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Getting the most out of Moodle Blocks

The other week I blogged about the myth that Moodle looks rubbish compared to for-profit VLE systems.  Along a similar vein, I have begun to wonder just how many people using Moodle realise the power they have right at the end of their typing digits?

This week, I have been talking to people about how to embed social media into their Moodle courses.  For some of them, this idea was decidedly 'old hat' - after all, it is something Moodle has been able to do for a long time.  For the majority though, it seemed to come as a surprise that their humble Moodle course could be seamlessly linked in to the power of social networks.

And this is about more that just making your Moodle course page look pretty and all gadgety - because it is precisely these kinds of activities that can encourage greater levels of engagement from students, as well we helping to develop supportive peer groups.  Increasingly, we need to accept that students are simply better at communicating and engaging through external social networks than they are through VLE-specific forums, and rather than trying to persuade them away from Facebook or Twitter in order to navigate their way through several pages to find a Moodle forum, it is often easier and more effective to bring the conversation to where they already are.

Now, I am not going to go through exactly how to plug a Twitter or Facebook feed into Moodle - there are plenty of guides available on how to do this using the HTML block - including my own:

However, I did think it might be worth mentioning some a couple of other nifty things you can add to Moodle courses using the HTML block in order to make them more dynamic and engaging.

1)  Live RSS feeds:

An RSS feed is anything like a blog, or a website or a podcast.  Embedding a feed into your Moodle course means that any time there is a new post, or new podcast, that update is automatically 'fed' into your block.  Moodle does of course have it's own RSS feed plugin, but you can have much more fun by using the free Feedwind system.  Feedwind, when plugged into the HTML block, can not only be used to feed in a huge array of dynamic content, but can be customised to a huge extent to fit the tone of your course page, and the amount of space you have.

Feedwind has been going for some time now, so it quite stable.  Several years ago I posted a guide on how to combined Feedwind with the reference management software Zotero, and create dynamic reading lists - and that guide may still be of use if you want to give Feedwind a try.

2)  Embedding Dropbox folders using Box:

Imagine have a folder on your computer, and every time you add a file to it, or modify a file, then those changes are instantly updated on your Moodle course?  Well, it is possible when you embed a file from Dropbox.  If you create a Box account, you can have your Dropbox files on your computer.  If you make sure that folder is listed as 'public' then you using Box can paste the embed code from it into your HTML block, meaning that students can access any files within it.

If you were to change one of the files - say, by adding slides to a PowerPoint - then that change will be instantly synced with your DropBox account, and those changes will by dynamically linked to the HTML Block.  In other words, change your PowerPoint, and students will instantly be able to see those changes without you needing to do anything!

I'm sure there are tonnes of other ways people have found of using dynamic content in their Moodle pages - if you have any other suggestions, why not add them as a comment?

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