Here at Carleton, we use Moodle as our course management system. It’s open-source software, and it does a lot of things really nicely. And yet, I am a power-user of Moodle, and a computer scientist, and so of course I’m going to be critical of a lot of Moodle things, from functionality to interface. This is front and center in my mind today, because I spent a few hours last night fighting with Moodle creating labs and assignments and posting them on Moodle, am spending a chunk of my time today on Moodle posting course content and whipping the course calendar into shape, and spent a bit of time last week hearing some student complaints about Moodle.
There are a number of things that I wish Moodle would do, or would do better, that it doesn’t currently do, and it strikes me that at least some of these would not be that hard to implement individually:
- Show all calendars associated with a user under a single view. If I’m teaching more than one class, Moodle does not provide me with a way to see both class calendars. (You can see both calendars from Zimbra, our mail/calendaring system, but it would be nice to log in to Moodle and see everything that’s posted to any of my Moodle calendars.) So when I’m figuring out due dates for assignments, or test dates, I’m constantly switching back and forth between my course pages. More importantly, there are some events that are common to both courses: office hours, for instance. I have to post office hours, or dates I’m going to be out of town, or whatever, separately for each course on each separate course calendar. I should be able to specify that a calendar event should apply to all courses for which I am an instructor. Similarly, students should be able to log in to Moodle and see all of their due dates, etc. in one place—from what I understand, they currently also have to go to each course individually to see this information.
- Better HTML editing. I use the Assignment module for lots of things: HW, labs, other in-class activities. I also like to post other course content as web pages as well, to give me more control over layout and formatting. The HTML editing in Moodle, frankly, sucks. It does weird things with tags—even if I manually edit the tags, it will sometimes decide that it knows better than I do and change the tags! More annoyingly, the editing window is maybe 5 lines tall. Now, I’m a very visual person, and when I’m creating a document, I need to see as much of the layout as possible—it helps me organize my thoughts. I’ve now resorted to composing my content in a text editor, manually adding the tags, and then posting the content into Moodle’s HTML editor. (Which then tries to change my tags! So I end up re-editing my content after putting it in Moodle anyway.) It would be lovely if the HTML editing window, at the very least, could be expandable.
- Have default font size as a course-wide setting. Moodle’s default font size is stupidly tiny. I like it bigger. I can’t set a default font size for the course—I have to change the font size for every element. And if I go back and edit something I’ve already posted? Moodle sets the font size back to “stupidly tiny”—which means some of my postings go from normal font to smaller font and back again.
- Retain layout preferences across courses. I’ve used pretty much the same layout for every Moodle page since the beginning. I figured out a layout I like that makes sense for me. I should be able, when I import a previous course, to retain that course’s layout. Nope! I have to reinvent the wheel for every. single. course. Alternately, I should be able to create and save a layout template and use that for any course. Nope, can’t do that either.
- Be smarter about importing content from a previous course. Let’s say that I import a previous course—say, last spring’s Intro—into my current course. I want to reuse, say, all of my labs. I can do that. BUT. If any of those labs have links to course files, those links get hosed in the import. Which means I have to go in, find all the links to course files, and change each link. Now, I have a lot of course files: sample programs, images, graphics, documentation, etc. This means I spend a lot of my time hunting down and updating links. And really, the only part of the link that changes is the course number! Why the import process does not take the simple step of changing the course numbers in file links (which is a simple global search-and-replace operation) is a mystery to me.
- Inconsistency within modules. The Assignment module, for instance, has four different types of assignments (upload a single file, upload multiple files, offline activity, online text). One of them—upload multiple files—has the really great feature that you can post the assignment, but have the actual text hidden until a certain date. This way, the students can see that, for instance, in Week 3 they will be doing a code-breaking assignment, and that the assignment is due that Friday before class, but they won’t be able to see the rest of the assigment until the end of Week 2, after we cover the necessary material. Neat, right? Except the other three types don’t allow this option. This makes absolutely no sense to me at all. Sometimes I will use the assignment module for in-class activities where the students don’t have to hand anything in, but if I don’t want the page to “go live” until classtime, I have to use the “upload multiple files” assignment type. I then have to field all sorts of questions and confusion about “what do we have to hand in?”, because Moodle includes an upload link at the end of the assignment. Grrr. If all four types are part of the same module, they should exhibit the same behavior. This is Bad Programming 101. And don’t get me started on the god-awful Lesson module….
Moodle should make my life easier, not harder. I do appreciate what it allows me to do—post course content without having to fashion an entire course web page on my own, include RSS feeds from other sources, have one central location for grades and hand-ins and such—but I feel that sometimes it is more lacking for power users than for beginners. Good software should accomodate beginners, advanced beginners, power users, and experts equally well, and in this sense Moodle fails.