted their assignments by post to tutors). There are many interesting things you can do with online assignments. Two administrative tips for making the process smoother are:

  • including an online plagiarism declaration; and
  • using a standard naming convention for files.

Online Plagiarism Declaration

As of June 2009 there is a special provision in the  DCU Plagiarism Policy for online assignment submission. In Oscail, we implement this by having students agree to the plagiarism declaration by virtue of uploading their assignment to Moodle. This action determines their agreement to the contents of the declaration. and removes the need for students to physically post in signed declaration forms. This is shown in Figure 1.

Screenshot from Oscail Student Assignment Delaration on Moodle

Figure 1: Student Assignment Declaration on Moodle

Using a standard naming convention

Oscail students are required to save their assignment files according to a standard naming convention. This ensures that all relevant details relating to the student, the programme of study and the module are visible in the name of the document. For example, for Computing 1, Assignment 1, 2009, a student would save their assignment as: C1_A1_2009_StevenStudent.doc. This helps in connecting the assignment to the student once an assignment has been downloaded.

Moodle discussion forum

The use of online discussion in distance learning programmes is important. We use the Discussion Forums activity in Moodle in two main ways:

  • for academic support - peer-tutoring, general announcements (important dates etc.); and
  • as part of formal Continuous Assessment (CA) - where marks are awarded for contributions according to a structured format.

In the latter, marks are awarded for forum postings (based on grading criteria). One observation from our experience is that some students will only post to forums if they receive marks for their contributions even if the potential marks available are very small.

Structuring discussions can involve considerable effort as it involves creating detailed schedules, developing criteria for grading discussion contributions i.e. a marking rubric, giving guidance to students as to how discussions should proceed and helping tutors to mentor and moderate proceedings. Due to this complexity a clear study guide and schedule of tasks is a vital tool and Oscail has spent considerable time developing these. Doing online group work as part of CA also requires considerable input from the students.

On the other hand, less structured interactions, where marks are not awarded for participation, require fewer resources and may also lead to rich interactions between participants. The key factor in deciding which is appropriate for you may be the type of learning outcomes sought. For instance if the ability to work in teams is a desired learning outcome structured online discussions may be suitable. On the other hand if you simply require more flexible tutoring less structure may be needed.

The meta-course

Moodle is not designed to represent programmes of study; it is module-centric. However, there may be situations where you want students from multiple modules to have access to shared information or even participate in shared activities. In this case the Moodle meta-course is your friend. A metacourse is a Moodle course which allows participants from multiple modules. For Oscail, this is useful when we need to make announcements relevant to an entire programme. It is also useful when making one set of learning resources (notes etc.) available to students from different modules, for example resources for revision or study skills.

An example of how we use the meta-course, and one that Oscail students find very useful, is the Buy and Sell Books discussion forum. Here students from the previous year’s modules can communicate with students for the coming year and exchange textbooks. There may be wider potential here for this connection of students for mentoring.

Moodle activity notifications

There are a number of ways that students receive notification of new activity in Moodle. These include:

  • My Moodle
  • Automatic Email notifications
  • Recent Activity block
  • Latest News block
  • Forum tracking/read tracking
  • RSS feeds

All of these features do slightly different things. In common they let participants know, at a minimum, whether there have been new discussion postings within their module. Our advice is to choose one of these features and disable the others. This avoids having to support multiple features that provide overlapping functions. We recommend Forum Tracking as the most reliable and consistent of these features as it highlights new posts for participants when they login to their module. It has the advantage also of being less intrusive than email alerts.


Moodle has many features which, depending upon how you use them, can enhance the online learning environment for participants. We have given a small selection here that Oscail students and teachers depend on and we hope that by sharing them they are of some use to others.


Make sure students agree to the Plagiarism policy and encourage students to save files with a meaningful filename.
Structured discussions as part of CA demand time and effort on everyone’s part but can yield major rewards.
If you have something that you need to share with students from more than one module consider using a meta-course
Avoid the buggy Recent Activity Block in Moodle and use Forum Tracking instead.

References and further reading

For more detailed accounts of our experience of using Moodle for online general teaching please see:

Fox, S. & Walsh, E. 2007. Task Oriented Online Learning ( TOO L) - Social Interaction in an Online Environment. IN: Case Studies of Good Practices in Assessment of Student Learning in Higher Education, O’Neill, G., Huntley-Moore, S. & Race, P. (Ed.) Dublin : AISHE. Available from <http://www.aishe.org/readings/2007-1/No-06.pdf&gt; [Accessed 10/11/09 ]

Costello E., Fox S. & Walsh E. (Forthcoming) A reappraisal of online mathematics teaching using LaTeX Available from <http://www.dcu.ie/~costelle/Costello_LAtex_Mathematics_Teaching_Onlineā€¦; [Accessed 10/11/09 ]

DCU polices covering the area of students conduct in online environments.

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