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Making Your Moodle Course Page Inviting and User-Friendly

Mon Sep 7, 2020 at 07:30 AM

I had the opportunity to facilitate two sections of the e-LIS Quality Online Teaching Certification Course, Part I (QOTCC 1) this summer as a special faculty course facilitator. I learned a lot about Moodle course pages from reviewing faculty members’ courses as they built them in Moodle during the four-week course. I also took QOTCC 2 this summer as a participant and had a chance to revisit my own online course design.  

Viewing 39 instructors’ course pages and revising my own course pages, I had a number of realizations about what effective Moodle course pages look like. I considered course pages from the point of view of students. What do they need to see so they can locate materials and activities easily and feel a connection with their instructor? The following are basic issues all of us should focus on to make our courses welcoming and easy for students to use.

Make It Informative, Consistent, and Vibrant

Add a representative image at the top of the course page

When I took QOTCC, I realized it’s important to have a striking image at the top of the course page that represents your approach to the course and the subject matter. The image adds visual interest to the course page and gives students an instant feel for your teaching style. Look at Nic Bongers’ QOTCC 2 header here (used with permission). The course page would look blah without the nice image. The colorful image tells me that he is going to be an active, engaged instructor. 

Nic Bongers' course header contains a colorful image with the course title.

Don’t make your image too large, though. The size of Nic’s image is 640 x 244. Anything larger than that would overwhelm the text underneath and draw attention away from the documents posted below the course header. You can add images in your course modules, too, but make sure they’re small and don’t overwhelm the text and activities you have in the module.

Also add a course image to the Moodle dashboard. By adding this same image to the dashboard, students will be able to easily pick it out from their other Moodle courses. In your Moodle page, select the gear icon in the top-right corner and select the first option, “Edit settings.” About the fifth option says “Course image” where you can upload an image.

Add instructor and contact information at the top of the course page.

Notice the information under Nic’s image: names and degrees implying titles, preferred contact method, and availability. All are essential for letting your students know who you are and how to reach you. Consider, for example, how much students can learn about me from the following two lines:

Dr. Helena Riha, International Studies Program

[email protected], Office hours by appointment on Google Meet

Students will know how to address me, what unit I’m in, how to contact me, when my office hours are, and how they will be held. Posting this information in a transparent manner lets students know that I’m happy to have them contact me.

Establish your teacher presence by posting a self-introduction.

It’s critical to establish your teacher presence in an online class. Teacher presence is giving your students the understanding that you are actively engaged in running the course and interacting with them in their learning process. One of the best ways to establish your teacher presence early on is by describing interesting facts about yourself that relate to the course. Post a video or a written self-introduction with a photo.

Post important documents at the top of your course page.  

Students want easy access to the syllabus and other important course documents. Place them right at the top of your course page. If you have more than a handful of such documents, put them in a Moodle Book so that students are not overwhelmed with a long list of documents to scroll through.

Avoid paragraphs of text on your course page. 

Seeing paragraphs of text on your course page is visually tiring for students and tedious to scroll through. Anytime you have more than a few sentences of text, put it in a clickable document with an informative title. For example, I have an image at the top of IS 2100 “Perspectives on China” that requires explanation. Rather than placing my explanatory text on the course page, I put it into a Moodle Page to keep my course page looking neat.

Photo of the Great Wall of China crowded with tourists and a link to an explanatory document underneath.

Use weekly rather than topical modules.

Moodle course pages are designed to have weekly rather than topical modules. Students find it much easier to have all of the relevant materials and activities in weekly modules rather than topical modules that require them to skip around the course page to find what they need for the week. 

It’s also helpful to add a Section Links block at the top of your Moodle course page and highlight the current module. This will greatly reduce the amount of scrolling students need to do on the course page.

Provide informative headings and titles for documents and activities.

Which of the following headings for a Moodle module gives you a better sense of what will be covered that week and what class days are covered in the module?

  • WEEK 1
  • WEEK 1, 9/3-9/6: Course Mechanics

And which of these titles draws your attention to the fact that there is a quiz in the module, what it’s about, and when it’s due?

  • Quiz 1
  • QUIZ 1: Syllabus (Due by 11:59 p.m., Sunday, 9/6)

It’s important to provide students with detailed, informative titles for all course items. This enables them to understand quickly and easily what the course is about, what is covered in each module, and when module activities are due.

Write out names in titles rather than using abbreviations.

Which of these document titles is more informative?

  • CIHC, p. 10-15
  • READING 1: Cambridge Illustrated History of China, p. 10-15

The first title requires students to remember what CIHC stands for and does not state what the document actually is. (Is it a reading, a worksheet, or something else?) The second title makes it clear that the document is a reading, that it’s the first reading in the module, and that it comes from a particular source.

Be consistent in the design of your weekly modules.

It’s stressful for students not to be able to figure out what is expected of them every week. One of the best ways to relieve students’ anxiety is to use a consistent format in each module. Decide what order you want to put the weekly items in, what format you want to use for titles, and what type of indentation you want to use (if any) and stick with that format every week. I place Moodle Labels in each module that tell students what the module contains: READINGS, QUIZ, DISCUSSION FORUM, etc. I have the actual item(s) underneath each label.

Organize your Moodle grade book simply and make it visible to students.

It’s helpful for students to be able to check their standing in the course any time. I organize my grade book in a simple manner so students can see immediately how they are doing – the percentage they see at the bottom of their Moodle User Report is their current percentage. I also keep the grade book open all semester, which greatly reduces inquiries I receive about students’ standing in the course. See the Moodle: Grade book section of e-LIS’ Help Library.

The ten points discussed above all boil down to one principle: make your course page clear, informative, and consistent and add a bit of panache to establish your teacher presence. Pretend you are your student and take a good look at your course page: Does it make sense as it’s designed? Does it convey your teaching style? Scrutinize every part of it and revise as necessary. Streamline any confusing areas. Clarify and elaborate where needed. Add a bit of whimsy. Your students will appreciate your efforts!

References and Resources

Check out the e-LIS and CETL websites for everything you need to know to build great Moodle course pages and teach effectively in any format!

See more of our Teaching During COVID-19 Tips.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Helena Riha is a Special Lecturer of Linguistics and International Studies. She teaches five online courses and has a new one in the works. She will be an e-LIS Faculty Consultant during the 2020-2021 academic year. Outside of the classroom, Helena is preparing for her fourth grader’s remote learning during the fall semester. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.

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