My top 5 new features in Moodle 2.3

Moodle 2.3 activity chooser

[pulledquote]I very first started using Moodle back in the days of Moodle 1.4 and, although its feature set was ‘limited’ its potential to positively influence teaching & learning was already obvious.[/pulledquote]

Moodle HQ has been keeping on track with its 6 month ‘major’ release calendar since Moodle 2.0 was released last year and Moodle 2.3 will be released on June 18th 2012. The emphasis for this version was placed on usability, which is the main teachers’ complaint in every school I have worked at as a Moodle administrator/trainer. During his presentation at iMoot 2012 last night Martin Dougiamas’ went through all of the new features/improvements in Moodle 2.3. I have compiled my top 5 most expected features for this release.


1. Drag’n’drop upload

Davo Smith contributed a fantastic plugin to the Moodle community – the drag’n’drop upload block. He, along with other developers at Moodle HQ have integrated drag’n’drop functionality throughout Moodle and it simply is awesome. I know quite a few Moodle gurus who are less than impressed with teachers who use Moodle as a file sharing area. Truth is a lot of teachers (including myself) teach a content heavy syllabus and, whether we like it or not, we have a ‘duty’ to make a lot of files available to our students. Quite a few schools use Moodle and do not provide their teachers with adequate training, and they start with making files available on Moodle as a first step. The fact that we can now do that extremely quickly and effortlessly will encourage teachers to use Moodle more often and give them more time to discover and try some of its more ‘advanced’ features. I know a lot of colleagues who hate Moodle (yes, hate!) because it is clunky to place files on it – Well, no longer will there be hatred!


2. ‘Quick-rename item’ icon 

Although drag’n’drop is awesome and allows you to add hundreds of files to your course in minutes (if not seconds), it brings its own problems to the table. We sometimes use naming conventions that we understand but that may be a tad cryptic to our students. Renaming files/activities in Moodle is no fun as it requires a page refresh every time you want to rename a file (well, up until 2.2 that is). The new icon does away with this issue as you can now rename your files/activities very easily, without requiring a page refresh. This is a ‘small change’ that makes Moodle such a nicer piece of software to use, and it is obviously a great time saver. 


3. Activity chooser

One of the first hurdles that colleagues new to Moodle have to overcome is whether they should be adding a ‘resource’ or an ‘activity’ to their course.  The second one is to choose what they need to perform what they want to achieve. For example, quite a few colleagues find it difficult to remember what a ‘Workshop’ is and does, or what the differences are between ‘Choice’ and ‘Feedback’ or ‘Questionnaire’. Those things might be obvious to people who use Moodle on a daily basis, but this is hardly the case for everyone. To help with those issues, Moodle 2.3 boasts a brand new ‘Activity chooser‘. There is now only one link ‘Add activity or resource’ at the bottom of each section – clicking on it pops up the activity chooser, where you can click on a resource/activity type and it will display help for it. This will really help clarify things for users who are not so comfortable with Moodle. Just one thing I have thought of – why not add a ‘How-to’ video below the help section for each activity/resource? 


4. A better file picker

Although I have pretty much stopped using the file picker altogether since I installed the drag’n’drop upload block, I still use it occasionally to add the odd pictures to my courses. The file picker has been given a much needed face lift and has gained both in looks and functionality. You now get thumbnails for your pictures and the other filetypes are now easy to identify with big beautiful icons (Barbara Ramiro has done some awesome work). The most important gains are in terms of functionality though, you now get icons view, table view with sizes and dates, or a hierarchical list view to navigate your files. Files are no longer buried within folders and subfolders and you can now create aliases, allowing you to use the same file more than once in a course. For example, you can now upload one image and use it on 3 different courses using the same copy. If you ever decide to update that photo, you don’t need to re-upload all 3 activities as the aliases will update automatically. I must say that the Moodle team really has pulled it off, after receiving a large amount of ‘complaints’ from the community – Thank you for listening.


5. ‘Force save’ before leaving a page

This one is buried under ‘Other highlights‘ of this release and I feel sorry for it a little. If I was given a penny every time I was told by a teacher, or student for that matter, how frustrated they were when their work ‘hadn’t saved’, I would be a few Pounds richer. There are a quite a few pages in Moodle where you have to save your work  if you want changes to stick (file upload being the main culprit). There is now a popup box which alerts you that you cannot leave the page without saving your changes. This is a ‘small’ feature which will save me a lot of heartache and that’s why it has made my top 5.


There are lots more new features/enhancements made to Moodle 2.3 and some of you might think I am mad for not including things like the new course ‘format’ to combat the Scroll of Death, or even the new assignment with marking guide, or even the book module making it to core, but this is all I have time for tonight as I’d like to catch up some more iMoot sessions before I go and get some sleep!

I have been testing Moodle 2.3 and it feels like a mature product, so much easier and nicer to use than any of its predecessor – this really is a major release. It feels more like using WordPress, which I view as an exemplary web application in terms of usability. Almost 2/3 of all Moodle registered sites are still on 1.9 version and I strongly believe this version will compel a large proportion of those organisations to make the move to Moodle 2.x (even those awaiting for some their third-party plugins to be updated). Moodle HQ won’t leave it at that though, Moodle 2.4 will improve usability even further and should be released in December – will all of our Christmases come at once this year?