Effective Moodle Course Structures - The Reverse Chronological Structure

Reverse Chronological Structure

During the Spring 2021 semester, we surveyed students about their experiences with Moodle.  Overall, 156 students responded to our survey, from all three colleges and from all class years.  In addition to various Likert-style questions, we asked the students three essay-style questions to explore their perspectives about effective uses of Moodle.  In particular, we asked them:

  • "If you have any comments regarding HOW EASY OR DIFFICULT you find different features in Moodle, please share them here."
  • "Think of one course that you recently took that used Moodle very effectively from your perspective. What made it effective? Please explain."  
  • "Now please think of one recent course that used Moodle poorly or ineffectively from your perspective. What made it ineffective? Please explain."

In analyzing the responses to those questions, we discovered that nearly 40% of all students mentioned course layout as a critical factor in the effective use of Moodle by faculty.  Here are some sample replies:

  • "Every professor sets up their Moodle page differently. Some make it very fluid and easy to use while others have made it very confusing and scattered. This makes it easier to miss deadlines, announcements, etc. "
  • " If Moodle is disorganized or cluttered, it can be stressful and frustrating to look for assignments."
  • "Some of my courses organize Moodle topics by days and/or weeks, so that every day I can easily see what is due for class on that specific day. This is a much better alternative than checking the syllabus every time. "
  • "I like when Moodle pages are organized by weeks, as that way it is much easier to see what assignments I have and when they're due. My best experiences with Moodle were when professors had it set up so that each section was a week, and then each section was broken up into individual days/lectures."

The students articulated the need for a clear course structure to help them succeed in the course, and many expressed a preference for a chronological and particularly a reverse chronological structure for the course, in which newer content is placed at the top of the course as time progresses through the semester.  One course that a student praised for its outstanding structure was Physical/Environmental Geology from Fall 2020, which we have copied here:  https://moodle.bucknell.edu/course/view.php?id=42283 (opens in new window).

That course has the following features that make it an example of outstanding course structure:

  1. The most important course information is at the top of the course.
  2. Each week is a separate topic area, and each title identifies not only the week, but also the main topic being discussed that week.
  3. The structure of each topic area is consistent. 
    1. If there is a lab during a particular week, the Assignment activity for the lab is at the top of the section.
    2. Most weeks have a reading quiz, which is just below the lab assignment.
    3. Lecture recordings and lecture slides are posted just below that.
  4. The major course assessments (midterms and final exam) are posted in the appropriate week when they occur, near the top or at the top of the weekly topic area.

This course demonstrates many of the practices that students praised in their survey responses.  It is very easy to find assignments (and their due dates), making it very clear to students what work needs to be completed and when.  The weekly structure reinforces this clarity.  Students can find the current week in the course, and they can see immediately what they need to do that week.  The topic headings and lecture materials make the weekly subjects clear as well.

Another course specifically mentioned by students in their survey feedback was Statistics I from SP2021, which we have copied here:  https://moodle.bucknell.edu/course/view.php?id=42314 (opens in new window).  That course also uses a reverse chronological structure, although it demonstrates other examples of effective course design:

  1. The most important documents (syllabus, link to the online textbook, etc.) are all placed in the topic block at the top of the course.
  2. All course assessments (other than homework) are placed in the block just below that, so students know where to find all the exams and quizzes, except for the Final Exam, which is in its own topic block. 
  3. The course is actually organized by textbook chapter but presented in reverse order, clearly indicating the dates when the class will be studying each chapter.
  4. The syllabus lists the work due each week, and the Moodle course itself makes the schedule absolutely clear.  Each topic area begins with a textual description of the work to be completed for the specific chapter and when that work is due.
  5. Most chapters have a major homework submission that is at the bottom or near the bottom of the topic block.

A (reverse) chronological structure is not the only effective way to organize a Moodle course.  In general, students expressed a preference for a consistent, logical structure that made it easy to locate the materials they need.  These specific course examples demonstrate how that clear, consistent structure simplifies the experience for students and can contribute to their success in the course. 

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Article ID: 518
Tue 6/1/21 4:06 PM
Thu 8/24/23 3:44 PM