Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Moodleing Around - Starting a High School Online Education Program

In the Spring of 2011, the principal in my building mentioned to me during a meeting that he had a real interest in offering some online courses at our school but that for various reasons he had never pursued the idea.  At the time I was taking some graduate courses related to designing and implementing online programs.  In addition, I had recently created an online Cultural Proficiency professional development opportunity for district teachers using Moodle, which one of our enterprising tech personnel had installed on our server since it was free and he thought maybe someone would find it useful.  The light bulb when on.  I wrote up a proposal for a pilot program and presented it to the high school principal.  He received board approval and we were in business!

The next step was to get CDE approval for the program. Given that this ours was a "supplemental program" and only comprised of two initial course offerings, we only had to fill out a two page application.  A few emails from CDE and a handful of revisions later and we had an official letter of approval from CDE.  Next up - what classes should we offer?

As it was a bit late in the game (students registered for courses starting in January) I worked with counselors closely to determine what courses would most likely appeal to the biggest audience of students.  Since Health is a requirement for all students, we decided that was a good place to start.  The counselors also indicated that other electives would be ideal.  Since we had a teacher who was interested in teaching online, developing online and was uniquely qualified to do so, we went with her content area, Speech for our second course offering.  Okay -  board approval - check, CDE approval - check, classes offered - check.  Will anyone register for them?

If you build it they will come.... We decided to try out two methods of course content development, build it yourself and lease it from someone else.  I leased the Health course from Aventa learning while our Speech teacher opted to build her own course.  I thought this was a great way to go as we could compare outcomes which would inform future decision making for our program.  Well by two weeks before school in August we had over 42 students enrolled in the two courses.  Awesome! But then some problems started coming up......

Turns out our Moodle had a few glitches.  For one we could create courses but we could not install courses that had been backed up or that had been created by someone else.  In addition, our user authentication process (ldap) was not working properly and to make matter worse neither was the bulk user info upload function of Moodle. The forward thinking tech person who had installed Moodle wasn't able to guarantee that he could prioritize fixing these glitches prior to our "live" date.  So there I was the week before school unable to load the course I had leased or easily set up users.

Fat Cow to the rescue - After some frantic researching, I found that Fat Cow was a recommended host for Moodle users.  Set up was easy (less than a minute to install Moodle using simple scripts) and costs low (around 100 per year).  So, I set up Moodle there, got the class installed and set up user accounts...just in time for online orientation day!

So that brings us to the present.  How did the courses work out?  What student feedback did we gather? What did we learn? What is the future of our program?  Check my next post for all this and more:)


  1. Hi Glen, I am also using FatCow for a Moodle course. I've installed Moodle but now want to import the course content. Any help on this would be appreciated. I've written to FatCow but I'm not certain they have the best support and I've been fumbling around online for some help with this. Thank you in advance.

  2. Ruth - You are correct FatCow does not offer any Moodle support. In addition, I have found that Moodle runs slow on their server. For these reasons, we will be working with a Moodle partner next year that offers both Moodle support and hosting.

    As for importing content, you can do that through the course restore function. I have had best results from setting up a new (empty) course and then entering the course and selecting "restore" in the left column and following the prompts.

  3. Woow... I just heard about FatCow... I'm using moodle for my bachelor research... I think it is very interesting to use...

  4. Another good resource is You can host a Moodle site there for free. Probably not great for any scaled online program but great for sandboxing!