Student support and success with Moodle tools

Sebastián Pulido
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San Luis Obispo, California, United States

Moodle and its different tools can store great amounts of data that can be of high value for faculty in any given institution. Not only does data allow faculty improve course content and allocate resources efficiently, it could also offer a helping hand to students who might be having a hard time with their studies. Data can help faculty determine student performance and spot at risk students who need help to pass their courses. More importantly, data paves the way for a timely response and personalized support.

To that end, the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) has put together an initiative that aims at making the best possible use of Moodle tools for student support. Located in San Luis Obispo, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Cal Poly is a highly ranked public university, and one of California State University’s 23 campuses. It offers renowned programs in business, economics, engineering and architecture, among others, with a high employment rate for graduates.

Tonia Malone is an Instructional Designer and Lead Moodle Administrator in the Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology (CTLT) at Cal Poly. She shared her experience with the teaching and learning community through an interview with E-Learn. Also, she will be a speaker at the 2017 BbWorld New Orleans Moodlemoot.

Malone works with faculty on the use of technology, making sure they are using it effectively to support student learning, and promoting the use of formative assessments. With experience giving workshops at the Student Support Center about note taking, writing and time management, she has worked closely with students who are on academic probation and is aware of the challenges and opportunities surrounding this sensitive issue.

Cal Poly is currently saving all the data it can, with plans to make use of it in the future and analyze multiple courses or quarters per student.

Cal Poly is currently saving all the data it can, with plans to make use of it in the future and analyze multiple courses or quarters per student. The goal is to improve their capacity to offer proper support. In the meantime, Malone wants to use all available resources to collect information about students who can eventually end up on academic probation. She is set to start some workshops at the university in order to talk with faculty about the initiative to identify at-risk students, and to determine what can be accomplished through the use of the tools and information at hand. In their case, those Moodle tools include:

1. Formative Assessment

Malone wants to show the LMS more as a learning tool for students than a grading tool for faculty. Since Cal Poly has 10-week quarters, some faculty will only hold three tests during that time. As a result, it can be difficult to identify which students are at risk until the fourth or fifth week, when courses are almost halfway through and recovery becomes difficult. Thus, formative assessment exists to go beyond head nodding and make sure that students actually understand class topics from the beginning. Adequate use of quizzes, assignments and other tools is essential for students to take advantage of lower stakes grades and be less reliant on summative assessment, if they are having academic difficulties. After faculty has added more formative assessments, they can look at the information Moodle provides and determine which students are at risk.

2. Quizzes and assignments and logs

Quizzes can be randomized and multiple attempts are allowed. At the Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology, Malone and the rest of the team have access to the usage data from faculty, as well. They have seen a significant increase in formative assessment activity; a surge that is seen in the form of quizzes and assignment uploads, as well as more feedback for students. For assignments, comprehensive documentation for different submission types, best suiting each course, is provided by Moodle though their support site. Also, faculty can track their students’ LMS activity using the Logs feature, and data collected can help determine if a student is going to need help. In addition, some publishers have developed Moodle quizzes for their textbooks. The Office of Institutional Research, as well as the CSU Affordable Learning Solutions program, also provide some content for formative assessment quizzes and assignments.

3. Completion Tracking

It can be very useful for professors to check if students completed all the assignments and quizzes, and whether they did well or not. When performance is low, Completion Tracking gives clues as to where the weaknesses might be, and then faculty can reach out to those students via email or in person between the second and fourth week, in order to look at options like tutoring or counseling. This feature can be configured to show a check mark on every required task for assignment.

4. Grade Book

Malone spends most of her time helping faculty with the Grade Book. At the CTLT, the team sits down with professors to help them find the optimal settings for their Grade Book depending on the grading scale they use, the number of grades, and whether they wait until the end of the quarter to enter the grades. In some cases, professors wait to the end to add grades, even though students can benefit from getting regularly updates on their grades. Or they don’t know how to use certain features. With the Grade Book, for example, some of them might ask for guidance when it is already too late for some students, which highlights the importance of always using these tools. The Forecast Report tool was also activated for students to type in different values and find out the grades they need to pass. Also, personal response system (clickers) are used in some of the classes. The data from those clickers is also pushed to the Grade Book and can be used to keep an eye on struggling students.

5. Forums

According to Malone, it could be argued that forums are difficult to grade. An alternative is to use the Completion Tracker feature to improve the grading process and make certain requirements for students, such as posting once and replying twice. A Q&A Forum can also be used in cases where it’s best for students not to read other posts before they write their own. Malone’s workshop also includes some methods for creating well formulated questions for the forums, like beginning with an example or avoiding yes or no questions.

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However faculty may be using the LMS, whether it is for face-to-face classes, blended, flipped or online learning, Malone and the CTLT want to encourage them to use it as a supplemental tool to support all levels of learners, even in face-to-face classes. With the formative assessments in place to gather information, and with logs, reports, Completion Tracking, quizzes and grades, they can determine which students are struggling to keep up, and reach out via e-mail and in person.

Student Support departments should also be a part of this process, therefore Malone has reached out to them to make sure they can be involved. The Wellness Center, Food Bank, Dean of Students office, Counseling Department, Academic Skills Center, study groups, and workshops can all help faculty in using every tool available to be two steps ahead of the students. Academic challenges are not necessarily academic problems. Sometimes students can be going through personal or financial problems, are sleep deprived, or are unable to afford three meals a day. If students know that their school cares about their well-being, they might seek help for themselves using some of the Student Support resources that can be put in place for them.

Tonia Malone Instructional Designer / Lead Moodle Administrator, Center for Teaching and Learning Technology. California Polytechnic State University, SLO. Photo: Marya Figueroa.

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