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1/3/2013
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Why Moodle Matters To Teachers

Free Web app for course creation and management has become increasingly popular since its arrival a decade ago.

The open-source course management package known as Moodle has gained a large following among educators since it launched in the summer of 2002. In an annual survey, it was voted 11th in the list of Top Tools for Learning 2012 by the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. Now available on Windows, Mac and Linux, the Moodle project claims 64 million users in 225 countries, according to statistics at Moodle.org.

With Moodle, teachers can set up courses, create discussions, assign homework, and assign grades. They can also integrate with external content such as photos or videos, or with applications such as Google Docs. Moodle's features also include assignment submission, discussion forums, file downloading, instant messaging, an online calendar, news and announcements (college and course level), online quizzes, and a Wiki.

Moodle can scale to handle hundreds of thousands of students given enough server capacity and bandwidth, and a variation called Poodle installs software to a local machine so the app can be used offline. Poodle can even boot off a thumb drive.

[ Should students bring their own mobile devices into the classroom? Read BYOD Tablets, Smartphones: About To 'Disrupt' The Classroom? ]

Educators, particularly early adopters of open source applications, have gravitated to the platform, which can be used to manage fully online courses or as an adjunct to traditional face-to-face classroom instruction ("blended learning").

The Harvey School, a private school in Westchester, N.Y. with 350 students in grades 6 - 12, implemented Moodle five years ago. "We use it for two main functions: course management and information distribution," John Wahlers, head of technology at The Harvey School, said in a phone interview with InformationWeek. Today, all the school's teachers are required to use the platform when creating their courses and posting homework assignments. Some teachers also use the app for quizzes, grading, and more.

According to Wahlers, Moodle has been valuable for even everyday tasks like publishing phone directories and handbooks online. "We're saving tens of thousands of dollars a year in postage and paper." Wahlers added that the school has cut its paper use by 25 percent, a fact he shares with environmentally conscious parents.

In December, Moodle version 2.4 became available for download. According to Moodle, 2.4 includes, among other updates, new icons, improved performance, group assignments for students submitting work as part of a group (and being graded as a group), and directions for handling plug-in updates from the Web interface. A full list of the changes in the 2.4 release is available here.

For Moodle 2.4, the recommended minimum browsers are Firefox 4, Internet Explorer 8 (IE 10 is required for drag-and-drop of files from outside the browser into Moodle), Safari 5, and Google Chrome 11.

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