I love to design and build websites. It is a process that is engaging, creative, and totally satisfying, especially toward the end, when you see your ideas come to life. Building online courses is an especially challenging endeavor, but also a lot of fun. When building an online course, I want to be able to include features that engage my students, that enable me to see who is online, provide RSS feeds to new content, and can be customized. Right now and for the past few years, my favorite has been Moodle. Moodle is open-source, which means you can see and manipulate code. Moodle is PHP-based, and works with a MySQL database (like drupal, my favorite content management system.)
If you want to see what Moodle looks like (and this is not really an actual course site, just a sample Moodle site), go to http://moodle.org/course/view.php?id=34. You’ll be able to log in as a guest, or you can sign up on the Moodle home page and get a Moodle account. Take a look around the Moodle site and what is happening with Moodle. My bet is that Moodle will continue to grow and gain ground. Idaho State University, for instance, switched from WebCT to Moodle last year. Moodle can be used by a single teacher to a university with over 200,000 students.
I’ve used Moodle for an online course, and the students really liked it. They especially liked the built-in chat feature and the discussion forums they could subscribe to, selecting the format of the subscription. Groups are a snap to set up in Moodle and students can really take charge of most functions. For instance, students can write and post course announcements. Instructors can force-subscribe students to certain discussion forums, such as announcements. Being able to see which of your students is online and then chat with them really helps bridge that transactional distance that can be part of an online course (and face-to-face ones, too.)
All assignments are also included in a course calendar, with upcoming events (assignments) posted. As an instructor, you can design your site and decide where you want to put blocks (another word for a sort of module). If you want to create a fee-based course, you can do that too. Moodle has a PayPal plugin that will collect student fees when they sign up. Yup, Moodle offers a lot. That’s why it’s my number 8 pick.