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.

Criterion based assessment in Moodle - Rubrics in Moodle

[pulledquote]It seems that an increasing number of exam boards are going the way of criteria based assessment. Since the Moodle 2.2 upgrade, teachers now have the possibility to mark students’ work using criteria directly in Moodle (or rubrics as it is called in Moodle). Let’s take a look at how it can help us as teachers and whether it’s any good.[/pulledquote]

The good

Really easy to use

The user interface to create new sets of criteria (or rubrics) is really simple and even teachers who don’t feel comfortable using computers should be okay using this new grading method. There are 4 boxes at the bottom of the form which are slightly confusing, but can be left alone.

Students get better feedback, faster, more often

When marking a piece of work, you simply need to click on the level descriptor that best fits your student’s work – that’s it. You also have the ability to add extra comments should you wish to add extra feedback. I have found that if your set of criteria is well put together and you have discussed the marksheme with students prior to the task, you do not need to write that many comments; Of course this largely depends on the subject you teach, the task, the students’ age and what stage of the learning process the ask is part of. As this marking process is fast, it allows you to feedback on a piece of work several times along the learning process, instead of just at the end – good formative assessment practice.

Increase students’ involvement in assessment

I often discuss how a piece of work should be assessed with my students, prior and during the task. It always sparks great discussions – especially the part when we discuss ‘how many points should be awarded for this or that’… This is obviously more work for you as you cannot re-use previous sets of criteria. However, you could give your star student ‘teacher’ permission for the assignment in question and let him/her enter the rubrics in Moodle ;).

Rubrics can be shared between teachers

Once defined, your rubrics are saved as a template, which is a great time saver. Other teachers can then either use the rubrics ‘as-is’ or use it as basis to create their own set of criteria. It goes without saying that this is fantastic and another tool to help faculties/departments ensure marking is consistent across year groups and teachers. I find that discussing a set of assessment criteria with a colleague invaluable and always leads to great discussions.

Granular weighting

By default each ‘level’ for a criteria is worth 1 point, but this can easily be changed when editing/adding new criteria. This is great to add weight to certain criteria quickly and easily.

Almost perfect for the IB MYP & DP

I started teaching MYP Computer Technology this year and  all of my assessment is criteria based. This tool is perfect for that, bar the fact that MYP (and DP) have level descriptors with 2 marks e.g. 1-2 for a particular descriptor. With a bit of tweaking, it is simple enough to split each  criterion into separate level descriptors.

 

The could be better

No ‘average’ per criterion

One could argue that averaging criteria for a group is useless; I’d argue back. Getting a quick picture of how well my group has grasped a particular concept is invaluable. At the moment, there is no quick way for a teacher to see averages for their group, only the total assignment average.

Cannot group criteria

It is sometimes useful to group a set of criteria under a heading for clarity’s sake. As far as I’m aware this is not yet available on Moodle 2.2.

No autosave

I know this is a Moodle-wide ‘issue’ but as I was writing this blog article, I was also creating a rubric and guess what; I lost all of my work… It happened when I tried to delete a level, and my browser went loopy (due to one of the pop-ups not closing properly), causing me to loose 15 minutes worth of work, rather annoying. Auto-save every minute or so wouldn’t be a luxury for this.

No ‘Save’ button

There is a ‘Save as draft’ button at the bottom of the form but it takes you to another page that you cannot edit. You then have to click on an ‘Edit’ button again to be taken to your set of criteria again. This is a little confusing at first and the ‘Edit’ page would greatly benefit from a ‘Save now’ button (or an auto-save ;))

Cannot upload existing sets of criteria

If you already have sets of criteria or rubrics, there is no tool that allows you to upload them straight into your courses (or at least I couldn’t find it). I’m sure there is a way to place it directly into the database – I’ll have a quick look.

 

Want to try Moodle rubrics?

If you don’t have a server running Moodle 2.2, or if you just want to take a look at this new feature, you can login as a teacher into my website to give ‘rubrics’ a spin. It is hosted on shared GoDaddy hosting so it might be sssslllooooowwwwww if there’s lots of traffic. Username is teacher, and password is Teacher007! (the password is case sensitive). There’s no fancy hourly auto-delete/database refresh on this so be gentle 😉

Update: by popular demand you can also test as a student. Username is student and password is Student007!

Moodle Health Check

[pulledquote]I have been trying to get Moodle 2 (and 2.1) working properly on a GoDaddy Linux server for the past week so far to no avail. This has seriously been winding me up and many times have I pictured myself throwing my computer out of the window. Considering my poor computer isn’t at fault, I decided it would be more constructive to share the tools I’ve used to help me solve my problem. [/pulledquote] 

Moodle forums

This should really be your first step. If you found my website using Google and have never used the moodle.org forums, please do yourself a favour and go there. If you have already visited the forums and have not found the answer you were looking for, maybe you’ll be lucky and find it here (make sure you check the comments at the bottom of the page). I cannot stress this enough – the Moodle community really is fantastic.

 

Debugging mode

Turning on debugging really comes in handy. Basically it will display extra messages usually at the top of your Moodle pages. You can turn it on in the Administration> Development> Debugging.

There are different levels of  debugging – choosing ‘ALL’ is usually enough and will be useful if you need to report an issue in the Moodle forums.

Moodle Debugging

 

XMLDB Editor

This tool can be found in Administration>Miscellaneous>XMLDB editor

Although it has a scary name, this tool is very easy to use and can return some useful messages. I recently upgraded our Moodle installation at school and noticed a few errors with indexes using the ‘Check indexes’ tool. It was nothing that stopped the installation working, but it’s always good to have everything working properly.

 Moodle XMLDB Editor

 

Moodle health check

One useful tool that I have come across is the ‘health-check’ built-in function. I only found out about this function a few days ago whilst doing some digging in the code. It is worth noting that it is ‘Unsupported’ but you can access it using http://www.yourmoodleaddress.com/admin/health.php (changing ‘www.yourmoodleaddress’ with the site you want to diagnose). It’s not really a one-stop shop to get your Moodle installation working great but it’s a nice start. Each problem is given a level of severity i.e. notice, annoyance, significant, critical.

As it stands, it will return the following problems with suggested solutions for each:

  • Extra characters at the end of config.php or other library function
  • $CFG->dataroot does not exist or does not have write permissions
  • cron.php is not set up to run automatically
  • PHP: session.auto_start is enabled
  • PHP: magic_quotes_runtime is enabled
  • PHP: file_uploads is disabled
  • PHP: memory_limit cannot be controlled by Moodle
  • SQL: using account without password
  • Random questions data consistency
  • Multi-answer questions data consistency
  • Only multianswer and random questions should be the parent of another question
  • Question categories should belong to a valid context
  • Question categories should belong to the same context as their parent
  • Question categories tree structure

Moodle Health Check 

Unit tests

You can find this in Administration>Reports>Unit tests

This has never returned anything useful for me, but it could be for you. It only takes a few seconds to run and you cannot break anything, so I say go for it!

 Moodle Unit Tests

 

Has all this worked for me?

Mainly but I’m still getting an error with the ‘slasharguments’, off to the Moodle forums now…

 

There are many other things that can be done to check if Moodle is working properly e.g. Server performance, optimize/repair tables in the database etc. but I thought I’d keep this posts simple and accessible to everyone as it uses only tools available in Moodle. If you have anymore tools you’d like to share when you are trying to work out what is wrong with your Moodle installation, please share here.