I recently read an article posted on TechnicianOnline titled “Moodle usage increases regardless of complaints” that really got me thinking. The article outlines the difficulties being faced by educators at NC State University as they come to grips with the use of the Moodle system. I strongly recommend before reading this blog post further that you read the article they posted in it’s entirety by clicking here.
I do not doubt that many educators reading this article will feel that this could just as easily be describing their own school/Uni/workplace. The points raise are ones we all hear often. But what if all of this could be avoided? Well..it can and it should!
Let’s start by lifting one specific quote.
“The problem with Moodle is that it has so many features that are complicated for the instructors to use. A lot of us don’t run our classes that way and don’t need all of those things . . . I would like to see them come up with a Moodle lite, or something like that.” Bob Larson (communication lecturer)
Is this statement true? Resoundingly so. Moodle IS a complex tool with a wide range of features ranging in complexity.
Does it need to be so for the teacher? ABSOLUTELY NOT. The issue here is not Moodle itself, it is bad admin setup. But it is far easier to blame the tool and hence, here we are.
The aim of this post is to address just some of the techniques that can be implemented to make Moodle a far more pleasant experience.
What is the issue in a nutshell?
It is often said that Moodle’s strength, and weakness, is its range of features. Those numerous pages of options that confront every teacher the moment they turn editing on.
The strength of course is that all these settings allow us to customise the system and course to work exactly as we want. To allow us to delivery an online model of education that does not have to fit inside some pre-determined methodology but instead the work the way that we each intend.
The weakness is the confusion. Anyone who has set up a Quiz in Moodle will know what I am talking about here. Pages of options that while giving flexibility also create large amounts of complexity.
So why am I blaming Admin? Here is why. Moodle does not HAVE to be this complex. It is designed to be customised and shaped to fit the exact needs of the organisation. Why have a site full of features and settings your staff don’t need?
Implementing Simplicity (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Moodle)
Moodle provides numerous areas where Admins can enable/disable functionality as well as setting defaults. No organisation uses all the features. Why have them all on? The admin should customise the site to the needs of the organisation. How can we do this. Some examples are below:
Disable/enable plugins based on what you need moodle to do.
Blocks can be culled very easily. As can many other plugin types.
Plugins as well as course settings can have default settings. Don’t force educators to have to change numerous options every time they create. Find what 80% plus use and set the defaults to that level. This is very useful at the course default level
Customise your plugin settings
Many plugins in Moodle allow you to “hide” settings in the “show advanced” toggle. Not removing them completely, but removing them from the initial view. This enables power users but makes things far less confusing for beginners
Create custom permissions Another way of limiting how many options appear to a user is to change/create custom permissions. Most organisations don’t fit into the seven standard Moodle roles. And why should they? Every organisation is different. Customise moodle’s feature set based on the real world roles your organisation has. More information on Roles and Permissions in Moodle can be found here.
Create course templates
Now personally I hate the idea of course templates. I find template based courses are forced to make too many assumptions around how a course should be delivered. That being said, to many new users who don’t know where to start, this can be a god send. (P.S. course templates are a simple use of Moodle’s backup/restore function). A great discussion around this very topic was started by David Brown on Moodle.org and is worth a read if you are only starting down this path (http://learn.moodle.net/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=32240)
Create a help course
This is so obvious and yet done by only 10% of sites I come across. Support your educators! It is a simple idea isn’t it. You don’t even have to make all the content yourself. At the lowest level link to relevant Moodle docs. Check out the how to’s on the Moodle YouTube channel. But you should do MORE than that. Invest some time every week to create your own videos and documentation. Don’t magically expect your users to magically absorb information from the Knowledge Unicorn as it flies past dropping sugary sweet candies of perfection and best practice as your educators sit in front of their screens of satisfaction. It just doesn’t happen!Below are some examples of Help courses made by organisations that are open to the public
Focus on Design
How many sites do you find using just a front page moodle generated course list as a means of navigation? (sorry University of Essex, Im using you as an example)Have you put any thought at all into how you users navigate the site? Using nothing more complex than a Label, Admins can create custom front page navigation to make it easier for users to get to exactly where they need to go. Check out the examples below using nothing but labels to achieve this.
Invest in PD
Another contentious statement. What? Moodle is free you say? Hell no! N system is free. Even if you are not paying for the software you need to invest in support. Training. Don’t invest and expect no uptake! I don’t know any more about the PD program at NC State University other that what is in the article. I did however beam brightly when I read the following quote.
“We will come to a faculty member’s house and teach them exactly how to do whatever it is they personally need to be able to do on Moodle if they request it” Martin Dulberg (senior coordinator)
I could go on, But in short, it is easy to blame a system for all your woes. Moodle IS complex. It IS detailed and it IS full of settings. But only as far as you want it to be. The trick for Moodle administrators is to find the right balance of design, training and settings to ensure that the system can work the best it can for their organisation. Be careful of going too far in the opposite direction though. I want to finish with this last quote form the article.
“The most we can do is try to make the best tools that we can, and it is up to the instructor to decide how they want to use it, if they want to use it. We can’t appeal to the lowest common denominator.” Martin Dulberg (senior coordinator)
In particular that last sentence. If you build a system aimed at your lowest common denominator you are doing them and you a diss-service. Find the average pace in the organisation. Build for them while idealy providing upskilling for the lowest users and still providing effective tools for your power users. But in the end, remember we are NOT building for our lecturers/teachers. As contentious as this statement will be.
Moodle should be constructed for your learners, not your educators!
Are you an Admin and never thought about any of this before? That is why YOU should be the first to be up-skilled. How can YOU be responsible for a system YOU don’t understand? Don’t know how your educators are/should be using Moodle? Find out? Speak to them. Get involved in the process. My closing point is that being a Moodle administrator is NOT a purely technical role. It is just as heavily focused in understanding the pedagogy/andragogy of its intended application as much as the LDAP and security settings.
And the good news is that I am not asking you to give ME anything. I need your help to fundraise for Mens health! I enjoy putting back into the community around me. tis is why I release my theme’s like Rocket and Essential free to the community. My other way of putting back to the community is through fundraising.
I am taking part in this years Movember campaign and I want to raise an EPIC amount of funds towards this event. If you are not familiar with Movember I would urge you to take a look at their website here.
On average, men die at a significantly younger age than women – the average life expectancy for Australian men is almost five years less than women (presently 79.5 compared to 84), however there is no biological reason for this. The reasons for the poor state of men’s health in Australia and around the world are numerous and complex.
From Movember’s perspective the reasons for the poor state of men’s health include:
Lack of awareness and understanding of the health issues men face
Men not openly discussing their health and how they’re feeling
Reluctance to take action when men don’t feel physical or mentally well
Men engaging in risky activities that threaten their health
Stigmas surrounding mental health
Movember aims to change the face of men’s health and reverse this way of thinking by putting a fun twist on this serious issue. Using the moustache as a catalyst, we want to bring about change and give men the opportunity and confidence to learn and talk about their health more openly and take action.
As an official Movember participant I need your help to raise funds and help me grow one of the most awful looking moustaches you have ever seen.
Please note: You are NOT sending the money to me. It is all sent directly to the Movember Foundation.
Font Awesome was first created by Dave Gandy in February 2012. Billed as “the iconic font”, this pictographic font is designed for use with Twitter Bootstrap in mind. But guess what? You don’t need to have a Twitter Bootstrap site to be able to use it. Font Awesome can be used with any website, including Moodle.
A sample of some of the available icons
Font Awesome is fully Open Source, licensed under SIL OFL 1.1 with the code itself licensed under the MIT License. If you use Font Awesome in your sites you are not required to provide attribution however it is happily welcomed
You can also contribute your own icons. While they do keep a very tight reign on quality there is a process for submitting your own icons to get included in the next release. Click here for information on how to submit your own icons.
Why use Font Awesome?
There are many great reasons to use Font Awesome. To start off with it is a wonderfully diverse set of over 360 icons with an icon to suit nearly every situation. Each icon is a scalable vector graphic. The beauty of this is that you can make them as large or small as you like without any breakdown in quality. You will never see the pixelation that you would typically see when magnifying an image. Each icon can also be customized. Their size, color, drop shadow, in fact just about anything can be changed with the power of CSS.
Bullhorn as a vector icon. Note: no blurred edges.
Bullhorn as a standard icon. Note the blur as it scales.
How to Setup Moodle for Font Awesome
Install a Font Awesome enabled theme
Some Moodle themes are now coming with Font Awesome already enabled. To find out if they do just read the information found about them in the Modules and Plugins Database.
One such theme that already has Font Awesome contained within is the Essential Theme. Once this theme is enabled you will be able to use Font Awesome right away.
Download the theme
Load Font Awesome via CDN
So you want to use these icons in your content but don’t want to change your theme? No worries. You can instead load Font Awesome into your Moodle site using another method called CDN.
A content delivery network or content distribution network (CDN) is a large distributed system of servers deployed in multiple data centers across the Internet. The goal of a CDN is to serve content to end-users with high availability and high performance. You can pull Font Awesome into your site using any theme by adding a single line to your Admin settings. This line will connect your Moodle to a dedicated CDN to reliably load Font Awesome into your Moodle site.
To add the CDN to your Moodle you need to add the following line to your “Additional HTML” settings in Site Administration. You can find this located under the “Appearance” menu.
Additional HTML under the Appearance menu
Once you are in the “Additional HTML” settings we need to add the following line to the “Within HEAD” section. This will then load the Font Awesome as part of every page load.
The CDN line is added to “within head”
Using Font Awesome in Moodle
Sadly using Font Awesome icons in Moodle is not straight forward. The instructions from the Font Awesome website are to use the following code to display an icon:
There are two problems with this methodology however.
Teachers have to toggle to HTML view in the text editor to be able to enter this
Even if you do type it in correctly Moodle will strip it out anyway when you hit save
To get past both these issues I have created a new Moodle filter to allow for the easy addition of Font Awesome icons anywhere in Moodle where you have a text editor.
The Font Awesome Moodle Filter
The aim of this filter was to provide an easy and functional way for content creators to easily add Font Awesome icons anywhere in course content. If using the recommended method provide by Font Awesome which involves creating custom classes you will find that the text editor strips these out automatically as unrecognised/bad code. This filter provides another mechanism to add Font Awesome icons that won’t be stripped out by the editor.
Once you have installed the filter adding an icon to anywhere in your course that you wish is now a simple process. The hardest part is finding the icon you wish to use. To browse the full list of over 360 icons please visit this link. Once you have found the icon you are after you just have to surround it with a set of square brackets. I’ll create a label as an example
Adding an icon to a label using the filter
This will add a small beaker icon once saved and then viewed in Moodle.
Viewing the label
You will notice that by default the icon is quite small. The good news is that you can use a variety of additional options to change how this icon displays in your content. These are listed below.
Moodle Filter Options
Not happy with the icon size, alignment or direction? Check out this wide range of options to allow you to customise the display.
If you wish to make the icon larger you can use a multiplier. e.g.:
[icon-beaker icon-2x] or [icon-camera-retro icon-4x]
If you wish to rotate the icon you can specify how many degrees clockwise. e.g.:
You can also flip an icon horizontally or vertically. e.g.:
[icon-beaker icon-flip-horizontal] or [icon-beaker icon-flip-vertical]
You can mute the colour to a dull grey. e.g.:
You can “pull” the icon to the left or right. If it is “pulled” to the left text will wrap to the right. e.g.:
All the settings above can be mixed and matched to achieve the perfect outcome. For example if I wanted to highlight a famous quote I could do the following:
Adding a “quote” icon
Would generate a label looking like:
A famous Quote
Hopefully now you can see how easy it is, with only a couple of settings, to start using Fonts in your courses. The use of these are limited only to your imagination. They can be used in
…and so much more. Be sure to visit the demo course showing these and other examples.
Many moodle sites make use of the fantastic “Custom Menu” which was introduced in Moodle 2.0 and above. For the un-initiated, the custom menu is a set of dropdown menus that display across the top of a Moodle page. It’s links can be set in Amin settings accessible by Managers and Administrators
Setting up a Custom Menu
The custom menu setting in Moodle administration allows you to create a drop down menu that can be displayed by themes that support it. Currently all themes that are provided with Moodle 2.0 support this custom menu as to a large proportion of those in the Plugins database on moodle.org.
To create your first custom menu follow these steps:
As an administrator, go to Administration > Site administration > Appearance > Themes > Theme Settings and scroll down to the “Custom Menu Items” field.
You are able to create the custom menu by entering custom menu items one per line into the setting. A custom menu item contains, at minimum, two variables. The first is the label/text we are going to display to our users and the second is the URL we will point them towards. These two variables are separated by a vertical line, also often referred to as a “pipe”, that is typed by using (Shift + \) . For example:
To add sub-menu’s to our custom menu we can proceed items by a number of hyphens (-), the number of hyphens determines the depth of the item. So items that are NOT preceded by a hyphen appear on the top level of the menu (always visible), items with a single hyphen appear on a drop down menu below the previous top level item, and items with two hyphens appear on a drop down menu below the previous first level item and so on. For example.
If you have followed these steps correctly you should end up with a menu looking similar to this.
A simple custom menu
Tip One – Adding Tool Tips
As mentioned above, creating a custom menu item requires a minimum of two variables, the Label and URL. But many don’t know that there 2 more you can use that add additional features to your menu.
The first advanced tip is that we can add a Tooltip to the custom menu if needed. This is an optional feature for those who want it. A tooltip displays when the mouse is hovered over the item and can be used for larger titles or for item descriptions if needed. For example:
Moodle community|http://moodle.org|The official online community for Moodle
If you have followed these steps correctly you should end up with a menu looking similar to this when you hover your mouse over the item.
Custom Menu with hovering Tooltip
Note:If no tooltip is set then Moodle uses the Label instead
Tip Two – Multiple Languages
One question I hear often and am amazed so few know about is “Can we have our custom menu adjust based on the users language?” . The answer is YES YOU CAN. All we have to do is provide the Label in the languages you wish to set. Before we can do this you need to ensure you have already installed the additional language packs through Administration > Site Administration > Languages > Language Packs.
When you install the languages you will see that each has an abbreviated form. For instance English is en, German is de, etc. Once we know this it is easy for us to add the forth variable, a Language. For example:
Moodle community|http://moodle.org|The official online community for Moodle|en
Moodle gemeinschaft|http://moodle.org|Der offizielle Online-Community für Moodle|de
Now that we have entered both Moodle will display the item appropriate for the Language pack that has been chosen by the teacher in course settings or the user in their profile or through the Language menu.
The same custom menu now displaying in different languages
Tip Three – Links in New Windows
Sometimes you have a link in your custom menu that you want to open in a new window. This is also easy to achieve with a simple bit of HTML.
When the custom menu is being rendered by Moodle it surrounds it in a piece of HTML called a <a href> tag. What you are seeing above is us adding a target tag telling the browser to open the link in a new window.
It is important to note that you DON’T put a closing quote mark on the end of the statement. That was not a typo.
A question I hear regularly in my travel from both teachers and Moodle admins alike is “How can I give my student’s parents access to Moodle?”. Or, in a business context, “How can I give a Team Leader access to their teams progress and performance?”. Surprisingly the answer is relatively simple if not a prolonged process.
With Moodle we traditionally think of the 8 pre-defined roles. These included:
Of course many situations arose where Admins wanted to create more roles that met their specific requirements. When Moodle 1.7 (how long ago was that!) was released one of the many additions it brought along with it was a new Roles architecture funded mainly by the Open University that finally gave admins the ability to create their own roles and role overrides with set permissions on demand.
Now I could write a 10 page article on roles, which to put your mind at ease I will not do now. But needless to say the ability to create on demand roles to allow specific functionality for users is a godsend. I have a role to allow a user just the ability to post news on the front-page, another role for College Directors and so forth. Todays post though will look at creating a Parent/Mentor Role.
What is a Parent/Mentor Role?
Here is the situation many of us are faced with. We have parents who want to see their child’s progress or a Team Leader needing to view their down-line staff inside the LMS. How can this be achieved while maintaining privacy. Here was my list of “Must Haves” and “Must Not Haves.
Ability to see their child’s/staff’s marks
Track their child’s/staff’s access of materials
Be able to view their child’s/staff’s activity
View content created by their child/staff (forum and blog posts/uploaded assignments)
Must Not Have
the ability to see other child’s/staff’s details
access to course materials. I don’t want my teachers/trainers judged by what they have online
The ability to change or edit the child’s/staff’s work
Great news is we can create a custom role that will allow us to facilitate this!
Before I go on I also need to talk about where we can apply roles. Most teachers and admins know that roles can be allocated at a course/category/site level. (i.e. admins are site level roles, course creators may be category level roles and teachers are course level roles). But what many admins don’t know is that we can also apply roles at activity and at the user level as well. For parent roles to function we actually add a parent role to a student. This means that parents will only see details for the student/students to which they are attached.
How do we set this up? Well the following is blatantly copied and pasted from the MoodleDocs. If you are not yet already a follower of this brilliant user-created wiki for Moodle documentation then where have you been?
Setting up the Role
Creating new roles and allocating permissions is something that only Moodle Administrators can do. If you only have teacher access I am afraid at this point I have to tell you to not pass Go or collect $200. If you are an admin read on. All of this is also covered in the Moodle tutorial at the bottom of this post.
As an administrator, go to Administration > Site administration > Users > Permissions > Define roles and click the “Add a new role” button.
Give the role a name (such as “Parent”, but it can be anything appropriate, such as tutor/mentor) and assign it to the user context.
Under the heading of Course
Change moodle/user:viewdetails to allow – to access the student’s profile
Some permissions may already be set to “Allow”, or the permissions granted here may not be the ones required for that Role. This set of Permissions mean that this Role allows anyone assigned to a Parent Role, then linked to the Student Role, to edit the profile or read the blogs of that Student – not everyone’s profile or blogs.
Assigning the new Role to the Student
Before we go any further I must point out the obvious. The parent needs to have their own account in your Moodle. This means they have their own name and password. The process/policy discussion round this is huge and not one for this post. But lets assume you have it created ok?
Access the child’s profile page, via Administration > Site administration > Users > Accounts > Browse list of users
Go to ‘Profile settings for [username]‘ > ‘Roles’ >’Assign roles relative to this user’
Choose the role to assign (This is the role we just created above i.e. Parent)
Select the parent in the potential users list and use the Add button to add it to the existing users list.
Your done! No repeat as necessary if that parent has more than one child at your institution.
If you are interested in assigning several parent roles en masse there is a contributed plugin (use at your own risk) here CONTRIB-3938 which allows you to configure automatic role assignment between users from a database (ex: mentor/mentee or parent/child). You can also read the discussion at http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=70539#p345127)
The Mentees Block
The next question is, now that we have the roles assigned, how does the parent or Team Leader get to their child’s/staff’s profile? The good news is that Moodle has thought of this and has included the “Mentees Block”.
The Mentees block may be added to the site front page or to the My Moodle page. It provides a mentor/parent with quick access to their mentee(s)/child(s) profile page.
To add this block to the site front page:
On the Front Page, turn editing on.
Go to the Add Blocks block and select the Mentees block and when it appears, click on the Configuration icon.
Edit the configuration settings to suit the needs of the site. When complete, save the changes and return to the Front Page. These settings include reaming the block to give better context and the ability to have it display across all pages of the site.
Note that as mentioned above this role can be used for not just parents but also is well suited to Tutor’s, Team Leaders, Mentors and other supervisory style roles. This is just an introduction to one of the many roles that you can build in Moodle. If you have any other roles you would like to see covered please detail them in the comments and Ill see what I can do.
It has been a long time coming, but the blog has finally received an overhaul. Many may have noticed the old one was hacked, so I thought it may be time to move to a new site, a new version of software and a new look and feel.
With all that hard work out of the way, I also feel like maybe finally adding some new content. With all the excitement of Moodle 2.6 on the horizon I am sure I can add something interesting for readers.
In the meantime, enjoy the new look and feel and please let me know if you have any suggestions/issues or other feedback to report.