Additional Feedback from the Moodle Student Survey

As we described in a related article - Effective Moodle Course Structures (opens in new window) - we surveyed students during the Spring 2021 semester about their experiences with Moodle.  Overall, 156 students responded to our survey, from all three colleges and from all class years.  Among the questions that we asked the students were three essay-style questions, exploring student perspectives about effective uses of Moodle.  In particular, we asked the students:

  • "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."

Almost 40% of students mentioned course structure as an essential factor in effective use of Moodle.  However, students also mentioned other aspects of a Moodle course that contributed to an outstanding learning experience:

  1. Promoting student interaction through forums, social annotation, etc.
  2. Using the Moodle Gradebook to make student progress in the course clear
  3. Having clearly indicated deadlines for student work (in part by using a chronological course structure)
  4. Simplifying the course structure using the "Collapsed Topics" course format
  5. Using PDF files (for the course syllabus, for example) rather than Word documents

Promoting Student Interaction

Students praised courses that encouraged students to interact with one another frequently.  Here are some typical comments from the question that asked about the effective use of Moodle:

  • "I think my poetry class used Moodle well because we would upload assignments so others could see them and then receive feedback from the professor and responses from our classmates on our work. It was a very collaborative environment."
  • "I'm currently taking intro to women's and gender studies and I think Moodle is great for this class. We do discussion forums 2-3 a week, which makes giving peer responses super easy. We also watch a movie/video weekly on Moodle, which always works great, and we use discussion forums for that as well."
  • "Any course that uses journals or discussion forums. I think this promotes a lot of active engagement from everyone and it's very easy."
  • "In a discussion based class, students are instructed to leave comments in a post/reply fashion which is super collaborative and fun."

These comments reflect the importance of promoting discussion in an online or hybrid environment, but they still apply to face-to-face classes that use features in Moodle to increase and to enhance student interaction.  Here is a copy of one of the courses specifically mentioned in the survey responses:  Intro Women's & Gender Studies (WMST150-05-SP2021).  That course uses some of the layout features that we described in the article about Effective Moodle Course Structures (opens in new window):

  1. The most significant information about the course is placed in a series of topic areas at the top of the course, in clearly labeled sections.
  2. The rest of the course is structured in chronological order by week, with the readings and videos for each week listed at the top of each section. 
  3. Each substantive topic had a discussion forum specifically dedicated to that topic. 

Student interaction was fostered through social annotation of course readings and through posts and replies in the multiple discussion forums. Bucknell has a site license to a platform called Perusall for social annotation, in which students highlight a passage from the reading and place comments in the margin of the (online) page, to which other students can reply.  Here is a screen capture of one sample page in Perusall, to provide a sense of the interface:

Perusall Annotation Example

Each highlighted passage has a student comment associated with it.  The sentence highlighted in purple above has an initial annotation from a student, along with multiple replies from other students in the course.  Social annotation creates an interaction among students similar to a discussion forum (initial responses and occasional replies), but it is much more closely rooted in the reading, since students are reacting to particular passages.

This course also made extensive use of the Forum activity to promote discussions among students.  Students were required to post a "Provocative Question" before each class session, which the instructor defines in detail within the Moodle course (and provides a sample entry).  Students were also required to reply to two of their classmates' provocative questions, writing a four- to five-sentence paragraph for each response. 


The Moodle Gradebook

Many students also expressed a desire for faculty members to use the Moodle Gradebook and to weight course grades within the Gradebook, so that students had a sense of their grade throughout the semester.  Here are some sample student comments:

  • "Some teachers do not post grades directly to Moodle which makes it difficult to know how I am doing in the class until the end of the semester."
  • " I think Moodle is used most effectively when teachers post grades often."
  • "I think one of the ways that Moodle has been used ineffectively for me is when professors don't use Moodle fully, only partially. For example, the grade section for Moodle classes is very useful because I can keep track of how I am doing in the class without emailing the professor."
  • "[S]ometimes the totals for the grade section of moodle don't calculate or do not include all the numbers properly."

Although the Moodle Gradebook can be complicated, because it has multiple ways of weighting grades and many features to allow for a sophisticated weighting scheme, it has many advantages (as the student comments reveal):

  1. If you enter your weighting scheme in the Gradebook, then the Gradebook provides students with a clear sense of how they are doing in the course, since the Moodle Gradebook by default provides a running total, taking into account only the grades that have been entered into the Gradebook up to that point in the semester.
  2. Once your weights are entered, Moodle will calculate your grades for you. 
  3. The Gradebook allows you to put grades in categories (essays, exams, homework, etc.), and you can calculate grades for a category and even drop grades within a category.
  4. The Gradebook allows you to provide feedback to students (particularly through the Assignment activity), and it communicates grade information to students, rather than requiring students to email you for their grades. 

Once you learn to use the Gradebook in Moodle, you will most likely find that the time-saving aspects and increased communication with students outweigh the initial difficulty in understanding how the Gradebook works. 


Clearly Indicated Deadlines

As part of their comments on the most effective use of Moodle, students indicated a strong preference for courses that clearly list when work is due.  This was strongly related to a preference for clear, often chronological course structures.  For example:

  • "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 took a religion class and everything we needed was available on moodle in clear sections, all the videos were uploading there as well as other course material, clearly labelled and easy to know what was due, when."
  • [Effective Moodle courses have] "clear deadlines and headings for each week."

The religion course (mentioned in the student comment) was Hinduism (RELI202-01-FA2020).  That course used a topic format in reverse chronological order, and each topic description included a list of the reading for the topic, along with the work due and its deadline.  Here is a screen capture of part of one topic in that course:

Clear Deadlines in Topic Description

The topic description is one possible place where deadlines can be listed.  Other courses praised by students put deadlines within each chronologically organized topic area.  In another Moodle course praised by a student, deadlines were added to the course calendar:  " Putting all due dates from the syllabus on the calendar was a HUGE help."


Simplified Course Structures

Moodle courses can become long and complicated, as you add more and more resources and activities to a course.  One advantage of the reverse chronological course structure praised by various students is that the most relevant material remains near the top of the course, avoiding the infamous "scroll of death," when students need to keep scrolling through the course to find new material.  As one student commented, " My business law class uses moodle incredibly well, the new material or current week information gets added to the top of the page, instead of the bottom so everything is very easy to find and there isn't a lot of scrolling involved."  Moodle has also introduced new course formats to shorten the visible appearance of a course.  In the Moodle student survey, several students praised the use of the Collapsed Topics format, which allows topic blocks to be collapsed when no longer relevant and expanded when needed:

  • "Allowing the student to minimize each tab used for different areas of the class (i.e homework assignments, lab assignments, etc. in different tabs) . Makes it easier to find what you're looking for and cuts down on scrolling."
  • "I really like when each tab on the moodle page is able to be expanded and retracted with just the subject of the contents in the tabs. It makes the moodle page a lot cleaner and more organized, along with making it much easier for me to find the areas of the moodle page I am looking for!"
  • "[T]his course had a drop down on the main page for each week, so it divided the assignments well and made everything easy to find."
  •  "Moodle is most effective when the professor uses drop down arrows to classify materials by week. This helps the screen to look less crowded."

The "Collapsed Topics" format can be chosen in the "Course format" section of the course settings:

Selecting the Collapsed Topics Format

The Collapsed Topics formats usually displays the first topic in expanded format, with all the topics below that collapsed so that you see only the topic title.  Students can then expand all the topics or just the ones that they want to see:

Collapsed Topics Format in a Course

The "Collapsed topics" format is one of several that we have added to Moodle to allow more flexibility in course design.


Preference for PDF Files

Several students expressed a preference for the use of PDF files (rather than Word documents), particularly when posting a syllabus or other crucial documents to a course:

  • "I enjoy it when professors are wary of how to best upload their own documents on Moodle (e.g. uploading pdfs that can be viewed online is generally much friendlier than opening up MS word every time I want to check the syllabus)."
  • "It is frustrating when professors upload the syllabus as a word document, so every time I need to look at the syllabus I have to redownload the document.  It would be much easier to look at the syllabus as a pdf."

Microsoft Word allows you to save or print a file to PDF.  Once you upload that document into Moodle, you can modify the document's settings ("Appearance" section) to force Moodle to embed the PDF file within the browser:


Edit File Settings Embed PDF File in Browser


If the Appearance choice is "Embed," students will see the PDF document on your main Moodle course page, rather than having to download the file.

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Article ID: 522
Tue 6/15/21 4:03 PM
Tue 12/5/23 11:20 AM

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This article describes two examples of Moodle courses with structures that students particularly mentioned as highly effective.