Tel Tales

Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Author: Mike Wilson

A plan for the visual revamp of Moodle

Moodle is based on open source technology which along with it’s thriving support community is one of the big reasons it’s so successful. It’s relatively straight-forward to mould Moodle to fit the organisation delivering it. In our case Moodle is branded inline with the University style guide but we go further than that and include usability customisations and features to improve the overall user experience and accessibility of the site, with the aim of making it a useful tool for all.

Our Moodle site is due a visual revamp. The University is currently in the middle of a re-brand consultation which will produce a new logo and visual identity to our websites. Moodle HQ are also re-working the user interface to make it more modern and user friendly. The TEL team are working with IS to migrate Moodle to a new POSTGRES database system to keep pace with increased usage of our site. We’d also like to include some handy new features in our Moodle theme (the theme is where we customise the look and feel of our Moodle site).

We’re taking a staggered approach to the visual revamp of Moodle, here’s our rough road map.

  • June 2017 – Moodle 3.3 environment available to staff with helpful new features
  • August 2017 – New UoP logo is incorporated into the UoP Bootstrap theme design along with re-worked unit header
  • September 2017 – Work starts on our new Boost based Moodle theme
  • January 2018 – Student and staff usability testing of the new UoP Boost theme
  • April 2018 – Advance preview of the UoP Boost theme is available to staff
  • June 2018 – UoP boost theme in Moodle available to staff for 2018/19 

So what are these handy new unit features for 2017/18 and how will they help students and staff?

Re-worked unit header

Online Course Developers in UoP Faculties have come up with some great ideas to give Moodle units a common look and feel for each department and provide easy access to individual topics. We’d like to make this process easier and lessen the need for customisation on a unit-by-unit basis which can be very time consuming. The new unit header will allow staff to upload a cover image quickly and easily. There will be a ‘jump to’ box allowing users to skip straight to a topic further down the page and a filter box to help track down an activity hidden amongst the unit content. We’re also going to make accessibility options more visible and improve editing features for staff with a simple editing on/off switch.

At the top of this post you’ll see a mock-up of what we’re working on. It’s worth mentioning that the new header layout will only be invoked if a member of staff uploads a cover image, if not the existing unit header layout will remain, meaning customisations created by OCDs will be left intact.

Bootstrap elements front and centre

Degree Apprenticeship programmes are on the way. They will mean a lot more of our learning content is delivered online and students will likely be studying units from multiple University faculties at once. It’s important that these units have a unified look and feel along with common sign-posting. A quick an efficient way to achieve this is to make a library of common element templates available within the Moodle text editor. A member of staff will be able to add a styled text box to highlight further reading, an assessment brief or an accordion of categorised content which is styled in a way which makes it easy to spot whichever unit a student is on. Tom Cripps in TEL is hard at work putting together the library of common elements which should prove to be a really useful tool.

My Home (Dashboard)

Moodle 3.3 features a new ‘My Overview’ block which was developed to give students and staff a better view of their upcoming activities, and course progress and completion. We’re currently investigation whether the new block will be useful as a central part of the My Home page alongside or as a replacement for the current ‘My Sites’ block.

Inspiration from Snap

I was really lucky to be able to attend Moodle Moot UK in London in April. One session that really inspired me was on the Snap theme. Snap has some great ideas for modernising the Moodle interface. It’s probably fair to say that some of the features are too much of a departure from the existing user experience but we’ll certainly be looking at some of the clever features in Snap as inspiration for our own theme.

Big stuff for summer 2018

The navigation within Moodle is changing, blocks are being limited to dashboard and unit pages and the Moodle interface is generally moving closer to the Moodle mobile app. A nav draw on the left of the site will be introduced with only the most important navigation elements of units displayed. The course administration block is becoming a cog with drop-down menu, freeing-up screen real-estate and standardising where you go to make changes to units or resources. In summer 2018 Moodle should ship with a much improved dashboard (My Home page) which focusses on activity, course and assessment completion. This should become a useful tool for helping students and staff keep on track.

We hope this gives you a flavour of what’s to come in Moodle from an interface point of view (we’ll blog again with new Moodle 3.3 features coming to our Moodle site this summer). As always we’re all ears if you have ideas about how Moodle can be improved (feel free to leave a comment below or give us a call). We’ll also be looking for staff and student volunteers for theme usability testing early next year so if you’d like to be involved please get in touch.

 

Making online exams work for you

Mike Wilson

When it comes to online exams there are a number of questions that cause headaches for support staff and academics. Where am I going to find the time to create all the questions? How do I make sense of all these settings in a Moodle Quiz? How can I keep an eye on so many students during the exam itself?

The simple answer to all these questions is normally to speak to the right people. The first port of call, if you’re interested in getting started with online assessment, it’s your friendly Faculty Online Course Developer (or the central eLearn team), who will be happy to advise or point you in the right direction.

Moodle is of course not the only tool for conducting online exams, but it is very good at handling large groups of students who are attempting many questions all at the same time. These questions generally have a right or wrong answer, most of which can be automatically marked. Essay questions can also be posed, but these will require manual grading. (Many students these days have difficulty in writing by hand  for three hours, so if your exam is heavily essay-based you might want to investigate a tool such as DigiExam, which  allows students to type their answers (contact the eLearn team for more information about DigiExam).

A tremendous amount of question-writing effort has already been made at UoP by staff across faculties. There are close to a million questions already in Moodle, most created directly by staff but with a significant percentage having been imported from existing Word documents, shared by colleagues in other departments or institutions, purchased from commercial suppliers or imported from older systems. You don’t always have to start from scratch, as many academics already have treasure troves of questions that can be adapted or imported.

Once you have the questions you wish to pose, your next step will be setting up the quiz that will be used to deliver the questions. This annotated pdf of typical Moodle exam settings walks you through the various quiz settings (many of which are set to the optimum setting by default). Your Faculty Online Course Developer will be able to help out here, and also assist with the important job of testing the quiz or exam.

By this point you’ll have a working, thoroughly tested Moodle quiz that you could use for a summative assessment. As a member of staff you’ll have gone through a process of familiarisation. It’s important that you allow your students the same familiarisation with the online exam process (what to expect on exam day, how the software works and so on), not to mention any administrative staff and moderators who will be involved. It’s advisable to schedule some mock exam sessions well in advance of your first exam so your students are fully prepared when it comes to the real thing. Although it’s by no means compulsory, Safe Exam Browser (SEB) can be leveraged here. SEB is a web browser, available on all student PCs, which locks students down to a single Moodle quiz and prevents them from accessing other web sites or resources. SEB will help you keep an eye on large groups of students and be certain they are concentrating on the task at hand. Take a look at this Safe Exam Browser FAQs if it’s something you might be interested in. DCQE also have a set of 30 Chromebooks which can be locked down into exam mode potentially turning any wifi enabled room into an exam room. More information along with the Chromebook booking form can be found here.

Hopefully this blog post has sparked your enthusiasm for giving online exams a go. The keys to success are (i) getting in touch with your faculty online course developer who can help you at various points along the way, and (ii) starting with non-critical familiarisation exercises which give room for finding the edges of online assessment. It’s fair to say that you will have to dedicate a bit of time to start with creating quiz questions, but the downstream benefits of online assessment can be significant.

Some useful resources

eAssessment at the University of Portsmouth

Quiz support materials for staff

Quiz questions examples and templates

DigiExam

Image credits: https://pixabay.com/p-1828268/?no_redirect