Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Book review: Moodle 1.9 E-Learning Course Development

Author: William H Rice IV
Publisher: Packt
Price: $44.99 (US) £27.99 (UK)

The strapline for this books is "A complete guide to successful learning using Moodle 1.9"

I'm uncomfortable with anything that is referred to as being 'complete' because I suspect few things are ever truly complete. I would also prefer to see it referred to as a guide to teaching using Moodle 1.9, because the book is firmly aimed at those who will use it in this capacity.

That said, this is a very accessible book. Logically laid out, with lots of visuals in the form of screen dumps, and chunks of reusable code for the 'have a go' Henries among us.

Whatever your level of expertise, you will be able to find support. If you want to upskill, you will be able to do that, but if you simply want a reference book to use on a JIT basis on the odd occasion that you want to carry out some or other task in a Moodle, you will be able to do that, too.

From the outset, Rice touches on valid point, when he says that Moodle's help files, while explaining 'how', do not explain "when and why to use each feature". This had long been one my soapbox issues: 'what and how' without 'why and when' have all the stickability of Teflon. He sets out to address that and, on the whole, my view is that he succeeds.

There is a checklist for the book that can be downloaded - sadly I was not able to do this, or to discover why this was the case. A more technically proficient user might not have experienced this problem, but it did constitute a barrier in my case.

Throughout the book, Rice refers to his own demo site, which provides a sense of consistency and cohesion (as a by-product, one develops an interest in botany and wilderness skills along the way). Of course, the nature of the learning material means that we are looking through the lens of formal education, so corporate users might feel somewhat marginalised. Then again, Moodle was primarily designed for the formal education sector, so corporate users should expect to have to be creative with words like 'student', 'teacher' and 'grades'.

On a related subject, Rice's opening paragraph states:

I use the phrase 'online learning experiences' instead of 'online course' deliberately. The phrase 'online course' often connotes a sequential series of web pages, some images.... online learning can be much more than that.
He's right, of course, as most of us in this space have been saying for a long time, but sadly the taxonomy of Moodle itself does not serve him well here, since words like 'course' and 'lesson' are among its fundaments. This is not to say that it does not live up to his claim that it can be used to support non-linear learning. On the contrary. Rice amply demonstrates how Moodle can be used to support social constructivism (although I would dispute his reference to this as a 'learning style').

Pedants might knit their brows over the occasional error that has slipped past the proofreaders but, as far as I was able to determine, none of these have a derailing effect on the practical application of what the book has to offer. And it does offer exactly that.

My recommendation is that this is not a book to read on a plane/train (I tried that). It is a book to hold in one hand as you put into practice the features it unpacks with the other.


Anonymous said...

Nice review - you have convinced me to buy it! - Jeff

The upsycho said...

@jeff I am glad to have been of service. I hope you are happy with your purchase.