Could the Moodle User Interface do with a facelift?

Moodle 2 file picker

[pulledquote]Moodle is such a useful tool for teaching & learning that I would not apply for a job at a school where it is not available. That said, Moodle can be difficult to learn at first and is sometimes cumbersome to use and has a few shortcomings.[/pulledquote]

A Moodle developer meeting took place yesterday and the roadmap for Moodle 2.3 was discussed. Moodle 2.3 is poised to be released in June 2012 or thereabouts. I rejoiced when I read “Usability is the real big thing for 2.3. We really want to focus on it.” in the meeting minutes. It seems as though the developers at Moodle HQ are now happy with the core set of features and are eager to focus on the user experience. No doubt Moodlers around the world will be asked to participate in the debate as to what parts of the Moodle user interface should be refactored. In the meantime, here are my thoughts as to what I think should be improved to make the Moodle experience even better than it already is.


File management & the file picker

One of the biggest issues that users have with Moodle 2.x is the file management system. Although I understand the rationale behind it, it is a headache for regular human beings. This issue has led to some interesting (and heated) discussions about the use of files in Moodle and how Moodle should be used – some of it not unlike the now famous Steve Jobs quote “you’re holding it wrong” argument. We have to remember that the end users are accustomed to using Facebook, Gmail and other systems that let you upload mutliple files, even folders of documents using a really simple drag and drop interface, and they usually expect no more from other systems. Before you guys kill me, I know that Moodle does not have the financial means of companies like Facebook or Google, but the end users simply don’t care about that… a lot of students and teachers probably don’t even know that Moodle is open-source (or what open-source is for that matter).


Better integration with Google Calendar

It is currently impossible to subscribe to any third-party calendars into Moodle. In plain English, it means that you cannot have your school’s Google calendar show inside your Moodle calendar, it doesn’t sound like much but a lot of schools I know have been trying to consolidate all of their calendars into one, and Moodle is the last one not being fully integrated. This feature request has topped the  list of followers on the Moodle tracker for just about as long as I remember and it now seems that this feature will be implemented in Moodle 2.3. I cannot wait!


Allow me to comment on my students’ work directly in Moodle

If you have ever used Crocodoc, or even Turnitin, you’ll instantly know what I mean. When a student has uploaded a Word document as an assignment for example, I’d love for it to be converted to PDF and for me to write comments on the work. No downloading, saving the document on my hard drive, uploading it as a response – simple open the document, write my formative comments and close the document. There is a plugin but is quite tricky to install and won’t work on all servers. 

If I had the ability to write the comments using a tablet (maybe with a capacitative stylus) I would be delighted! At the moment, this process is a little cumbersome in Moodle. An easy workaround for now would be to create a hook with Crocodoc – if you’re interested, you could vote for my request on the Crocodoc website for them to make some sort of module for Moodle.


Subscribe to a forum thread, not the whole forum

At the moment, when a user posts in a forum, depending on the forum settings they will receive an email notification for every message posted in that forum – not just the thread they posted in. This has prompted many teachers to either send only a daily digest of all messages (which is not great if there are many messages sent everyday), or to unsubscribe altogether.


Audio/Video recording throughout Moodle

As I mentioned in one of my recent posts, there are a few ways to record audio in Moodle, but at the moment there is no easy way for users to easily record audio/video wherever the HTML editor is present. I used to use Nanogong to record my feedback as audio rather than writing it and I also used to have spoken forums instead of written ones. All this was great but the plugin install process was somewhat of a nightmare and the it was plagued with firewall & proxy issues – so we had to drop it. 


Avoid page reloads as much as possible

Ajax is increasingly used in Moodle and it is easier to use than in the past. This means that a user can interact with a webpage and get feedback without the page reloading, very much the same as when you create a new account on a website and you get a little green tick next to the username you have chosen to let you know that it is available. Although this technology is used increasingly, I think there is still space for improvement in Moodle usability (whether using Ajax or something else, I have no idea to be honest). For example, is it necessary for a page to reload when turning the editing on or off? 


Ability to update Moodle with a simple click

Wouldn’t it be great if, on a miserable Monday morning, you received a message when logging on as a Moodle admin telling you that “Your version of Moodle is not up-to-date”, and “Do you want me to update it for you” “Click here to update”, and then on goes the update process… bliss! You could even have an automatic update feature. This could also be done for third-party plugins, very much the same as WordPress.


Live-edit of course/category theme

This is more of a wish than a want. It would be great for teachers to be able to change their own theme on a per course basis, and to be able to do that on the fly, for the main parts of a webpage such as background, link colour, course logo etc. I’m not sure whether that is technically possible but it would be great – in Moodle 3 maybe?


Those are just some ideas, and I’ll make sure to be part of the decision process. Moodle is really excellent for that, you can make sure to follow, and participate in, the decision making process from very early on in the design stage. I cannot wait to see what other Moodle users have in mind when it comes to improving user interface. I wonder if schools will be asked to conduct teacher & student surveys, or even study how Moodle is actually used.

Please feel free to write a comment as to what you think should be improved in Moodle usability.



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