Category: teaching large groups

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Create a Customised Group Layout to Keep Your Students on Topic

I was approached by the course convener of a first year Drama course requesting whether they could have separate Moodle course spaces for the six groups in this course. Initial thoughts on the practicality of dividing a course in this way worried me. Our student enrolment system automatically places students in a single course space for each course code, so in this case breaking from single to multiple courses, students would be faced with enrolling themselves on the correct group course space, with the department and Moodle team shouldering an added administrative burden. In addition we would have six extra courses to manage that were not integrated into college systems. Following some considerable head scratching I decided to work towards a means by which students could select their group from a list in the current course space. Each link would need to display only content and resources relating to the group selected by the student.

After some experimentation I found it was possible to configure a course web address (URL) that would force the course page to display the course in collapsed view (allows only one topic or week to be displayed), along with a specific single topic. Provided all the content for a group is placed in a single topic area this would meet their needs.

The URL to create this view type is obtained by simply appending &topic=# to the end of the course address where # is the topic number. So the URL to show topic four only along with the course main content would be;

The course code (Example – can be copied from the top of your course page, then add &topic=4 to the end of this to influence how the course is displayed.

Here are instructions to create a table of links.

  1. Go to the course and copy the course URL from the address displayed
  2. Turn editing on, then click on the edit icon for the course main topic area (Topic 0)
  3. Create a table with a single row for each group and a title to go along side your existing course wide resources and information. (see image below)
  4. Populate the table with title and group names
  5. Now carefully select the text for your first group then click on the Insert web link button
  6. Enter the URL for the course copied in step 1, adding &topic=# to the end to point to the required topic number. In the Target field select Same Window from the options then click OK
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for each of your groups
  8. Click Save changes to finish and test the table links

Screenshot of the group selection table produced

Some compromises and strategies are required by the tutors so that each week is clearly defined within the single topic area, with resources and activities displayed with the relevant week to reflect the standard Moodle course layout. This is done by creating a label with the title for each week, thus making it possible to group resources and activities to the information for a given week. Creation of addition course web pages from the add a resources options is also recommended to reduce blocks of text.

I hope this will be of use to you, and do contact us with any questions.

academic integrityassessmentclickersE-Learningfeedback

E-Learning themes

Themes with which we can approach the:

    • re-design of the website

    • development of Moodle support course-space, help-sheets, case studies

    • focus of e-learning development/training sessions

    • various committees

Some ideas – to which you are invited to add, expand upon, question and critique

Teaching Large groups

    • Audience Response Systems

    • Moodle Groups tools

    • Moodle Fora/Wikis

    • Online submission of formative assessment

    • Peer-marking in Moodle Wikis/Fora or in Turnitin’s Peermark tool

Feedback & Assessment
    • Audience Response Systems

    • Audio feedback (generic for whole group on specific assignments)

    • Video feedback

    • Online quizzes/tests/assignments in Moodle

    • Gradebook online distributed marking in Turnitin

    • Use of Twitter and other social media to support feed-forward and feedback

    • Peer-marking in Moodle Wikis/Fora or in Turnitin’s Peermark tool


    • Working in virtual groups – Moodle Fora/Wikis

    • Advanced use of IT

    • Social Media

    • Information Literacy

Academic integrity

    • Integrated use of Plagiarism resources in Moodle

    • Customisation & development of Moodle-based resources

    • Joint-approach to issue with EDT/ADT and Faculties

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The Moodle Groups tool


Against a backdrop of reduced resources, great and sometimes conflicting demands are being made of Higher Education institutions. Research into H.E. in the UK indicates that, since the 1980’s, Universities are operating with continually decreased resources; student numbers have increased, large group teaching has become the norm in many institutions and disciplines, and that there is a much increased student-to-staff ratio. (Gibbs et al, 1996; Gibbs, 2006; Hounsell, 2007)

Students require rapid and timely feedback (Yorke 2007, Yorke 2005, Scheeler et al 2006) while the Leitch Review (2006) asserts the need for H.E. to provide transferable skills for the ‘information economy’; that Information Technology, Knowledge Management, and virtual collaborative working skills can contribute to graduate employability.

How can already established technologies meet these demands?

Moodle allows for participants in any course space to be easily deployed into smaller groups. Using the Groups tool, a cohort may be divided according to tutor, seminar, subject, or project groups. The number or size of groups is unlimited, and membership is not restricted to a single group within a course.

The most effective use of the Groups tool is in conjunction with the Forum, Wiki or Assignment activities. Only a single instance of an activity needs to be created, not one for each group, so course development for group activities is rapid.

For example:

A course delivered by six tutors requires the cohort of 180 students to submit an online assignment in Moodle. Each tutor is responsible for the marking and feedback of assignments for 30 students. With the Groups tool, students are automatically deployed to six groups, while the tutors are assigned manually. Only a single instance of the Assignment activity is created, streamlining both the set-up of the assignment and the distribution of marking.

Moodle offers great flexibility when setting up groups:

Visible groups – students can view other groups’ activities but cannot participate in them

Separate groups – students have no access to other groups’ activities. Each groups works in private

Automated population – groups can be set up to automatically add students to them, upon their first log-in to Moodle

Control of number/size of groups – the larger group can be divided into a specific number of groups, or groups of a pre-determined size
What are the main advantages of small group work supported by Moodle?

Dividing a large cohort into smaller groups has a number of advantages;

For students

    * Affords opportunities to work more closely together
    * Encourages participation by overcoming location, outside commitments or group dynamics
    * Is less reliant upon face-to-face meetings
    * Peer review within groups, both formal and informal
    * Streamlines production of output; a single shared and editable document rather than multiple copies owned by each student

For tutors

    * Ease of allocation of marking; supports multiple markers/tutors
    * Ability to monitor and provide feedback on group progress
    * Marks can be allocated to the Group and its members
    * Flexible control over groups visibility of other groups’ activities
    * Can be used to provide access to a particular resource to a subset of students

Examples of the Moodle Groups tool


    * Allowing students to work privately in small groups
    * Posting group meeting minutes
    * Sharing and editing output documents
    * Sharing files, links and other resources
    * Extend discussions before or after face-to-face meetings
    * Ease of tracking and marking group/student performance


    * Wikis perform better, both pedagogically and technically, when used in small groups
    * Producing a collaborative document; annotating text, adding links and comments, creating and sharing interactive media
    * Allowing students to work privately in groups to produce an output file which can then be shared with whole cohort after marking
    * Ease of tracking and marking group/student performance


    * Tutors can easily view submissions, feedback and grade group by group
    * Tutors can be assigned to a group – and receive notifications only of submissions of that group
    * Multiple files of both individual and group submissions can be viewed
    * Used to give feedback and grades for offline activities such as presentations – marks can be aggregated with those from other activities e.g. quizzes