UploadPDF - mark work in Moodle

[pulledquote]Quite a few teachers I know would rather mark work on paper rather than electronically, regardless whether it was done on the computer in the first place. “I cannot write useful comments on an electronic document” is their argument. Useful commenting on uploaded assignments is now possible thanks to the UploadPDF Moodle assignment type, all this right inside of Moodle. Read on, this might save you hours of marking time.[/pulledquote]

What it is

The UploadPDF is an assignment type for Moodle, it allows you to collect files and comment directly on them using the custom marking interface. You can make some comments ‘Quick comments’ so that you can insert those comments anywhere on a document with a simple right-click of the mouse. I am confident that using this plugin will save you hours of marking every month.

The good

Mark straight inside Moodle

No extra software is required for a teacher to use this plugin. You might need to ask your server administrator to install extras to your server, nothing you should have to worry about as a teacher though. All you have to worry about as a teacher is to get your students to upload their work, mark it and return it – all inside Moodle. I know you can use the ‘review’ feature of MS Word but a lot of teachers I know shy away from it, plus it doesn’t have the feature mentioned below (unless you use macros I guess).

Save comments for later use

This is what will save you time in the long term. Whenever you type a comment, you have the option to make it a ‘Quick Comment’. Quick comments are available in your document whenever you right-click on your mouse. When I mark tasks find that I end up writing the same comments over & over again. With this tool, I build up my bank of comments as I mark my paper. Only downside is that you don’t have the ability to build up a bank of comments for all of your assignments – quick comments are document based. see comment 1

Response file in one click

Those familiar with the ‘Advanced uploading of files’ will know that you are able to mark a student’s paper and then return it using the form available at the bottom of the marking page. With the out-of-the-box Moodle this is a rather annoying process: download the student’s paper, open it in your word processor, write comments, save it on your hard drive, upload it to Moodle, save your grade.

With the UploadPDF, when you are marking the work, you only need to click on ‘Generate response’ and the file becomes available to the student – that’s it.

Useful marking tools

You are presented with several options to mark your work: typed comments different colours available), ticks, crosses, smiley and sad faces, lines, doodling, and highlighter. There is a rubber should you make a mistake. I haven’t tinkered with it yet but I’m sure I should be able to add my own stamps on there.

Checklist

This assignment type is fully compatible with the excellent ‘Checklist‘ module created by the same developer. You have the ability to force a student to view and complete a checklist before they are able to upload their work. Check my (old) review of the checklist module.

Progress monitoring

Comments are not only useful for the students, they are also invaluable to you as a teacher. Having access to all of the comments you have ever written about a student’s work will help you when writing progress reports, when discussing a child’s progress at a parent’s evening, when writing Individual Education Plans, references for university, etc.

Cannot be lost

This one sounds silly but how many of us actually know for sure that assignments don’t end up in the bin or eaten by a dog once we have marked them and returned to our students? Students need to be able to review their assignments, not only as soon as they get it back but also when they are to revise for a test or an exam. With this system, you know for sure that your students have access to their assignments for the entire duration of a course.

Porftolio

An increasing number of students are encouraged to keep track of their own learning/progress/achievements in the form of an e-portfolio. The response documents are perfect for this being PDF, they are very… portable!

File types

If your assignment requires students to upload other files than PDF (on top of the PDF files of course), students can upload those if you choose to set your assignment as such – it’s up to you. Obviously you cannot mark those using the uploadPDF tool.

  

Could be improved

Marking tools not always accessible

The marking toolbar is not available if you scroll-down a page, as it scrolls down with the rest of the page. This is especially a problem if you are marking documents in portrait mode and your monitor is ‘widescreen’.

No ‘hot-keys’

I understand that this is a browser based solution and that it will be tricky to make it as user-friendly as a standalone app, but wouldn’t it be great if a combination of keyboard keys could be used to change marking tools for example? This could help solve the problem mentioned above. see comment 1

No zoom-in, zoom-out

This could be a solution to the problem mentioned above but is a problem in itself. There is no way to zoom-in or out of a document. Sure you could do a Ctr + or – but that also affects the size of the marking tools and the rest of your Web browser windows.

PDF conversion in-app

At the moment, students need to save their files as PDF before they upload it to Moodle. This can be a problem with low ability students, it has certainly been a problem for me. It would be great if some documents e.g. Word, PowerPoint, Excel were converted within Moodle, this way students could just upload their document without the need for conversion first.

‘Send for marking’; an option please

This is on my wishlist. It is convoluted enough to upload files on to Moodle 2 (for students that is) that they must click ‘send for marking’. I’d like for this to be an option when creating the assignment. If it’s already there, someone please point me to it. I wonder if the developer would in some way be able to allow students to drag’n’drop assignments using his fantastic block – just a thought.

 

Tips on usage

Make your monitor ‘portrait’

If you are lucky enough to have two monitors, make one of them available as ‘portrait’ rather than landscape. This way will allow you to view entire papers that have been submitted as portrait (most of your essays will be).

Use your iPad

Although not all features seem to work on the iPad (or iPhone) I still find it better than using a computer screen. First of all I can see most of the page when marking, I can easily zoom in and out and it is closer to the ‘regular’ pen on paper marking experience. I mainly use the stamps & the written comments and those work fine on iOS devices. Maybe your mileage varies and you can use all of the features. I cannot say whether it works on Android as I don’t have a device at hand but I don’t see why it wouldn’t.

Have a comments bank ready

As I mentioned before, quick comments are only saved per UploadPDF assignment. If there are comments you use all of the time (i.e. for every assignment), then have them ready in a document and turn them into quick comments as soon as you open a document. see comment 1

Practise

Have a run through with your students the first time you use this; It is a bit of a pain to have to revert documents to draft if students have made a mistake.

Top 10 Moodle third-party plugins

[pulledquote]The ‘M’ in Moodle stands for ‘Modular’, or the ability for third-party developers to create their own blocks, modules, assignments, question types, etc. Whilst it’s relatively easy to find third-party Moodle plugins using the database on Moodle, I decided to compile my own list of favourites.[/pulledquote]

10. Online Audio Recorder

The Online Audio Recorder is an assignment type that can be used to let your students record audio directly into their web browser. It uses Flash so it won’t work on iPhones or iPads (the iOS app allows students to record in other places). This third-party plugin would be further up in the list if I could get it to work in my current Moodle installation – working on it. I had it working (effortlessly) in the past and it was great. You can read my review of this assignment type here

 

9. Gmail

The Gmail block is part of a wider Google Apps integration. There are quite a few flavours hanging about but I used the one provided by Catalyst and so far it works great, a bonus is that it will work even if you don’t want to enable Single Sign On. This integration comes with a ‘Google Apps’ block giving you links to Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Docs & Google search page. It also adds a ‘proper’ repository for Google Docs, allowing you to easily share your Google Docs with your students. Only problem is that it’s not super easy to install for lack of instructions – it’s well worth the effort though.

 

8. Slideshow

The Slideshow module has helped me get teachers who were not so keen on Moodle to actually use it. The idea for this module is simple – you upload a bunch of photos, it resizes them and makes them available in a… slideshow. Although it is simple, it is extremely useful and the possibilities are endless. You can use it to showcase your students’ work if you are an art, DT, drama, any creative subject teacher; You can use it to show steps to complete a particular task (photos come with captions) in science, DT, etc.; You can use it as a social tool, sharing photos of trips, assemblies, sports days, etc. ; Using the power of permissions, make students ‘be the teacher’ for this activity and let them upload their own photos so that you can use it as a dropbox. Those are only some of the things you can do with this great module.

 

7. Aardvark Postit theme

My focus is on teaching & learning so some of you might be wondering why I am listing a theme as useful third-party ‘plugin’. The reason for me selecting the Aardvark Postit theme is simple – it looks great. If that sounds shallow to you, take a look at the survey I conducted 18 months ago and you’ll find out that students prefer courses that look good. My High School students think it looks great, staff think it looks good (also a big help to get staff to use Moodle), so I’m happy.

 

6. Open University question types

In the spirit of sharing, the Open University has made available the 15 question types they have created for Moodle 2.1 and newer. Question types include ‘drag n drop into text‘, ‘drag n drop markers‘, ‘drag n drop onto image‘, ‘OU multiple response‘, ‘Pattern match‘. This set of question types adds to the already very capable Moodle standard question types. 

 

5. Certificate

The certificate module has been around a while but I only started using it when I upgraded our Moodle installation to Moodle 2.x and it was an instant hit. In Moodle 2.x you have the ability to make activities/resources available if certain conditions have been met e.g. little Johnny has completed activity B, he can now ‘see’ activity C; or little Jimmy scored 67% in test A, he can now ‘see’ resource B. This is perfect to only make certificates available to students who have met certain conditions.

The certificate module does one thing – it awards certificates to students who have completed specific activities. I use it to reward students when they finish certain modules and so far they have been very responsive to it. 

 

4. Quickfind list

Ever needed to email a student? Check extra information about that student? Login as that student? Or do anything that requires you to go to the student’s profile? The Quickfind list block allows you to quickly search for students & get to their profile page. You start typing a student’s name and it starts showing you a list of possible entries – very much like Google instant search; you can then click on the student’s name and it will take you to their profile page. The block can also be setup to show other users than just students.

 

3. UploadPDF

Providing informative feedback to students when they have completed an assignment is vital for their learning and the UploadPDF assignment type allows you to do just that. Students must first save their work as a PDF before they can upload it to Moodle (hence the name). Once uploaded you will be presented with a marking interface with pre-defined settings (ticks, crosses, smiley face, etc.) that allow you to mark your papers quickly. You also have the ability to write comments, and even better ‘save’ your most used comments and make them appear in a drop-down box for easy & quick marking. This will save you HOURS in marking time.

 

2. Checklist

I cannot imagine (teaching) life without the checklist module. I teach MYP technology and my students need to produce a very long document for each unit of work they complete. Although I make detailed level descriptors available for each unit, students still find it difficult to remember/understand all of what is required in the documents. This module is a life saver – it will allow you to create checklists for students to use and will allow you to view your entire class at a quick glance & see their progress. Check out my (very old) review for this great plugin – the module has been updated since and some features have been added.

 

1. Drag’n’drop upload

The drag’n’ drop upload block has helped me so much it deserves first place. I recently had to re-introduce Moodle to the near 100 staff at my new school. Moodle had somewhat of a negative image in the school and I actually heard a ‘wow’ in the crowd when I showed how easy it has become to make files available in Moodle thanks to this block. You’ll have guessed with the name, the drag’n’drop upload block will allow your users to drag files onto Moodle, and it will upload them at once (yes, that is files – plural). Check out my recent review for this great block.

 

How about you?

Davo Smith has snatched first, second and third place! That’s quite impressive considering I am a big consumer of third-party plugins; I reckon I’ve tried all the plugins in the Moodle database. What are your favourite third-party Moodle plugins? Please drop a comment with your favourites and why they are your favourites. Please try and give links so that we can download and try your gems.

Drag and drop - easy file management for Moodle

[pulledquote]If I was given a penny every time a teacher tells me how frustrated they are with the ‘out-of-the-box’ Moodle 2 file management system, I would be quite a few dollars better off. Davo Smith came up with a simple and elegant solution, the drag’n’drop upload block.[/pulledquote]

What it is

It basically does what it says on the tin; you drag files from your desktop (or from any other folder for that matter) and you drop it onto Moodle. You can see it magically upload onto Moodle! Yes, you read right: files, with an s. You can upload multiple files with this, and I’m yet to reach some sort of limit with this system. You can now add all of your resources to your Moodle courses in minutes! Apologies for the use of exclamation marks, but this is really exciting. I have to confess, this is my all-time favourite Moodle plugin.

The good

Multiple file upload

Repeating myself here, but for the impatients who didn’t read the ‘What it is’ section, you can now upload multiple files to your Moodle courses. You can upload any filetype that can be handled by Moodle. 

Upload progress bar

Each file that you upload comes with its very own upload bar. You don’t even get that when using the Moodle file picker. 

Links

You can also drag’n’drop links to websites onto your Moodle page, it will create it for you (after you have named it using the pop up box provided). 

Webpages

This one is just the icing on the cake. You can take any bunch of text, drag it to your page, drop it and Moodle will automagically create a webpage for you. Cherry on the icing, it even plays nicely with text imported from a MS Word document (only some minor loss of fidelity – tables and such work).

Compatibility

This block is available for Moodle 1.9 all the way to 2.2 (the most current at the time of writing). That in itself is commendable.

 

The could be improved

Browser support

Actually this one couldn’t be improved. The block only works with Firefox or Google Chrome. It might work in future versions of Internet Explorer but it all depends on how quickly Microsoft  decides to implement the necessary HTML5 technology. The plugin will show a message if your browser is not compatible should you try using IE or Safari. 

Duplicates

Unless I missed something in the settings, there is nothing preventing you from installing the block multiple times in a course. That results in files being uploaded multiple times as well e.g. two blocks on a course, each file would be uploaded twice.

Popup or embed

There is a site-wide setting to choose what your files should do by default (auto, embed, popup, etc.) but as far as I know this is not a block setting. Problem with this site-wide setting is that it is applied for every user; it would be great if we had it at user level, that’s nit picking though.

Licensing

There is no way to manage licensing using this plugin. To be fair, this plugin makes your life so much easier that it shouldn’t bother you too much. There is always a way to ask your Moodle admin to change the default licensing of all newly uploaded files. There are talks about Moodle 2.3 allowing for a more granular control over licensing, stay tuned.

No folders

This might be technically impossible, I don’t know but I always want more. Drag’n’drop folders is what I want for my birthday.

 

Tips on usage 

File names

Make sure you name your files correctly before uploading them – it’s much easier to rename a bunch of files using Windows Explorer or Mac OS Finder than doing it in Moodle. 

Block availability

Make this block available throughout the site as an admin. In Moodle 1.9, make the block a ‘sticky block’ and in Moodle 2.x, make the block available on all main course pages. This will help improve user experience throughout the site and avoid confusion (you would be surprised as to how quickly you get used to drag’n’dropping files onto Moodle)

Break the old habits

We are used to thinking of file management system as folders, sub-folders and files. I introduce this to staff in a completely different manner that allows me to forego the Moodle 2 file management system altogether. All I say is the following: Your course is now your main folder e.g. ICT, Year 8; your topics are now your sub-folders e.g. Word processing, and everything under labels are sub-sub folders e.g. word processing / macros. This has worked well for me so far.

Get it

Go, get it now.

[pulledquote]I used to be a language teacher, and one of my main problems in the classroom was always to get students to speak (in the foreign language, that is). There would never be enough time, students would be too shy, etc. I wish I had access to the newly released Moodle audio recorder assignment type[/pulledquote] 

Is the Moodle audio recorder any good?

There have been other attempts to integrate an audio recorder in Moodle, some requiring technical know-how and others that are no longer supported and/nor working with newer versions of Moodle. This new audio recorder assignment uses Flash player 10.1 and is compatible with Moodle 1.9.x to Moodle 2.1.x so anyone accessing those Moodle flavours with a computer running Windows, Mac or Linux should be fine – that’s pretty much every Moodle user out there. Word of warning, this will not work on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches. In a few words it works, and it works well!

 

What can the audio recorder be used for in Moodle?

One thing you must keep in mind is that the audio recorder is an assignment type, so it’ll show with the rest of your assignment types; the recorder is NOT available anywhere else (at the moment anyway).

Foreign languages

  • Oral practice at home. Always short of time in the classroom? Here is your solution.
  • Oral assignments. This could even be used under controlled conditions at school, much the same as the old ‘language labs’.
  • Exam preparation. As a language teacher, I was always amazed at how little students listen to their own voices. This gives them the chance to record themselves and, with clever use of permissions, self-assess their work against a set of pre-defined rubrics.

Music

  • Weekly assignments can be used so that student can self-assess their work.
  • Teacher can check that instrument practice is done at home
  • With clever use of permissions, students could even peer-assess each other’s work/practice

All subjects

  • Some students do not feel so comfortable writing in English, yet it doesn’t mean they’re not full of great ideas. This gives them an extra opportunity to express themselves

 

What does the Moodle audio recorder look like?

 

 

Once you have created your assignment, which is pretty much the same as creating every other type of assignment in Moodle, you are taken to a ‘one-time setup’ of the Flash player, giving you control over recording levels, reduce echo etc. I have found that some of those settings are disregarded by the software however. For example, although I tried to set the recording of my microphone to ‘low’, I still got a fairly distorted recording. These are teething issues and I’m sure the developer will get on to it pretty soon. Once that setup is done, you’ll be prompted with the recording UI. It’s all very simple to use and self-explanatory from there on; Your students will have no problems whatsoever using it.

Overall, the size of the recorded files is pretty reasonable and the quality is relatively good. You can listen to this example [mp3j track=”example-of-a-fileonline-audio.mp3″].

 

What could be improved with the Moodle audio recorder?

 

Availability throughout Moodle

This plugin is victim of its own success; it’s so good that you want it to be available throughout Moodle but it’s ‘only’ available as an assignment type. Nanogong is better in the fact that it is available wherever the HTML editor is shown on a page. That means audio could be used to feedback on a student’s piece of work, easily create glossaries with pronunciation, etc. The developer seems to be having issues with the Moodle 2 file management ‘beast’.

Better User Interface

Aside from making it available in ‘more places’ in Moodle, the audio recorder would benefit from having a recording volume dial on the recorder itself, and not just in the settings, as I’m not convinced children and the less confident IT users will feel like fiddling with the settings. On the other hand, I think it’s great that the UI looks so simple, so I hope it doesn’t get cluttered in the future – volume would be enough for me.

Video?

Imagine the possibilities if video was added to it?!

 

Conclusion

I think the developer has done a great job and I am really grateful that he decided to share it with the rest of the Moodle community. I strongly recommend you to install this assignment type as it is quick and easy to get it to work; I’m sure lots of teachers at your school will thank you for it.

 

Top picture by Stallio