Responses from students to the open-ended questions

Students submitted 332 responses to the open-ended questions. Their responses provide a valuable insight into areas for improvement.

Students were given the opportunity to answer the following survey questions using three blank fields:

  • Anything else you would like to add about interface or construction (following a question about course webs)
  • Are there any functions in Moodle that are not working in your opinion?
  • Anything else you would like to add about Moodle

Students’ responses were sorted into the following categories:

  1. Organisation of course webs and teachers’ knowledge of Moodle
  2. Lack of consistency between course webs
  3. Many systems in play (Ugla, Moodle, Panopto, Piazza, Facebook, Gradescope etc)
  4. What doesn’t work well in Moodle
  5. Recordings

Below is a more detailed explanation as well as a few examples of students’ responses.

1. Organisation of teaching websites and knowledge of Moodle

From students:

“Highly variable and really depends on the teacher, some courses very well organised and everything very clear, others very poorly organised and teachers take far too long to upload grades and everything unclear.”

“I have taken courses where the Moodle site was great and others where it was awful. The impression I get is that teachers are generally pretty lax when it comes to organising and maintaining course webs on Moodle.”

“Assignment deadlines should be included, so you don’t always have to look it up in the syllabus.”

“There should be a compilation of assignments and course material so you don’t have to go through the entire course to find e.g. all the lecture slides.”

Almost all students complained about things related to a lack of organisation regarding course webs and a lack of knowledge of the system amongst teaching staff. Students’ responses to the open-ended questions make it clear that some members of teaching staff do not organise their course webs well enough and general management is inadequate.

Students mention that:

  • it is difficult and time-consuming to find material,
  • overview of course material is lacking and it is difficult to view the course as a whole,
  • information on assignment deadlines is not given, or only in the syllabus,
  • assignments are hidden in files and information on assignments and their submission is spread around many different locations,
  • the course calendar is not used (not set up), impossible to get an overview of deadlines for the course,
  • grades are not recorded in Moodle, but rather sent by email or other message,
  • students are not able to mark material on the site as read.

Based on the students’ responses, we can analyse the problem and divide it into three main causes:

  • Lack of organisation in the development of course webs
    E.g. sorting of material is inadequate, headlines not used, names of items perhaps not sufficiently clear.
  • Incorrect tools used
    E.g. a file used instead of setting up an assignment, which means that the assignment deadline does not appear in the course calendar and the student is unable to view all the course deadlines in one place. Grades are sent in emails or messages to students instead of being recorded in an assignment (or in Gradebook) and having Moodle send students a notification. Grades are therefore not accessible to students through Moodle.
  • Tools not used or set up
    Tools that increase efficiency, facilitate management and provide students with a better overview, e.g. course calendar, gradebook, blocked material and status/registration of course deadlines are not used.

Despite the large number of suggestions for improvement, responses to the multiple choice questions on the same topics were fairly positive (How well are course webs organised in Moodle?). 31% of students selected the option Course webs are usually very well organised in Moodle and it’s easy to find resources and activities and 47% of students selected Course webs are adequately organised and most often you can find resources and activities easily.

The above issues are not difficult to solve, but teaching staff must possess the requisite knowledge. Depending on how each course web is organised, the following measures might be considered.

  • Go over course material and sort reading material and data into folders, use headlines if necessary.
  • Use the appropriate tools, e.g. Assignment or Turnitin for assignment submission. Record grades in the right place, e.g. in Assignment, Quiz, Forum or directly in Gradebook.
  • Set up a calendar that displays all course deadlines and events.
  • Add the block Activities to the course web, which organises everything on the course web so that students can view all assignments in one place, all folders and files in one place, etc.
  • Teachers could also set up the recording of submissions. By recording submissions the student (or the system) can mark assignments as completed. Students and teachers also have access to records; students can see an overview of their own assignment submissions and teachers an overview of all students’ assignment submissions.

The key to organisation is a clear and well-formatted syllabus that can inform the design of the course web. The home page of the course web should serve as an overview, but there seems to be a strong tendency to simply put all information and material on the home page.

From students:

“Some teachers clearly need to be taught how to use Moodle better, because for some courses it’s brilliant but a complete headache in others.”

“The organisation of courses depends a lot on the teachers, some courses are very well organised and others are not. Sometimes you get the impression that certain teachers might need more training on how to use the course webs.”

“Teach the teachers how to set up a course.” “A lot of teachers haven’t got a clue how to use Moodle.”

“Teachers need to open the course so students can see the Moodle page. Generally teachers didn’t know this or did it too late, after teaching for the semester had already started.”

It must be kept in mind that in many cases, the students had considerable experience of using Moodle with different teachers and it is therefore safe to say that they have valuable insight into how the system is used. A large percentage of students (32%) had used Moodle in upper secondary school (or another former school). They are also generally in more than one course where Moodle is used and can therefore compare the ways in which different teachers use the system. Students’ responses also revealed that some of them had experience of using the system as teachers themselves.
The key to improvement is education. We must define precisely which features teaching staff should be familiar with in Moodle. Teaching staff could be required to complete a basic course in Moodle before being permitted to use the system. Such a course could be set up in Moodle, so that a teacher could pursue it independently, completing it by a specific time. It would also be possible to use the courses on offer from various Moodle partners. Although there are a lot of Moodle tutorials available, we must put more effort into creating instructions and a specific support page for the University of Iceland (this is currently in development).

2. Lack of consistency between teaching websites

From students:
“There are huge discrepancies in how teachers organise course webs. A tiny minority of courses have been well organised but others are very hit and miss. It’s a brilliant system that has a lot of potential if it is used correctly. I think that teaching staff at UI need to learn how to make better use of this great tool that is available to them.”

“The fact that course webs differ depending on the teacher can make it very challenging and confusing for students, always having to get used to new interfaces when they start new courses. I recommend that teachers agree amongst themselves or survey students to decide which template to use.”

“It would be nice if there were consistency between courses regarding the location of video recordings – I often have to search for video recordings.”

“There is a certain consistency lacking between teachers and their use of Moodle. It’s actually completely unacceptable that a student has to learn 3-5 different interfaces in Moodle depending on course and teaching staff. Files are put in different locations, grades, assignments, etc.”

Many students mentioned a lack of consistency between course webs. Some tools are placed in different locations and course webs are designed differently. A potential solution could be to set up a framework or standards for teachers to refer to when organising and developing course webs and/or providing a template course web with the most important tools already set up. For more details on this possibility, see the page summarising the results of the Moodle survey: The Centre for Teaching and Learning’s proposed reforms of support services, based on results of the survey. Consistency between course webs would also improve automatically with increased knowledge of Moodle amongst teaching staff. If grades, for example, are recorded in the correct location, they will appear in the same location for all a student’s courses.

3. Many systems in play

From students:
“I wish teachers would keep to one system. Some use Ugla and others use Moodle, others use both which means you have to spend time guessing where information might be and searching for it.”

“I think Moodle is great, but it’s extremely irritating to have to use more than one learning management system, cf. Ugla and Moodle for different courses.”

“I don’t understand why we have email, Ugla and Moodle all separate. I think access to material should all be in the same place on one site, not that I should have to go into my emails to find this and Ugla to find that if the teacher doesn’t want to use Moodle, or vice versa.”

“I think everyone should use Moodle or nobody. Teachers shouldn’t have a choice of using either Moodle or Ugla. It can be a bit confusing to be switching between two systems.”

“It’s mainly annoying that some courses use Ugla and others Moodle, so you always have to be switching between them. Especially if you have to listen to lectures through Panopto because then you’re always logging out and in again.”

“It’s sometimes annoying that completed recordings are so low down the page so it’s basically the thing you need the most on Moodle but you need to scroll all over to get in there. And Pantopo is mean and forbids access every time it can, it is the most annoying thing ever!”

Students complain that two systems are used for course webs and that teaching staff also use additional systems. This situation can be remedied by introducing a single learning management system used for all courses at the University. As students correctly point out, the working environment is currently inconsistent and confusing. Students waste valuable time switching between systems, searching for material and information. It is long overdue that the University adopt a single system. Ideally, other systems, e.g. recording systems, will work as part of that learning management system. The matter is now in the hands of the newly founded Division of Information Technology.

4. What doesn’t work well in Moodle

From students:
“Students must be able to rearrange courses and hide them again. I’ve got a terrible mess of courses and often have to go to the second or third page to find the courses I’m actually in.”

“Finding courses for this semester, open courses are all in a certain order (based on the date teachers set them up), I wish I could decide the order like I could before the changes.”

“The student dashboard: possible to move courses in the left-hand column and, e.g., put them in the right order. Don’t have old courses there, they can be at the bottom.”

“I can’t stand seeing old courses.”

“It would be nice if current courses were at the top or if teachers would sort them into ‘in progress’, ‘future’ and ‘past’, since in my case all the courses are in complete chaos with everything ‘in progress’.

“Really annoying having to look for courses every time.”

The vast majority of comments from students regarding the Moodle system itself were related to the changed dashboard. The new ‘course overview’ block was introduced when the system was updated last summer. The update requires that teachers record the end date of each course in order for it to be categorised with past courses and appear under the appropriate tab on the dashboard – otherwise, the course will appear with the ‘in progress’ courses. In order to open a course web, therefore, students sometimes have to do a lot of scrolling and search to find the courses they are registered in for the current semester. The best solution would be if information about course end dates came from Ugla and the two systems were linked in this regard. Another solution would be to continue to use the old block in the new version of Moodle; the old course overview block has been available as an add-on since May 2017. It would also be possible to find alternative solutions to this problem.

5. Recordings

From students:
“This semester there seem to be some difficulties listening to lectures through Moodle in all my courses.”

“I always have trouble watching recordings in Moodle. I have to ask permission from the teacher and log out and then in again to see the recordings. I wish I could just click the recording and it would play automatically without having to go through that whole rigmarole every time.”

Students’ problems viewing recordings in Panopto are due to the fact that the University uses both Ugla and Moodle for course webs. Two databases are used. Panopto is therefore split, there is Panopto for Ugla and Panopto for Moodle. If a user tries to open a recording in Moodle whilst logged into Panopto for Ugla they get a message saying that they do not have the right to view the recording, and vice versa. To make things even more complicated, teachers sometimes put recordings in the wrong course in Panopto, a previous semester’s course. This is related to the problem of course end dates not being recorded in Moodle.
The chief solution here is to use a single learning management system for all course webs. Secondly, it would be ideal if the recording system worked as part of the learning management system, as a tool in Moodle for example, or another system chosen by UI. For example, users should not have to log in again to create a recording if they are already logged into the learning management system. Finally, clear and thorough instructions on use of the recording system are crucial.