A. Learning Management Systems

The University of Minnesota supports Moodle as its Course Management System.  Along with platforms like Desire to Learn (D2L – used within MnSCU system) and the former WebCT now Blackboard platform (which is used by Hamline and other Twin Cities liberal arts colleges), these are also known as Learning Management Systems.  You’ll see CMS and LMS among the acronym soup of teaching and learning with technology.

In general, for teachers and learners, a LMS functions as a resource hub for making online or blended/hybrid college courses available over the Internet, and for augmenting on-campus courses by storing weekly course materials (readings, assignment, team projects) there, and by making use of discussion, collaboration, quizzing, participation tracking and grade book features.


UMinn Moodle Page:  See the Overview section at top of left navigation bar – http://www.oit.umn.edu/moodle/index.htm.  The “What Does it Look Like” segment will give you access to a demonstration site.

You can certainly gain a general overview of Learning Management Systems generally and of these three specific large scale platforms via wikipedia.  As well, Moodle, Desire to Learn and Blackboard each offers a homepage; generally, I don’t find the home pages especially helpful as a teacher.  Digging down a bit, there are more useful pages, such as:

Your Task

For this task, pick one LMS system to learn a bit about if it’s new to you, to learn a bit more about if you’ve experienced one as a student and now wonder about it as a teacher, or one to learn a bit more about because you’ve worked with one system and want to compare it to other systems – not knowing which one(s) you might need to begin using with a new teaching post.

Post Your 3-5 Ideas

In all, spend about 15 minutes getting a general sense of the LMS you choose, 30 minutes digging deeper to learn its features for learners and teachers, and another 15 minutes sharing 3-5 ideas as a reply to this post.

Questions to guide you as you’re doing the digging in – and that could launch the 3-5 ideas you share:

  • As you explore, think as a teacher and as a learner, as much as possible:
    • What does this tool do, in general?
    • What are a couple of its strengths?
    • What are some of its weaknesses?
    • What are some red flags about use (privacy, support, logins)?
    • What other interesting ideas / questions cross your mind while exploring?


  1. Moodle has several broad purposes for course management. First, it effectively serves as a grade book that allows you to manage classroom evaluation in a single and secure space. The benefit of this is obvious. As I understand it, there are strict rules about where you can and cannot electronically store university grades as an instructor or TA (i.e. only on secured university networks and not on personal PCs). Moodle provides a secure location to store grades and evaluation records. Furthermore, features allow you to both export and import grades to excel spreadsheets. There is also an option that allows you to show students their grades so they can keep themselves up to date with their progress in the course.

    Second, Moodle allows instructors to post general course content such as syllabi, assignments, readings, discussion fora, quizzes/exams, URL links, PowerPoint slides, and even audio files. The interface of this part of the tool seems straightforward and user-friendly, enabling the easy download of essential course materials. Furthermore, the interface reads like a syllabus, with course materials organized by date, week, and/or topic. In addition to the syllabus, this allows students to stay up to date with the course and routinely check when assignments are due.

    Third, Moodle also serves as a communication interface between students and the instructor. For instance, there is a feature that allows instructors to make announcements that can supplement email communication. Also, there is a message board function that allows students to regularly post their ideas and conduct more in-depth discussion. This provides students with an alternative forum for classroom discussion. Considering differences in learning-styles (e.g. extroverts vs. introverts), the strength of this feature is in giving students who are more reluctant to openly speak out in class another venue for airing their ideas. In addition to active learning in the classroom, Moodle enables students to participate in “online learning communities.” One possibility that stands out here is having students post writing assignments on the Moodle site and then having them engage their peers’ papers by posting their comments and feedback online. While there might be drawbacks to this, it could allow students to constructively engage each other’s ideas in a communal and interactive way.

    Aside from the ones outlined above, the major strength of Moodle is providing a powerful, one-stop website for classroom management. Its various and diverse features allow instructors to effectively manage their classroom with a single tool.

    Without having used it extensively, I can say that the weaknesses seem few and far between. One is that the computational ability of the grade book feature seems somewhat limited. As far as I can tell, it only provides averages. You could certainly export the grades to excel and get a more comprehensive set of descriptive statistics, but to do more complex statistical procedures (e.g. cross tabs) you would have to export it to STATA, SPSS, or other statistical software.

    Another question I have concerns possible barriers that copyright law might pose to instructors who wish to post readings on Moodle. I would assume that the same copyright laws that apply to course content in general also apply to Moodle, but I wonder if there are any additional restrictions. For instance, can you post JSTOR articles? How many chapters of a book can you post without violating copyright laws?

  2. Learning Management Systems: Moodle
    Having been a learner and a “manager” of sorts of a Moodle site in the past, I decided to delve into a feature that I have not encountered in the variety of Moodle sites used in conjunction with face-to-face instruction throughout my graduate career. One feature of interest is the Workshop module. This feature allows the instructor to incorporate peer assessment activities using online text or attaching documents. Two grades are then provided to the learner: one for their work and one for their assessment of their peers’ work. There are five phases of the Workshop feature, including: Setup, Submission, Assessment, Grading Evaluation, and Closing, where there more control over the process is provided to learners as the phases progress. There is a specified timeframe determined by the instructor for each phase as well as an assessment rubric that is designed by the instructor (although, learners may have input on this as well).
    I see several strengths of this feature that a discussion forum and the assignment function do not provide. For instance, if a class period is cancelled, an instructor might have learners submit a short paper or paper proposal in the discussion forum using an attachment. Learners then open the attachment and respond using online text. A drawback of using a discussion forum as opposed to the Workshop function is the timeliness of feedback. Learners are able to respond whenever they like in a discussion forum, whereas in the Workshop feature, there are five phases that have specified timeframes for submission and assessment. While this may be somewhat restrictive from an adult learning perspective (i.e., adults lead busy lives and need flexibility in the scheduling of their learning activities), it allows learners to engage in a process out-of-class that otherwise would have occurred in class. Moreover, the Workshop activity can incorporate group work by allowing the instructor to filter by group in a drop-down menu at the assessment phase, manual allocation page, grades report, etc. While participants could be filtered into groups for discussions, the Workshop feature’s specified timeframe for submission and assessment engage learners in the learning process at the same time and in the same space. Additional features of the Workshop that a discussion forum and the assignment tab cannot afford include the option to select submissions and publish them at the end of the Workshop activity in order for learners to assess how the process went for them as well as for others, as well as the support of a multi-criteria assessment process, as opposed to the assignment feature where one grade is submitted by the instructor.
    Potential weaknesses are consequences of its strengths. The Workshop feature uses a pre-determined rubric and does not allow for the type of collaboration and group problem-solving that occurs in a discussion. While the feature develops learners’ understandings of assessment, the instructor will need to use discretion in determining what type of work will be assessed. Perhaps papers in their early stages or practice problems that do not have large impact on the final grade would be more appropriate.
    In response to the comments on copyright issues, instructors have used e-reserves to avoid potential issues around posting articles on the site.

  3. Hi, all! I have been using Moodle as a student, and assisting professors designing and managing Moodle site. I would say, I have not encounted major problems using Moodle. The features can afford various needs of us, such as, uploading resources, setting up forums and dropbox, etc. Basically, most of course instructors and professors are using Moodle to archive course materials, allowing students to submit assignments, facilitating online discussions, however, Moodle has limited features for live chats, active interactions among participants, synchronous learning, and student’s social presence. I am using Ning to develop courses and have taking courses on Ning site. Even Ning still has limitations, I found Ning is more socially engaged with students.

  4. Hi everybody!
    I hear a bit about Moodle here and there at the UoM and ever use or is involved in. I spend certain amount of time to explore it and consider it as a great tool for both teacher and students, and certainly there are others tools that are not less efficient. Almost teaching and studying functions are here, and I wonder if a teacher or student are being used many functions as they can for their sake of teaching and studying/leaning. Perhaps, depending on their needs that they refer to certain functions to tailor certain teaching approach and leaning perspectives. Although the Moodle forum shows certain obstacles in applying Moodle, it is supposed solutions for such obstacles exist when ones did not delve to the core. Various alternatives of chat in Moodle may a bit superfluous, because of existing communication interfaces of current electronic devices. I think I can refer to Moddle in the future fro educational purposes. Because of ever using, I do not have much to comment, nonetheless, as societal platforms change and education is no exception, I think that Moodle is constantly renovated for the primary purposes of teaching and learning.

  5. Hi-
    In looking at the Learning Management Systems option of Moodle…I see there is much more to it than I have accessed in my previous classes. There are many strengths that have been touched on by others. In general, the organization it provides, the accessibility to lecture notes/assignments/updated grade status is excellent. In my experience, the student postings on forums has been particularly helpful.

    I appreciate the previous posting on the Workshop function. I find this intriguing to facilitate student learning. I am also drawn to many of the shared functions like the glossary and the shared creation of a weekly blog posting or wiki summary of the week. The group lecture notes (if targeted for a particularly challenging topic–not all lectures) might be of help as well.

    I am curious if the “choices” option runs similar to the Turning Point technology within powerpoint. With turning point, each student is given a responder and you can embed questions into the powerpoint. The students can answer and you can review the poll on the spot. It’s so helpful from a teaching standpoint to see if there are assumptions about the content or misinformation. I have not used the “choices” option to know if it could function in the same fashion.

    One of the weaknesses is the inability to capture role playing or scenario simulations. Working within healthcare, those are critical to the success of a student in the clinical setting. The other potential weakness could be posting turn-around time. I would be curious to see how others within teaching roles have handled the expected turn around time on responses to postings (particularly prior to assignment due dates).

    Lastly, I have a question for others…Are there any thoughts about the balance of a highly structured learning management system with what students are expected to do from a self-organization/management standpoint in the “real world”? I have not worked with Moodle long enough to know if students tend to internalize the organizational structure and it’s not an issue.

  6. I am currently teaching three courses with full responsibility using a Learning Management System (LMS) called “Moodle” at the University of Minnesota. I think Moodle has several strengths as a user-friendly LMS because it is easy for instructors to learn how to manage it. First, in my classes, Moodle enables me to create a virtual place where students can upload their assignments as a Word of PDF file. Thus, I can check their assignment at anytime and download their assignments as a Zip file at the same time. Considering that using UMN email requires lots of repeated work to receive, open, and save individual student’s assignments, I think Moodle helps me save a lot of time and energy. Second, Moodle also enables me to easily grade students’ assignments and provide detailed feedback. After I review and make comments to individual student’s assignments, I can input the grades and upload response files directly to Moodle. Considering that using UMN email requires lots of repeated workload to write and attach individual student’s assignments, I think Moodle helps me save a lot of time and energy. Finally, when the instructor set up a new Moodle site, he or she can ask the Moodle support team to transfer content from the old Moodle course site. I think this is also one of the important functions of Moodle to help the instructor to avoid waste of time and energy.

  7. Pros: user-friendly, efficient and modular organization, interactive learning (online fora, live chat, synchronized workshops, discussion board), quiz function, facilitates peer review, intuitive from the standpoint of instructors and learners, grading functions

    Cons: content can be overwhelming to students, insulated community

    The two cons are in many ways things that can be overcome by Moodle itself. First, we discussed how seeing all the content for the course at once. Moodle, however, has a function that allows the instructor to hide and reveal content as the course progresses. The second con concerns the fact the Moodle creates a relatively insulated learning community. If an instructor wants to give students an outside audience, however, they can provide links to blog posts and websites. Moodle can be easily used with other online tools.

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