Moodle annoying problems

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Moodle is the best VLE/LMS, but as with every other system there a few quirks that can be rather annoying. In this post I share quick and easy solutions to 5 annoying Moodle problems. Let me know in the comments if you want more posts like this.

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1. The ‘News forum’ won’t go away!

So you have tried a million times to delete the ‘News forum’ at the top of your Moodle course to no avail. The thing is tougher than a cockroach and simply won’t die! Sure you could hide it from students, but that’s cheating.

Problem in context: whenever you create a new Moodle course, you get a ‘News forum’ created at the top – whether you want it or not. I tend to remove it as my colleagues find it confusing (students cannot post to it).

Solution: Delete the ‘News forum’ on your course page, then visit your course settings (Administration > Course settings), set ‘News items to show’ to zero. Go back to your course page, the ‘News forum’ has disappeared. It will reappear if you set the news ‘News items to show’ to 1 or more.

 

2. Moodle course with multiple groups, all teachers receive the notification emails

Moodle has a great notification system – it is possible for a teacher/student to be notified of new forum posts, assignment uploads, etc. A significant number of schools decide to have multiple groups share one course, in order to limit the amount of course maintenance. This can lead to issues if not dealt with properly.

Problem in context: 1 course, multiple groups and multiple teachers (for the sake of simplicity, 1 teacher per group). If not setup properly, all teachers receive notification emails from students of all groups.

Solution: Make sure teachers are assigned to the correct groups. Go to your course, Settings block > Users > Groups. Once there, select the group you want to add a teacher to (list on the left), highlight it, locate the teacher in the list on the right, click on her/his name and click ‘add to group’. See here to learn more about groups in Moodle.

 

3. It takes a long time to enrol students in courses

In an ideal World, your Moodle administrator has come up with an authentication method that enrols students automatically in the right courses, nothing for you to do. Most don’t live in an ideal World.

Problem in context: it’s the beginning of a new academic year, you’re crazy busy and you have to enrol your 150+ students into Moodle courses (worse, in groups!).

Solution: create an enrolment key (like a password) for your course and give it to your students, see here for instructions. The first time they try to access the course, they enter the key – boom, they’re enrolled. Better yet, if you share a course, assign a unique key for each group. Students access your course entering their respective keys – boom, they’re enrolled in the course, in the correct groups.

 

4. Moodle sends too many notification emails

If you rely heavily on forums, chances are that you use the email notification system to keep track of new messages. This can quickly become very annoying, as you may be receiving hundreds of emails a day.

Problem in context: you have a course with a forum and you encourage students to comment on each other’s posts. If you have a class of 25, this can easily generate over 500 messages and as many notification emails. 

Solution: edit your profile (click on your name usually at the top right of your Moodle page) and locate the ‘Edit profile’ option. You then need to scroll down to ‘Email digest type’ and set the option to a more sane ‘Complete’ or ‘Subjects’ daily emails. I personally prefer the ‘Complete’ option as I don’t actually have to visit the forums (if I only need to double-check content).

 

5. Can’t upload multiple files to Moodle

Even if you decide to not use Moodle just as a file repository, chances are you will need to upload a few files to your courses now and then. Moodle used to be a pain to manage files. Moodle 2.3 onwards allow for multiple drag and drop multiple file uploads.

Problem in context: blank Moodle course page, final exams fast approaching and you have a bunch of PDF examiner reports you want to share with students, fast. You don’t fancy uploading each one by one.

Solution: if it’s not practical for you to upgrade to Moodle 2.3 (or above), you can ask your Moodle administrator to install the fantastic ‘Drag and Drop’ plugin. This will enable multiple file upload in your courses (Firefox only)

Thanks to Jim (comment 1) for suggesting Zipping a folder full of files, uploading it to Moodle and then unzipping it in your course. This is great if you cannot add any plugins to your site.

 

The best place to get help if you have a problem using Moodle is to go to the forums. If you have a simple solution to an annoying problem, post in the comments and I’ll add it to the list

 

 

Custom menu items Moodle 2

[pulledquote]I love Moodle, there I’ve said it! This feeling is far from being shared by all, and I have quite a few colleagues who cannot stand the beast. Whilst some teachers do not like Moodle because they have an aversion to using technology altogether, there are also ‘technophile’ teachers who simply do not like Moodle for other reasons (interface, clunkiness, etc.). In this post aimed at Moodle admins/enthusiasts, I’ll share some tried and tested techniques (in no particular order) to get ‘them’ to use Moodle.[/pulledquote]

 

1. Do some of the work for them

Don’t you love it when you come back to a hotel room to find out that it has been tidied up for you, bed made and a chocolate left on the pillow, maybe even some cool towel art? Before creating new Moodle courses for teachers, I ask Heads of Department/Faculty for their unit/subunit titles for each course. I then create the course ‘shells’ or ‘templates’ with this tool (disclaimer: it is my tool), so that the first time the teacher logs in to their course (even if they are first time Moodle users), they feel as though they are in known territory, as their syllabus is there right in front of them looking all pretty. This is more inviting than a blank page (which is scary) and could make the difference between a teacher using Moodle or not. It does take me a few minutes extra per course but our curriculum tends to not change very often so I can recycle courses at the end of the academic year. I also think there is some sort of guilt feeling involved – colleagues would feel bad not using the courses after I have put work in for them. Because of this, quite a large number of colleagues end up using Moodle. 

Course template for Moodle 

2. Make it look pretty

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say. I find Moodle ugly in its box standard version, and it seems I am not the only one. I understand that design is being worked on and there is a push from Moodle HQ to make Moodle look a little less… industrial. In the meantime, there are dozens of themes made available by third-party developers, which will make Moodle a little sweeter on the eye. I personally love the Aardvark post-it theme, but it is far from being to everybody’s taste. I am currently not super happy with the look of our Moodle installation and I am running a house competition to get a new logo and design ideas. I’ll post on this in the coming weeks. Some of the themes, on top of looking great, add functionality to Moodle to make it a little more user-friendly, such as the top bar in Aardvark or the ‘Turn editing on’ button in Rocket. Creating sub-themes for each subject is somewhere at the bottom of my to-do list, not sure I’ll ever get to it.

Standard theme for Moodle 2 Rocket theme for Moodle 2

3. Make it easy to navigate

Every time I sit down with a beginner Moodle user, I realise how steep the learning curve actually is. I recently asked a colleague if it would be okay for me to sit next to them and observe them try to use Moodle without helping – it was rather instructive and I will probably write a post about it in the near future. One thing that was clear is that they found it difficult to understand how Moodle is ‘compartmentalised’ and how to get to their ‘Moodle page’. I strongly recommend the following:

  • Enable the ‘Custom menu items‘ in your theme settings and create a ‘Courses’ drop-down box (see below for example). This will require a bit of housekeeping at the beginning of every school year but is extremely useful.
  • In schools where there are young-ish children, on the homepage I use icons for subjects (categories) with some tooltips to show subcategories and direct link to courses (see below for example). If you attended this year’s iMoot, you will most likely have attended Mary Cooch’s excellent presentation telling you not to do this. I’ll have to disagree with Mary on this one (never happened before in years, sorry Mary ;)), as it works great at my school and provides a familiar way for students to get to their courses. This will require maintenance every time you add a course (only a minute or so each time).
  • Have the ‘My Moodle‘ link in that menu bar, right next to ‘Courses’ – this is also very useful and require no maintenance on your part.
The first two recommendations provide teachers & students with a one-click access to their courses, while the ‘My Moodle’ option is a two-click process but is more powerful. Try it, it doesn’t cost anything aside from time – if you (or your users) don’t like it, then you just take it down (I’m sure you won’t :)).

 Use of icons for subjects in Moodle 2Custom menu items Moodle 2CSS to access subcategories in Moodle 2

4. Listen to teachers

Some of my colleagues have lost faith in the use of technology in or out of their lessons for several reasons. To name a few, reliability issues, lack of training, companies going bust, new software to learn, lack of human touch, etc. The only thing I would recommend with these teachers is to simply talk to them. Ask them for 10 or 15 minutes of their time to ask simple questions, finding out why they don’t use technology, etc. Some will refuse to even talk, and that is simply rude – not much we can do about that… Most will have a chat and you will find out a bit about them and their issues. Some teachers simply don’t want to change the way they work because they have done so for 20 years and get great grades. To incite those teachers to use Moodle, you have to tie it in with services those teachers have to use (e.g. email, Turnitin, Google Docs, etc.) as per school policy. For example, my current school uses Google Apps and a lot of our communication, even with the students, is done through emails. The main problem is that groups are not setup by the IT technicians, yet teachers want to communicate with their classes/groups. As the groups are already setup in Moodle, they can use the ‘People‘ block to email groups of students. This requires no setup/maintenance on their part and gets the job done. Same goes for Turnitin – we must check work for plagiarism for exam purposes but groups are not setup in Turnitin. As the groups are setup in Moodle, teachers can create Turnitin assignments with minimal setup. These first steps in Moodle might invite teachers to give Moodle a chance for other tasks.

 

5. One login, please

Somehow you have to tie in Moodle with an existing authentication system. I chose LDAP so that teachers use the usernames and passwords they use to login to the computers. Try and have as many services using the same login/username combination. There are plenty of authentication options you could use. 

 

6. Provide food & drinks in your training sessions

Unfortunately I don’t have a great deal of dedicated time to train staff on Moodle and other technology topics, and I therefore have to run training sessions at lunch time and after school. Those sessions are voluntary and colleagues give up some of their ‘free-time’ to attend the sessions. I try to provide a little something in the way of food & beverages for teachers who turn up to the sessions, nothing fancy mind you – just some biscuits and such. It sounds silly but it helps, not quite sure why but it does.

 

7. Upgrade to Moodle 2.3

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, Moodle 2.3 focuses on usability and there are some killer features that teachers will simply love. The top 1 request from my colleagues has always been the ability to upload multiple files at once. This is now possible in Moodle 2.3, by simply dragging and dropping files from your desktop directly into Moodle. Quite a few Moodle novices I have worked with want to start using Moodle as a file repository. While a lot of Moodle evangelists will say that this is not good practice and would recommend teachers against this, I wholeheartedly disagree with them. If a teacher wants to ‘find their feet’ using Moodle that way, then it’s fine by me. At the end of the day, I would rather they used Moodle for that than not use it at all. I find it much easier to train people on features such as forums, blogs, wikis, etc. if they are already familiar with the system. Remember the old adage, you have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run…

 

8. Play the ‘Environment’ card

I am absolutely shocked at the amount of printing & photocopying at my current school (and the previous one for that matter). I once tried to calculate the amount of paper (and money) we use every year on photocopying but I stopped as I am not so good when dealing with such large figures. A significant part of that printing could be avoided by placing files on Moodle or, better, turn worksheets into self-marking quizzes, presentations into lessons, etc. Students, parents, management are increasingly putting pressure on teachers to photocopy/print less – time to get Moodle to the rescue and show colleagues how easy it is to save on printing using Moodle.

 

9. Use the students

As more and more teachers use Moodle, students will be quick asking the non-users to start using it. I have witnessed this happen quite a few times, mainly in IB Diploma classes, or IGCSE’s in the final year of the courses. Not all teachers will agree to it, but I know some colleagues who have been ‘encouraged’ by students to start using Moodle because of students’ pressure. I imagine this can only happen when Moodle has reached a certain ‘critical mass’ in a school.

 

10. Use allies

I recently reintroduced Moodle at the school I work at. Moodle suffered from a bad image as it had been introduced to staff as thismagical tool that would make their life better, with no appropriate training or support. I spent 6 months working under the radar, forging good working relationship with colleagues who were keen on using Moodle, and using it well. Those early adopters became somewhat of Moodle evangelists and have been helping me get other colleagues on board. I have found that ‘reluctant’ teachers are more likely to follow advice from someone they see as being a non-technical person. Having non-techies on board spreading the love is the best thing that can happen to you  as a Moodle administrator.

 

11. 100% uptime

Yes I know, I have gone ‘Spinal tap’ on this ‘Top 10’ list. Teachers who are not so keen on using Moodle will ditch it forever if it ever fails on them. You will gradually lose other colleagues if the your server is unreliable. Work with your system administrator (if you have one…) to make sure Moodle can cope with the demands of your school/organisation at all times. Easier said than done I know, but it is vital that teachers feel they can always rely on Moodle – it should never crash, ever.

 

Those are just some of the techniques I have used in the past 5 years as a Moodle administrator, and they have worked well for me so far – I’m not saying I get everyone on board but I get some that wouldn’t otherwise. Please feel free to share your own ideas in the comment section.

Moodle sleep deprivation

[pulledquote]One of the most compelling arguments for using Moodle is that learning does not have to stop at the school gates. Over the years I have witnessed some excellent Moodle practice that engaged students in meaningful learning tasks at home. Whilst this is great, it can also have a negative effect – some students work too late into the night.[/pulledquote]

Moodle & sleep deprivation

I work at a secondary school where most of our students are between 11 and 18 years old. It is a known fact that teenagers need a lot of sleep for their brain to develop fully, yet I have noticed that many of our students do their homework on Moodle way past 11PM, some as late as 3AM! Some of my colleagues keep telling me that this is a ‘Hong Kong’ issue (where I work), but according to this study sleep deprivation is an international problem. Regardless whether this is a local or international issue, it is starting to really worry me.

Our responsibility

While parents are responsible for their own children when they are at home, I strongly believe that it is our duty as teachers and Moodle users/administrators to ensure Moodle does not disrupt our students’ life. Some parents do not feel comfortable dealing with problems caused by the use of ‘technology’ and we must ensure that they know what is acceptable/not acceptable in terms of using Moodle at home. One could argue that Moodle is used so late only because students were busy doing ‘something else they shouldn’t have’ earlier in the evening. Whilst this might be true, we are still the ones responsible for asking students to use this technology.

An old problem?

I have worked in the education sector for the past 10 years and I pretty much started using online resources/e-learning since day one so I am not sure whether this is a new problem or one that’s been around forever but that we simply couldn’t monitor. What has changed for me is that I pay more attention to how Moodle is actually used and its impact on my students’ life, and it seems as though this problem is worsening.

What are some solutions?

Disclaimer: I have not yet done anything about this issue.

Monitor usage

Before fixing an issue you must ensure that there is a problem with students logging in to Moodle too late. There might only be a few individuals taking part in online learning too late, in which case a chat with the individuals might be enough. Again, this is a problem in my case – Moodle is used to support learning in & outside the classroom for teenagers. This might not be an issue for you if you teach at a university for example.

Educate students & parents

The first step I will be taking to tackle this issue is to remind students of the importance of doing homework when set and not at the last minute. I will also be sending an email home reminding parents that students should not be working late on Moodle. I will keep monitoring the issue and act accordingly.

Black out period

If all else fails, I am thinking of placing Moodle under maintenance mode at night e.g. from 11PM until 5AM. This disables Moodle and prevents any access to it. This will be a difficult decision to make as it will have repercussions on all Moodle users, as Moodle will only be usable by administrators whilst it is in maintenance mode. Such a decision can only be made if all of the stakeholders have been approached. Staff, parents, senior management and students should all be asked for their opinion before making the move.

 

How is Moodle used in your school? Do too many students login too late to Moodle? Have you already taken steps to tackle this issue? Please share your thoughts by dropping a comment.

Photo credit

test link www.moooooodle.com

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.