Written by Phil Bird.
Much has been written about the uses of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in education; here I want to look at specifics – how can Moodle be used to support language learning?
I would like to present here some of the tools and techniques that I have used with my learners.
Interaction with Web Content
Don’t just add a link to a website. If you add it to a forum, you can get some fantastic language production. For learners working at a lower level I have used simple travel information websites to get students to ask for and give travel directions (many cities have public transport journey planners available online). I have also asked students to use online shopping sites to find presents for people in the class, having given them an imaginary £50 to spend.
Forums appear to be best for fluency practice, but as they leave a written record, they work very well for identifying individual students’ error patterns. While accuracy corrections online in a public forum are probably inappropriate, there is nothing to stop you printing off the forum page for each student and marking their corrections on it. For learners who have a low-level of confidence or accuracy in the target language, you can use the forum to get them to plan out a conversation, which they can then try out without that scaffold. For learners working at higher levels you can greater exploit forums for fluency practise. For example, add a few links for travel and tourist information, suggest places to go and the best way to get there (justifying their choices, in the target language, naturally). I have also had students find courses they want to study and job vacancies and explain what they find interesting, or why they think that they are suitable. This could be a great way to get learners to continue practising outside lesson time. Ask learners to debate a topic on the forum and use posts as stimuli for discursive writing.
As discussed above, forums are great for fluency work, but they might be a bit too public for a real in-depth focus on accuracy. This is where wikis come in handy. A wiki is basically a webpage with an edit button (think Wikipedia). While most wikis are public, Moodle allows you to set up individual wikis private to each learner and the teacher. These can be used to create collaborative documents between teacher and learner. As both have equal access, it is easy for a teacher to go in and leave subtle but constructive feedback (this can be as simple as changing the colour of text where there is an issue, or inserting smiley faces to show missing words). This can allow a longer piece of writing to be built up over time. Not only that, but the whole history of the text’s development can be seen and retrieved, and can be used by learners to reflect on their writing process. Public wikis can be set up to get students to collaborate on a project, or for peer correction; learners are often keen to share content that they have created.
Managing Multimedia Content
One great bonus of using Moodle is how it handles multimedia files. It is really simple to embed video files from YouTube, or add audio files. However, the real power of this approach is when you get your learners to film themselves and upload their videos to Moodle. If you upload a FLV or MP3 file into Moodle and link to it on a page it displays in an embedded player. You can then easily create a feedback exercise, asking students to reflect on their language use, grammar and vocabulary choices, pronunciation etc. If you do this regularly throughout a course it allows students to build up a portfolio, allowing them to literally see (and hear) the improvement in their language skills.
Fantastic Organisational Tool
Aside from these aspects, I find that Moodle is just a great way of tying things together – grades, learners’ work, Individual Learning Plans, useful links, etc. Should you have access to this tool, you should make the most of it.
These are just my ideas. Please comment and leave your own below.