Avoiding the Rabbit Hole of Distractions on YouTube: How to Embed YouTube Videos Into Moodle

YouTube is amazing. With nearly 1 billion hours of uploaded video, the site hosts an impressive array of content germane to many topics in my courses. But YouTube is also a rabbit hole of distraction. I’ve gone to YouTube to watch a four-minute video on mitosis and left over an hour later having watched eight videos featuring farm animals attacking humans, nearly 14 minutes of carpool karaoke with Madonna and James Corden, and maybe 12 minutes of Queen at LIVE Aid. Thanks to increasingly savvy logarithms, the opportunities to click on other “suggested” videos are seemingly endless. And then there’s the cesspool of oftentimes caustic user commentary that continues to erode my faith in humanity.

Suffice it to say that sending students (or faculty) to YouTube to watch and think about only one video is like sending my 8-year old to a candy store to do her homework. It’s just not gonna happen. So my challenge has been how to use YouTube content without all of the distractions. My solution, detailed below, is to embed the YouTube video into my Moodle site and to do it such that only the video displays.

Read step-by-step instructions in the document embedded below.

Image credit: Rabbit Hole. By Amanvanasparesort (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Google into Moodle

About a year ago, I shifted my course syllabi to Google Docs as a strategy for more nimbly handling the inevitable hiccups and improvisational changes to scheduled meetings during the semester: snow days; opportunistic class visits by colleagues and other scholars; newly published research addressing course topics; etc..  As a result, any updates to syllabi are immediately available to students and other course participants.  You can read more about this here.

For similar reasons, I’ve since shifted to using Google Docs for all of my lab and other assignment instructions.  Whenever I correct a typo or tweak an assignment parameter, the changes are rendered in real time, and I don’t have to convert the doc into a PDF, upload to Moodle, and delete or replace the old version.  Fewer steps, fewer keystrokes, fewer headaches. Huzzah.

I might even consider shifting my courses entirely to Google Drive – for example, check out Ari Rotramel’s approach – but I’m a huge fan of Moodle’s online submission tools, gradebook, and quickmail features; I find all indispensable to my pursuit of less paperwork, less email, and a streamlined workflow during the semester.  But Google Drive and Moodle can happily play together.  Links to Google Docs, Sheets, and Maps are easily curated on Moodle with other course content and, when properly framed, all of these apps facilitate and enhance student collaborations in ways that are seldom afforded by other software.

Recently, in a moment of glorious nerdiness, I figured out how to take this simpatico relationship one step further, or how to display the contents of a Google Doc in Moodle.  My simple goal was to have my Google Doc syllabus display – not as a link but, rather, the actual contents – near the top of a course Moodle page.  In effect, the syllabus becomes the digital center of all digital content and workflow while retaining its autonomy as a document that can be shared with colleagues or added to a tenure or promotion file.

The path to embedding the Google Doc into Moodle is not overly complicated, but it does require a dive into various menu commands and a minor tweak to some HTML code provided by Google.  For those who take the plunge, here’s a brief video tutorial as well as some step-by-step instructions and notes:

  1. Open up your Google Doc in one tab of your browser and your course Moodle page in another.
  2. Make sure that your Google Doc is shared or, at minimum, viewable by anyone who has the link.
  3. In your Google Doc app, select “File” from the menu bar, and then select “Publish to the web”.  (Make sure you’re selecting from the menu in the Google Docs app and not the upper menu bar that belongs to your browser.)
  4. Click on the “Embed” tab in the window that opens and copy the link. If no code is displayed, press the blue “Publish” button. Copy the code, and then close this window with the “X” in the upper right.
  5. In Moodle, turn editing on, and then select “Edit topic” for one of the major topic sections of your Moodle page.
  6. You might name this section “Syllabus”.
  7. In the Summary box below, select the “<>” button which allows you to edit the HTML source code.
  8. Paste the code you copied from Google.  

Some tips and code for making more screen real estate, making the document editable in Moodle, and for loading up on bookmarked pages in the embedded Google Doc below.

Rubrics for efficiency and structure

*This post was written by Joyce Bennett and Rachel Black

Why use rubrics

We have been using rubrics for the new ConnCourse that we co-designed “Power and Inequality in a Globalized Word.” Joyce first taught the course in the fall of 2016, when she used rubrics for each of the writing assignments and the in-class presentations. She found the rubrics helpful in creating an even set of standards by which to evaluate each work, and it helped her tackle the daunting task of grading more than 50 assignments by streamlining the work, making my time grading more reasonable and focused. Additionally, using rubrics on Moodle allows the instructor to leave specific feedback next to each criteria, which we have found effective for getting students to understand how to improve their work. While it takes time to develop a rubric, the amount of time it saves during grading is well worth it.

How to use rubrics in Moodle

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to create a rubric on a Moodle assignment. Note that Moodle presumes students are submitting the assignment via Moodle. If you prefer paper copies of papers but want to provide digital feedback so that you and the student have access to the feedback, you can still create the rubric but simply ask students to hand in a hard copy of their paper.

  1. In your Moodle course site, but sure you have editing turned on. From there, add an assignment as you would any other assignment.  
  2. When creating the assignment, under “Grade,” look for “Grading Method.” In the drop-down menu, select “rubric.” Once you have arranged everything else you want for the assignment (if it is included in gradebook, feedback types, etc.), click “Save and display.”
  3. On the left hand side of the screen, scroll down to a toolbox called “Assignment administration.” From here, click on “Advanced grading.” A link called “Define Rubric” will appear just below it. Click on that link.
  4. On this page, you can either import a previous rubric by searching for the name of the previously used rubric, or you can create a new one by selecting “Define a new form.”
  5. If defining a new rubric, you will be able to “add criterion” and also “add levels.” Typically, we have found that having more levels of points available to students is better. We recommend having 5 levels for each criteria.

Once you have created your rubric, you can come back and edit it at any time. Be aware that students can see the rubric before they turn the assignment in, so you want to have given this some thought before students begin working on the assignment. Otherwise, you may want to hide the assignment until you are ready for students to consult the rubric.

A few pointers for creating and using rubrics

  • Suggest that students consult the rubric before handing in the assignment. This will help make expectations clear. In addition Rachel has suggested that student download the rubric and have a peer review their assignment using the criteria on the rubric.
  • Be sure that the rubric speaks to all elements of the assignment. The more you can break down your assessment, the more likely this will be helpful to students in understanding their strengths and weakness.
  • Be sure you have enough evaluations points. This is important because you can end up with very low or high grades if you do not add enough variation in points in each category. Keep the final tallies in mind when designing your rubric.
  • Remember that Moodle allows you to add additional comments at the end of the rubric. This is a good opportunity to further personalize feedback.

To each their own

As with any kind of grading, the use of rubrics is relatively personalized. Between the two of us, we each have preferences that work better for us. For example, Rachel likes to include rubric categories that focus on student development of specific skills related to writing and argumentation. She also likes to focus parts of the rubric on the integration of specific concepts related to course materials and discussion. Rachel finds that this helps students focus their work and develop skills that they will use beyond the one course. Joyce likes to take the assignment instructions and break them up into different components of the rubric. She prefers to leave rubrics a little bit flexible so that students can bring innovation and their own interests to the assignments, where appropriate. Joyce finds this approach helps students think about the components their work should include while also keeping them interested because they get to have their own input. It is important to consider your course and assignment objectives when creating your rubric. If you work your objectives into the rubric evaluation, you will be providing your students with a clear framework for what is expected of them.

Image credit: By Cleonard1973 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t Yuck Anyone’s Yum*: Using Google Drive and Moodle for Courses

venceslao_gennaio_castello_buonconsiglio_trento_c1400_detailIn 2017, many faculty use an online platform to provide their students with course content and engage with them in or outside of the classroom.  At Conn, we have two major ways to organize such work – Moodle and Google Drive.  As I started to use Google Drive to organize my work from job applications and budgets to collaborating on conference proposals with colleagues across the country, I was drawn to it as a potential course platform.  Its limits could serve my need for simplicity, and while there have been  updates to Google Docs or Forms, I was able to get my approach to using these tools locked down quickly.  For this post, I have been in conversation with colleagues to identify and share some key elements of Google Drive and Moodle, sharing what draws us to one option over another when considering 1) student communication, 2) organizing content, and 3) grading.

Student Communication
Online professor-student contact has become a regular part of class-related work, from updating students about an assignment or snowday plans to fielding questions about a reading.  Sending out messages efficiently is easily handled by Moodle’s quickmail function that sends a message to the entire class.  Working with Google requires more set-up initially, but provides further flexibility.  At the start of the semester, I set up a student e-mail list through Groups.  One cheat is to use the mail students function on Camelweb to grab the set of e-mails.  Once set up, I can have the ability to use Boomerang to send a message to students later or have a repeat message sent their way.  Other functions to explore on Moodle and Google Drive include chat functions, including chatting on a Google Document as students work through an assignment or collaborate on in-class research.

Organizing Content
With the advent of LMSs and websites, faculty now have the opportunity to organize course content in much more complex manner than a syllabus, texts or reader.  With Moodle’s sections, it is simple to create a readings section so students can easily find upcoming readings and download or print them easily.  With Google Drive, it is possible to move or copy a folder’s worth of readings for students to similarly access.  I appreciate the ability to link readings in my syllabus (a shared Google Doc) either to a reading in a Google Folder or to the library’s site to support the tracking of usage of our online journals.  tudents or I set up folders and documents for collaboration or individual work throughout the course.  

Moodle and Google offer distinctly different opportunities for grading-related work. Moodle’s Assignment activity includes the ability to create rubrics for grading and the gradebook has a wide array of grade calculation functions, it also has a marking guide that you can use to set categories and provide comments. I prefer using a paper rubric that I either upload from my desktop or edit online for paper assessment.  For exams, I create a spreadsheet rubric that I similarly edit and upload to my students’ folders.  These methods are more or less the same ones that I have used for ten years, allowing me to document and back up my grading process in case there are any points of contention.  Moreover, if I find that I am spending too much time staring at my computer screen, I can print out rubrics and/or papers and grade by hand easily.  For the semester’s-worth of grading, I keep a spreadsheet with an attendance page and a total grade page that simply calculates the percentages I have given to different assignments. The limitation of this approach is that students are not able to keep tabs on what grades and attendance have been recorded for them over the course of the semester through the platform. The Moodle gradebook and Attendance modules offer functionality for those faculty who prefer for their grade records to be more transparent to students, including attendance, rather than asking students to track and calculate the value of their own assignments. Through Google, a professor could also use a shared grading spreadsheet with students that is updated throughout the semester if they wanted to provide similar transparency.

Overall, both platforms have something to offer faculty seeking to streamline their online engagement with students. A final factor that has drawn me to Google Drive is that it has value for students embarking on internships or post-graduation jobs, as they will have at least navigated for a semester this platform and learned how to use some of its key components. Meanwhile, as Moodle is our College-wide Learning Management System (LMS), utilizing this platform ensures that students have more ease accessing all materials from the first day of classes.  

*I think it’s a beautiful edict, on par at least with the Golden Rule, and it simply means that no one in that safe space should attack or tear down what brings joy to someone else and which also doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Thank you for input from Diane Creede, Jessica McCullough, Anthony Graesch, and Lyndsay Bratton!

Swivl toward Lecture Recording

This semester Joe Schroeder is using a Swivl, a robotic mount that holds an iPad or smartphone, to record lectures in Behavioral Neuroscience. With the use of a remote that the presenter wears, the Swivl tracks a moving person and uses the camera on the iPad or smartphone to record. Lectures or presentation are stored and saved in the cloud using Swivl’s cloud service, and shared with students through a link.

Swivl robot
Swivl robot

Why Lecture Record

Last year Joe had a problem: several students were going to miss class but he needed to cover important material. He asked about ways to record his lecture, and we suggested he try the Swivl. He gave it a try, and found the technology easy and convenient to use. This year, due to scheduling difficulties in Behavioral Neuroscience (PSY/BIO 314), he has one student who needs the class but is unable to attend one day a week. Recording the class on this day was the only way that this student could enroll. Remembering the Swivl, he decided to record the Friday lectures.

How it Works – Technology

Joe assigned one student as the class videographer, and this student is responsible for ensuring that the device it turned on, recording, and working throughout the class period. After class, Joe initially downloaded the video, saved it as an .mp4 file, then uploaded that to Moodle (through Kaltura). This process, while simple, was time consuming. More recently, with the introduction of Swivl’s cloud service, which automatically processes the video after recording and provides a link to the video, he simply copies that link and shares it with all students through Moodle. While Swivl provides tools for editing, the integration of slides and video, and other features, Joe does not spend time editing.

Excerpt of Joe's Moodle site, showing links to outside resources, lecture slides, and class recordings.
Excerpt of Joe’s Moodle site, showing links to outside resources, lecture slides, and class recordings.

How it Works – Pedagogy

After a few weeks of recording one day a week, Joe decided to record every class. Initially he had concerns about attendance – would students attend a class they knew would be recorded and could be watched later? He found that this practice did not affect attendance. Students value class time for the interaction with Joe and fellow students, as well as the ability to ask questions and check for understanding – this is a challenging class and expectations are high. In addition, the course does not use a textbook (see When Risks Pay Off in the Classroom), but a collection of resources – an online animated textbook from University of Toronto, simulation software, videos, articles, and more. Students use the recordings as another resource to understand course material.

Final Thoughts and Next Steps

While the full impact of providing class recordings is not yet known, mid-semester feedback from students is positive. Using Swivl is low-effort, but may potentially have a high impact for all students in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Beyond lecture capture, I can imagine additional uses for the Swivl. Students or faculty could use it to practice presentations and review the recording, students could rehearse a performance, then send the video to faculty or peers for feedback.

If you have questions or are interested in exploring ways to record your classes, contact your Instructional Technology liaison.

Help Students Out: Syllabi as PDF or Google Drive Link

word-to-pdf-freenetworktips-800x445Do you upload your syllabus to Moodle? Is it a Word document? A Pages document? You may not realize it, but there are students who do not have these programs on their computers. Already I have spoken with two students who do not have Microsoft Word (or PowerPoint, or Excel…), but they must access syllabi that are Word documents. While I recommended they download OpenOffice or use a library computer to view the syllabus, you can help your students by using one of two simple solutions.

  1. Save your documents as PDF files and upload those to Moodle. Not only can any computer read PDF files, they are much easier to view in Moodle. Word documents are downloaded onto your students’ computers every time they click on the syllabus title. Not only is this annoying, but increases the chances that students are looking at older or outdated versions. PDF documents simply open in the browser whenever a student wants to view it.
  2. Do you change your syllabus a lot over the course of the semester? If so, consider using a Google Doc and add the shareable link to Moodle. Anthony Graesch wrote about why he made this change and explains how to do it in his post, Dish Up Your Syllabi with Google Docs.

If you have questions about posting your syllabus to Moodle, please contact us!

Bringing together technology and experiential learning

I am always learning from my students. One day in my “Food and the Senses” class, students showed me a “Tasty” video (time-lapse videos of tasty dishes being cooked). I was immediately intrigued and hungry. Once the rumbling in my stomach subsided, I started to imagine the ways in which I could use a similar video technique to engage students in my other courses in thinking about food production. Maybe these videos could even improve food literacy, something that is a common issue on a residential campus. This was clearly a technology students were already engaging with and found appealing. However, the kicker is how to move from the passive gaze, what has contentiously been called ‘food porn’, to an active engagement with growing, cooking and eating food?


My Technology Fellow challenge this summer is going to be figuring out a way to bring technology and experiential learning together. How can I leverage technology to deepen my students’ engagement in experiential learning and in understanding the culture of food? In addition, I hope to find ways to use technology to engage students in thinking about questions of skill and the enculturation of skilled work in cases where class size does not permit hands-on activities. This is where time-lapse films come in.

For my “Worlds of Food” course this fall, I will film cooks from different cultural backgrounds making dishes to show how embodied cultural knowledge plays out in the kitchen. Anthropologist David Sutton use of visual media to understand socially and culturally embodied knowledge and the use of kitchen tools influenced this idea. Beyond the kitchen, videos could show the use of tools and practices in food production around the globe. These films will be screened in class and posted on the course Moodle site to prompt further discussion of the course materials. After reading Michelle D. Miller’s Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology as part of the Technology Fellows program, I am eager to introduce videos in to my courses in order to offer students a new medium for understanding cultural practices. Videos posted on Moodle will allow students to revisit techniques at their own speed and facilitate different learning styles. Through these visual examples, students will have time to offer a deep analysis of concepts introduced in class. Although ethnographic films are a stalwart of anthropology classes, these videos will offer focused examples related specifically to food practices. Once I get the hang of this new tool, I would like to explore the possibility of having students produce video clips as part of their class assignments.

Beyond Pencil and Paper: Audio Assignments Via Moodle

Image of microphone

My choir students expressed that they wanted to be assessed more often so that they would be more motivated to practice. At that time, I was having students sign up in small groups for “check in” meetings. While this was valuable, it was difficult to give individual feedback to all 40 students and could not logistically happen very week.

With the help of Jessica McCullough, we devised a way for my students to record short audio assignments and upload them to Moodle. One such assignment was an assessment of the pronunciation of Zulu song text. Jessica came into my class and demonstrated how to record and upload the files with their smartphones. (iPads are available to check out in the library if students do not have a phone or computer with audio recording capabilities.) The students could record the audio as many times as they liked before submitting their assignment, which encouraged deeper engagement in class and individual practicing. To help those who were struggling, choir tutors through the Academic Resource Center could help them prepare for the assignments.

With the Moodle interface, I was able to monitor which students turned in their assignments (as opposed to scrolling through emails with attachments), listen to the files without opening another audio application, and respond with typed comments (see Karen Gonzalez Rice’s post for making audio comments).

As a result of this “new” method, I could assess more often, get a clearer picture of how individual students were faring in my class,  and further refine my teaching to meet the diverse needs of the students. A variation of this assignment is having the students digitally videotape themselves individually or in groups. A video assignment provides a more complete picture of how my students are performing and it also gives visual confirmation of who is taking the test when it is a group assignment. While this post is regard to an assignment that I give in my choral classroom, it has potential applications in other academic settings in which students need to demonstrate their knowledge in ways beyond  traditional “paper and pencil” assignments.

Image credit: flickr photo by lincolnblues https://flickr.com/photos/lincolnblues/6262298600 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Fall 2015: What’s New with Moodle? (Part 3)

Library Resources Block

We are excited to introduce the new Library Resources Block for Moodle (pictured above). The block connects your students to a librarian and to library resources right within the Moodle environment. Our goal for creating the block is to provide research support at a student’s point of need.

If you wish to include the block on your site, follow these steps in each course:

  1. Turn editing on
  2. Scroll down, under “Administration” block you will see “Add a Block.”Add a block
  3. Click on the drop-down menu.
  4. Select “Library Resources” under the drop-down menu.
    Select Library Block

The block is added to the bottom on the left-hand column by default. If you wish to move it to a more visible location, grab the cross-hairs with your mouse and drag/drop it to the desired location.

A special thanks goes out to Tom Palazzo who did all the behind-the-scenes work to get this working. We hope you and your students appreciate having the library’s resources and services located within the Moodle environment. Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Fall 2015: What’s New with Moodle? (Part 2)

When you log into Moodle to set up your Fall courses, if you look closely, you’ll notice a new text editor appearing. This new text editor is called Atto, and replaces the previous text editor, TinyMCE. If you find that Atto isn’t working well for you, you can always change your preferred editor back to TinyMCE in your Moodle user profile.

The Atto text editor has a pared-down toolbar with fewer of the lesser-used buttons, but now includes two new buttons to enhance your ability to provide content that is fully accessible. One button, the Accessibility Checker, will check the content of your text box to make sure that it is accessible – by checking for text colors that are not easy to read, or for missing description tags for images. The screenreader helper button will provide a list of links and images included in your textbox, making it easier to determine whether you’ve provided adequate descriptive text for those using screen readers.

Accessibility options

As, always, if you’re handy with HTML, you can use the HTML button to get behind the scenes and edit the code. And if you need any specific help, contact your Instructional Technology Liaison.