Thursday, December 1, 2016

What is a good Moodle course?

Moodle has been used for over 10 years, and yet 'What comprises a good Moodle course'? is still a hot topic.

Some top tips from Yong Liu include:

1) Mobile learning is key, and gamification is built in as much as possible (although it can be heavy on the budget), plus integration of social media. It is important to automate as many of the processes as possible, while also personalising the learning. However, using an animation or the latest technology, may remove the focus from the learner.

2) It is important to offer opportunities for students to link exiting knowledge with new knowledge. Multimedia can help people learn by helping them select organise and integrate information and understanding (Mayer, 2016). We can only take in visual and aural input, but not two aural inputs at the same time. We can also only take in a limited amount of information at one time. To help alleviate the stress we need to remove redundant and gratuitous graphics, place text near graphics, and explain graphics with audio instead of text if possible.

3) A good Moodle course should simplify complex content, by, for example, segmenting content into small chunks. Information should be precise and exactly what they need, without additional information. Activities also have collaboration, peer teaching - activities where the students do the work themselves. We foster generative processes (Mayer, 2016) by letting the student 'pull' knowledge and selecting what they want when they need it. Use conversational tone and pedagogical agents.

What tips could you add to this list? What have you found works a treat for your learners in Moodle?

Image: Design. CC ( BY SA ) licensed Flickr image by Miquel Lopez:

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Changing customer experiences through Moodle

At New Zealand Language Centre the students tend to be English language learners, where there are over 25 nationalities represented at the school.
Pete Jones shares that, he sees his 'customers' in relation as the students, the academic staff, and the administrators. Prior to implementing the Moodle project all the diagnostic, placement tests were completed as paper based and had to be manually marked, within very tight time frames. Now students complete most of their placement test online, and the reading, grammar, and vocabulary tests are now automatically graded.
Moodle was a catalyst for NZCL to review and update their placement test. The existing test had many of the gap fill type questions, where the responses are sometimes not cut and dried. It also encourages students to learn the language in a decontextualised way. The new test has an embedded cloze type test that offered a contextualised scenario, where the organisation could be more confident in the responses that were being given in the test. It has been well worth the investment.
Previously, student would write their contact details onto a form, and then someone had to decipher the handwriting and add the details to a database. 
One of the next steps is to develop a theme for Moodle, that would also complement the new web site.
To sum up, the Centre has met their original objective. Over 70% of students said they preferred this system "it is more convenient than the paper test". For those who didn't prefer it the reason given was previous familiarity with paper based tests. Some of the unintended consequences including having to look at the whole orientation of new students, which has meant providing more time to welcome the students - and this has resulted in a longer timeframe for the placement tests removing a lot of stress for the academic staff. In addition, some of the staff have signed up to the Learn Moodle MOOC.

Image: HP Mini. CC ( BY NC ) Flickr image by Tuesday Digital:

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Creating meaningful assessments...

What does a meaningful assessment look and feel like? How can Moodle be used to enhance a learner's assessment experience? In this session I covered a few of the key factors to consider when designing assessments, as well as some of the activity types in Moodle that can be used. I dipped into a couple of examples to illustrate what can work well ... and what might not. By the end of the session the idea was that people would have some additional ideas to take away and use when creating assessments in Moodle, along with considerations that would help ensure that the assessments work for your learners and for you.

The lived experience of sing Moodle for online exams

At Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (on the South Island of NZ) all of the exams are paper based. In the Bachelor of Nursing (Year 1 course), there are 2 multi choice exams requiring 90% pass rate. They get the questions the week beforehand and work in a study group to debate the responses, and then come in to respond to the same questions.

Printing costs were massive, with exams being 6 or more pages in length, and had to be printed twice. The exams were also all hand graded. So they turned to Moodle.

All of the exam questions were uploaded into a Moodle forum to download or print them off themselves. The students were still able to get into their study groups to debate. In preparation to do the exam on a screen 'spot tests' were administered throughout the semester to familiarise students. There was also discussion around etiquette for once the results were released because the feedback was not released until after they had finished.

Some of the benefits were:
  • questions were randomised
  • cheating was minimised by the format of the exam (questions provided in advance, and randomised questions, so there isn't such an advantage to going through and highlighting the exams)
  • automatic marking
  • results released immediately
  • printing and paper costs reduced
  • it was easy!
There were some challenges including:
  • PC lab room availability
  • increase in number of invigilators
  • iPads were not so user friendly (the Moodle page kept freezing, and wouldn't change the page and created a lot of anxiety. Students were persistent and carried on, and everyone passed)
  • WiFi connections (60 students were all accessing the same thing at the same time)
In terms of the future, at NMIT there is a focus on moving more exams online, and ideally for all the students to use their own devices and sit the exam in one room.

Moodle at Northtec: Past, present and future

Before using Moodle at Northtec, in 2000, they ran a pilot in WebCT using applied writing. The Campus License from WebCT put the cost beyond Northtec's means. They then transitioned across other Learning Management Systems before settling on Moodle.

In 2003 the Flexible Learning team created the Bachelor of Nursing, and built on the 'we just did it' champions. In 2008 'Cyclone Vasi' hit, with a passion for students and learning - and a wide range of ideas. Her managerial skills brought a structure and a methodology with eLearning. In 2009 the 1st instructional designer joined Northtec, and helped identify key design principles which were essential for course design. At the time they had three Moodle instances running. One of them is the 'archive site', which provides a copy of existing courses, which means that Northtec don't have to have sophisticated disaster recovery processes and backup.

By 2012, Northtec was trying to provide some rigour and structure into the quality control of courses. On the 'live server' (NorthNet) they have a 'development category' with restrictions (for example, teachers can't enrol students into courses, nor can they change the name, or shift the course into another category. They used a student focus group to get the look and feel right. The students were looking for something a bit more dynamic.

Northtec are about to move to 3.1, and Moodle is still hosted off site. There has been some feedback around the lack of communication around version changes, so they have made a big effort to address this.

For some of the students (in particular Nursing) Northtec have developed a version of Moodle that installs off a USB. They can install the version onto their hard disk, and they can get to all of their course materials while 'off the grid'.

Plans for the future are dependent on the ability to upskill staff. How do you put a good online course together? Standardisation of courses is important, although they only have one instructional designer. There is a planning process to work through before releasing to students. The keys are staying flexible, and adapting as needed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Is your preference thinking, feeling, intuiting or sensing?

Some people find it really useful to be more aware about the ways they think or react, and there are a range of approaches and tools available that can help us do this. Carl Jung, in the 1920s, for instance, suggested that we process and react to inputs by thinking, feeling, intuiting, or sensing:
  • Thinkers tend to collect and consciously analyse data.
  • Feelers are open to emotions and their consequences.
  • Intuitors don’t find detail useful, and act on on their decisions, although they may not be aware of how they reached the decision.
  • Sensors tend to be kinaesthetic and rely on their senses to guide their reactions and actions.
Marchant (2014) identifies that everyone uses all four. However, many of us “favour one way over the other three, sometimes markedly so” (Para. 15), and it’s being cognisant of whether we favour one over another that can be helpful.
Given these factors, I will now focus on the intuitor-type of person In a coaching context; in particular I’ll identify aspects that might help me coach this person, and what I might need to keep an eye open for.
If I am working with a person who strongly identifies as an intuitor type I would expect that they are likely to:
  • be focussed on potential and future possibilities (although these can seem unrealistic)
  • look for patterns and relationships
  • be (apparently) impulsive because they seem to react rather than taking time to consider ‘the facts’
  • have a wide range of ideas
  • not be keen on detail or data
  • enjoy using their imagination
  • enjoy being creative and inventive
  • like to work with conceptual ideas and information
  • be idealistic
  • be focussed on bigger picture rather than processes and guidelines
I would try to shape coaching sessions to help ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for my coachee to talk through their ideas (including philosophic underpinnings and principles). During these descriptions I would gently encourage them to unpack a bit more detail, but in a way that signals I am curious about, and value, their insights. Supportive questions might be around encouraging the coachee to consider how other people in their context  respond positively to their ideas, and, if appropriate, I would also ask questions about other (online) communities and places the coachee could share, discuss, and develop ideas further.
One of the things I would need to keep an eye on is that the coachee doesn’t end up going through similar cycles and not recognising them as such - especially if they are making the same mistake each time. For example, a coachee might describe a series of situations where they receive the feedback ‘we don’t know what you are working on most of the time - or why’. It could even have led to misunderstandings to the point where they have been pulled in for a meeting and questioned about what they are spending their time doing. Usually, it’s a case that the coachee has been so completely focussed on a task or project that they haven’t taken the time to communicate their progress to anyone else, and have seen the feedback as a minor annoyance - until, to their surprise, serious questions start to be asked about their performance.
In situations like this one, I would encourage my coachee through a deductive process:
  1. to consider the implications of their complete focus (i.e. the bigger picture),
  2. and how the positive progress they are making (i.e. the details),
  3. could be (creatively) communicated with any stakeholders who needed to know so that these stakeholders can / will continue to support and fund the piece of work on which the coachee is focussing,
  4. and finally, encourage the coachee to identify ways they can share with co-workers, managers, family and friends their “preferred intuitive information gathering preference” (Edward, n.d., Para. 5).

The central thing here is to support my coachee to clearly identify the ‘why’, so that they have a clear reason and motivation to carry through with a necessary action (possibly in a creative way). In this example, it would be a strategy that could also ensure that they keep their role! In turn, by opening up awareness and lines of communication, ideally it would lead to increased support and recognition of the value of the work the coachee is doing.


Marchant, J. (2014). Thinker, feeler, knower, sensor? Retrieved from
Southern Institute of Technology (a). (n.d.) Transformational Coaching and its outcomes (Module C) [Lecture notes]. Retrieved from CBC106 (NET).

Monday, September 12, 2016

Making the change we know in our hearts is essential…by building a coaching culture

This was a guest post for CORE education, which originally appeared as:  Making the change we know in our hearts is essential…by building a coaching culture.

Today’s leaders are expected to work well with people. This expectation includes being able to help people to grasp the courage to act, develop new ideas, take risks, and “make the changes that we know in our hearts are essential and right in the world” (Robertson, 2015, p. 15). A strong mentoring or coaching relationship is one way of supporting people to do this. As a result, globally, a wide range of organisations — including schools, kura, and early childhood centres — are developing a coaching culture (Weekes, 2008).
These organisations hope to realise a wide range of benefits for educators, students, and the wider community including personal (and professional) growth (Hay, 1995); resilience in the face of change; support of innovation and ‘passion projects’; and the fostering of leadership and personal effectiveness. Coaching, when framed as an approach to communication where the empowerment of the people being coached is emphasised (Hoole, & Riddle, 2015), helps create positive learning environments. It also helps incubate a range of leadership approaches — something that research findings indicate have significant impacts on performance and wellbeing, as well as associated health benefits (Hoole, & Riddle, 2015).

What is a coaching culture?

At its root, a coaching culture is a model that structures and helps define the parameters of what effective interpersonal interactions look and feel like within a school, kura, or centre. Coaching would not be the only approach used in the organisation, but it would be used wherever appropriate. These structures and parameters are firmly underpinned by the values of the organisation, and can support the development of agreed ways of communicating, collaborating, and working together (Behavioral Coaching Institute, 2007).
However, sometimes, coaching may have a negative reputation within an organisation because, for instance, managers have previously used it as a performance management tool rather than as a genuine way to support professional learning and development. In these cases, a concerted effort will be needed to reframe coaching to help ensure that it is perceived positively, and part of this will be to support managers to develop their own coaching skills.
A well-established coaching culture will be one where coaching methodologies are ‘normalised’ within the organisation. For instance, it will be the preferred way of having conversations (Hoole, & Riddle, 2015). When this occurs, all people within the culture “fearlessly engage in candid, respectful coaching conversations, unrestricted by reporting relationships, about how they can improve their working relationships” (Crane, 2005, para. 3). These conversations will make use of coaching tools and the language of coaching to become part of the everyday way of working together. As a result, everyone values coaching as an integral part of personal and professional development — as a way of continually learning, improving practice, and positively contributing to the organisation’s goals.

The importance of providing a coaching programme to develop a coaching culture

An integral part of nurturing a coaching culture within a school, kura, or centre is ensuring that staff and students / ākonga are provided with formal opportunities to develop their own coaching skills. Otherwise, the tendency is for people to default to the neurologically energy-efficient approach of telling, which “requires less intellectual and emotional energy than engaging …[someone] in a thought process to advance their capability” (Hoole, & Riddle, 2015, Para 29).
A coaching programme will help staff and students / ākonga develop conceptual connections and explore implications for their organisation and the wider community. The long-term nature of the resulting changes can make a large-scale impact on everyone’s wellbeing, as well as how well the organisation functions.
Coaching managers will need to be coached themselves prior to taking on a coaching role. They will also need the ongoing support of their coach to help them continue to develop strong coaching skills, and to use integrity and patience to build the trust with their coachees. A coaching manager’s “ability to deeply listen is just as important as asking the questions that count” (Robertson, 2015, p. 12), especially where the goal is to ensure the coachee feels “sufficiently safe to move away from covering up any perceived areas of weakness” (Robertson, 2015, p. 12).
It takes time to develop a coaching culture (up to a year or 18 months) because people need to be comfortable within the culture, and this provides sufficient time for everyone to develop the necessary coaching skills (The Open Door Coaching Group, 2012).

One consideration

By definition, a manager is not ideally placed to work as a coach or mentor for someone who is reporting directly to them. Robertson (2015) advises that vulnerability, power relations or conflicts of purpose “can adversely affect the relationship” (Robertson, 2015, p. 12).

What does the development of a coaching culture look like in practice?

Midtown School has a focus on across-school change, plus a desire to sustain the changes by implementing a coaching culture. After some robust discussions, the decision was made to go for a combination of face-to-face, whole school Professional Learning and Development, combined with virtual mentoring and coaching support for the leadership team who would then help to nurture a coaching culture throughout the school. Using the suite of products and services that CORE Education has available, the school decided to go for four face-to-face sessions (once a term), which were also supported by 18 months of uChoose virtual mentoring sessions for the leadership team.
Over the first six months with their virtual mentor the leadership team planned how they were going to introduce, support, and build sustainability into the coaching culture focus. They surveyed the staff, students and community, and gathered feedback data. The data provided some great insights into where people were most enthusiastic, plus, where the main support was going to be required. Alongside the planning, the leadership team with their mentor, worked with a range of coaching tools and approaches, trialled them with their teams, and then reflected together on how it went, and what they might change.
During the second half of the year working in the uChoose programme, after a whole-school session that focused on coaching, the leadership team rolled out some ‘quick dip, how to’ coaching sessions. Although it was a slow start, groups within the school started to increase their deliberate acts of coaching and coaching conversations, with some positive results.
In the new year, after 16 months of working to develop a coaching culture, it was clear that things were starting to consolidate, and it was noticed that:
  • There was a school-wide identity with, and commitment to, the development of a coaching culture, with all staff and ākonga / students knowing most of the goals, as well as the contributions they could make in achieving them.
  • There was increased enthusiasm and commitment to the overall school change initiative, with leaders and champions emerging from both the staff and the students / ākonga. They were jumping in to develop ‘passion projects’, initiatives with ‘an impact’, projects that were helping to enhance multicultural perspectives and practices, and as well as sustainable initiatives within the community.
  • Several staff reported an increase in confidence in their interactions with each other, the students / ākonga, and the community.
  • There appeared to be fewer humdinger’ arguments — although important, sometimes challenging conversations occurred more frequently.
  • Positive feedback was offered more frequently, and was as objective as possible by removing the ‘personal’, while also ensuring that it was relevant.
  • Staff and students who were new to the school were supported by a recently established initiative that helped them identify their strengths, find their place and to grow within the school


A coaching culture will not solve all an organisation’s challenges, nor will it guarantee that change will be successfully implemented and sustained. However, a school, kura, or centre with a strong coaching culture is likely to encourage a positive working environment, cross-community innovation, increased productivity — and lead to increased personal and professional growth and wellbeing. This in turn can help ensure that the organisation remains responsive and nimble in today’s world of fast-paced communication, diversity, global competition and change. Are you up for it?

Want to know more about uChoose?

Whanake haere ō mahi mā roto mai i ngā whatunga ngaio whai take
Evolving practice through responsive professional partnerships
uChoose is mentored online professional learning, tailored to you and your learning journey.
Our experienced mentors work with you to identify and meet your professional needs, through supporting and challenging your thinking. Your mentor will also identify resources or activities that you will find useful to achieve your goals, or assist you in unpacking items of your own selection that you would like to work through.


Behavioral Coaching Institute. (2007). Establishing a coaching culture. Retrieved from
Crane, T. (2005). Creating a COACHING CULTURE – today’s most potent organizational change process for creating a “high-performance” culture. Business coaching worldwide ezine, 1(1). Retrieved from 
Hay, J. (1995). Transformational Mentoring: Creating Developmental Alliances. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Publishing Co.
Hoole, E., & Riddle, D. (2015). The Intricacies of Creating a ‘Coaching Culture’. Retrieved from
Robertson, J. (2015). Deep learning conversations and how coaching relationships can enable them. Australian Education Leader 37(3). 10-15.
The Open Door Coaching Group. (2012). How do I build a coaching culture. Retrieved from
Weekes, S. (2008, July). Catch on to coaching. The Edge. 28 – 32. Retrieved from