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Put your Paperwork Online
Rich Text Format. This format is the most compatible file format for word processing files with formatting suchs as tabs, tables, bolds and italics. Just about every word processor supports reading and writing RTF files, so using it solves a lot of problems that arise when, for example you are using Microsoft Word to create files, but a student uses WordPerfect on their computer. The preferred file format of these two programs are incompatible, even though they do similar things. But both programs can read and write RTF files.
Portable Document Format. This format was created by Adobe, but can be read on any computer platform. This format is designed to precisely represent any kind of paper document. It is often used for handouts, syllabu, and even forms.
A drawback of PDF files is that they can't easily be edited or modified. This means they're good for distributing information, especially if it needs to look a certain way or get printed out, but it is a poor choice for any kind of document that needs to be edited or changed.
A PDF is typically created by going to 'File->Print' and choosing the appropriate action from there. This is different from the typical 'File->Save As...' method of saving a document as a different file format. The reason for this is that PDFs are intended for electronic documents that exactly represent their paper counterpart.
You'll need Adobe Acrobat to create PDFs if you are using Microsoft Windows. Users of Mac OS X will find the capability built into all its programs.
MS Word Document. These are word processing files created by Microsoft Word, a part of the Microsoft Office software suite. This software is *almost* a de-facto standard. It has been bought and installed on a majority of computers, but by no means 100% of them.
You may be tempted to distribute your files as DOC format, especially since the software is almost always provided at work for no cost (to you).
However, this is not the case for your students. The convenience of using DOC for you will be offset by your students' frustration when they realize they must spend another $150 for the Microsoft Office suite. (Or be tempted to find illegal copies of it...)
Neither of these are attractive options. This situation can be avoided by using RTF (above) instead of DOC wherever possible.
Powerpoint. This is also a part of the Microsoft Office suite, but unlike DOCs and RTF, there is no corresponding 'open' option for Powerpoint presentations.
There is, however a free 'Powerpoint Viewer' available from Microsoft which will let your students view the presentation with buying extra software.
As a teacher, it is important to distribute files that are compatible with your students' computers. Remember that not everybody will have the same software that you have, especially if you or your school bought it separately. You can't even expect that you students will be running the same operating system (or platform) on their computer.
Knowing which file formats are fully compatible, ususally compatible, or incompatible will avoid frustration for everybody.
MPEG Layer 3. This format is currently the most widely compatible on all computer platforms. It also has the benefit of being highly 'compressible', that is, the data can be shrunk a great deal while still being understandable.
Microsoft WAVE. This format is also widely compatible. The files tend to be much larger (10 - 100 times larger even) than the corresponding MP3 version. You will probably want to use MP3 due to the smaller file size.
Windows Media Video / Macintosh Quicktime Movie. These two video formats are the preferred ones for the respective Windows and Mac platforms. Unfortunately, while each works well on its own platform, they are not readily compatible with the other. Using either MOV or WMV format will likely lead to problems with at least some of your students.
Flash Video. This format is a part of the (Adobe) Flash plugin for web browsers. An FLV movie will be typically found embedded within a web page. Adobe claims that its Flash plug-in has been installed on over 90% of all computers, which makes it the most widely compatible format for distributing video.
Hypertext Markup Language (web page). All of the above formats can be saved as, or embedded in, a standard web page. If your document doesn't call for the features of a special program, please consider using HTML for most or all of your online material.
This will let your students access everything from inside the web browser: the same program they use to access the onlne class itself. This means that your students will be able to focus entirely on your material, instead of having to struggle with separate programs and overcome incompatible.
*Whenever feasible, put material online as HTML, (a web page) to allow your students to focus on the material, not the computer.*
These documents typically get distributed on the first day off class. For any teacher who has struggled with tempermental copy machines before class, only to have to clean up discarded papers after students leave, or hunt down copies for those who didn't attend the first day, putting these papers online will make sense.
The advantage in time, cost and convenience should be self-explanatory.
Moodle has grades in whole numbers, from 1 to 100. (This applies to test questions individually, so a test may total more than 100 points.) In order to avoid the mathematical challenges of weighting certain assignments/tests, its recommended that you design your point values to reflect the grades' weight in the final grade. Doing this before the class begins will make your job far easier and more reliable at the end of the semester.
Microsoft Excel, the spreadsheet software, has enough computation and flexibility to satisfy the most demanding instructor's grading scheme. You can export all the data from your gradebook to Excel at any point in the semester. Then you can enter your own equations to suit your needs.
The disadvantage of this method is that the students will not be able to see an accurate grade through the built-in gradebook during the course of the semester. If you decide on this method, please consider disabling their access to the gradebook altogether. (You can do this within the 'settings' link on the course administration menu.) You may also want to consider giving feedback on grades during the semester. If you turn off the gradebook, you will have to decide when and how to do this.
Moodle includes a useful gradebook integrated with the assignments and other activities of your online classroom. Grades you assign for assignments and other activities appear in the gradebook automatically. However, no software can solve everyone's problems all the time. Here are some hints to keep the gradebook useful for you while still having the flexibility to extend it if necessary.
Given the vast amount of material on the web, in the form of research, articles, essays, blogs, newspapers, radio stations and video, it is likely that you'll come across supplementary material and readings that you'd like to include in your class, whether optional or not.
The most common way to do this is the humble hyperlink. You can refer to outside readings for your class as lists of bookmarks (ex: http://hhh.gavilan.edu/phowell/index_nrg.html) or as more structured lists of "required reading" integrated with the course schedule. The choice is up to you.
Providing links to other materials on the internet does not require the rigorous checks for copyright violations by virtue of the fact that you are simply pointing your reader to the original sources. However, you might want to consider making a backup copy of links that you provide on the internet. Just like backing up your own work, this will ensure you have a copy of important material whether or not the site you're linking to keeps it online.
The simplest way to do this is within your web browser. From any web page out there, you can choose "File -> Save Page As..." to download your own copy of the web page and associated images. By making these backups (and keeping them somewhat organized and findable) you will be in a position to repost any material (to your own web account) in case the original goes offline. If this does happen, you will, of course, be obligated to give proper references/citation that you are republishing another's work.