10 ways to keep your Moodle courses lean

Whilst instructional designers agree that using Moodle as a file repository isn’t a good idea, sharing files using Moodle is still necessary in a lot of scenarios. In this blog post, I explore 10 simple ways to keep your file sizes as small as possible, before uploading them to Moodle.

Why it matters

There are several reasons why you want to ensure your images & resources have as small a footprint as possible on your storage. Here are some of those reasons:

  • Content is served faster to your users
    • Especially useful in parts of the world where connection to the Internet isn’t great
  • Limits the amount of storage needed
    • May allow to remain on cheaper hosting plan a bit longer e.g. Digital Ocean
  • Reduces the size of course backups
    • Automated backups are completed faster
    • Backup files can be transferred more easily (e.g. via email)
    • Reduces amount of storage used for backed up courses
  • Reduces the bandwidth used
    • Cheaper fees if using services such as Amazon Web Services, or RackSpace, which charge by the GB transferred

1. Convert your documents into Moodle webpages

Moodle’s HTML editor has become fairly capable at converting content from a Word document into a Moodle webpage, keeping most of the formatting intact. Not only converting a Word document into a webpage will result in a smaller file size, your users’ experience will be improved (no download necessary),  compatibility will be increased (some students cannot view Microsoft Word documents on their device) and security enhanced (Word documents may contain viruses). Here is a tutorial showing you how it’s done.

 

2. Save your printable documents as PDF

Sometimes it is impossible, or too time consuming, to convert a document into a webpage due to formatting issues for example. You may also want to share documents that require users to install plugins or software on their own devices. If this is the case, you may benefit from saving the file as a PDF and share it using Moodle. There are several ways to save a document as a PDF. Here are a couple of video tutorials.

Save as PDF on a Mac

Save as PDF on Windows

Save as PDF online 

For all other scenarios, you can use Google Drive to convert your files to PDF. There is also a plethora of online tools that will allow you to convert your files to PDF using your favourite Web browser.

3. Reduce the size of your Microsoft Office documents

There are situations where you may want students to be able to edit your Microsoft Office documents, for example when you share a template with them. There are several ways to reduce the size of a Word, or PowerPoint file. Here are a few tutorials showing you how.

Compress images

Other ways to reduce Word file size.

4. Reduce the size of your PDF files

It is possible to reduce the size of your PDF files, without losing much in quality. A great online tool for this is SmallPDF. You don’t need to surrender your email or to install anything, simply upload, wait for  it to convert and download the converted file(s). 

5. Reduce the size of your images

Here there are 2 main things you can do:

  • Shrink your images i.e. the ‘physical’ size –> 1280×720 pixels to 640 x 360 pixels
  • Compress your images i.e. retain the physical size but remove unnecessary data inside the image

There are plenty of free tools available to perform both tasks. Here are my favourites:

  • To shrink images in batch, the B.I.R.M.E tool works well. It is very easy to use and you don’t need to surrender your email address.
  • To compress images in bulk, Smush.it is a great online tool. When at my Mac workstation, I always use ImageOptim. Both those tools are lossless, meaning the images will look exactly the same to the human eye.

6. Reduce the size of your media files

Your courses may contain MP3 files, or movie files (e.g. MP4, WMV, etc.) and those files often use a lot of storage space.

If you deal with a lot of audio files, you may want to learn how to use software such as fre:ac, a great open-source cross-platform audio resampling tool. If you don’t want to (or cannot) install programs on your computer, you can use AudioFormat to resize your MP3 files. 

When it comes to dealing with video files, I am yet to find an overall better program than handbrake, a cross-platform open-source video transcoder. There are a few online tools, such as video.online-convert.com, and although the ones I have tried work, I don’t have a lot of experience with those tools. 

7. Make use of online repositories

Since Moodle 2.3, it has been possible to link to files in (some) repositories, rather than downloading them to your Moodle installation. Moodle supports popular file storage systems such as Dropbox, or Google Drive. Here is an example of linked files.

8. Link to images

Rather than downloading images to show up in your labels (or elsewhere), why not linking to those images instead? You will save on storage and will speed up your course at the same time. The same thinking can be applied to other types of files externally stored. The main downside of this strategy is that you lose control over the image/file – if it’s deleted on the origin server, then it also gets deleted from your Moodle course. 

9. Make use of streaming services

If you deal with non-sensitive audio/video, you may benefit from using streaming services such as Youtube or Soundcloud. The files are no longer saved on your Moodle server, saving lots of space and bandwidth. It is important to remember that videos saved on Youtube are never totally private (even if some settings make them hard to find).

10. Embed, embed, embed

In the same vein as tip #9, you may want to use services to host your documents that allow for embedding. Embedding allows you to display remotely saved content in your Moodle course, without copying it to your course. For example, you can create a presentation on Prezi, or SlideShare and embed it to your courses. Here is a (very short) list of services from which you can embed.

 Do you have any tips to keep your courses lean? Share them in the comments section below.

Gamifying-a-Moodle-course.-What-difference-does-it-make-Week-10

Spoiler alert – this week I give away freebies! This week has been very quiet on the ‘gamified vs. non-gamified Moodle course experiment‘ front, as my students were off-timetable for a whole-school Inter-Disciplinary Unit for most of the week. I have been asked a few times to share my entire course for others to download, but I won’t be able to do that, mainly for copyright reasons. Instead I have decided to share individual resources & activities that you can use in your Moodle 2.x course (2.1 or above), namely a question bank, quizzes, a lesson and a database template.

Scratch 1.4 question bank for Moodle

I have created a 120 question bank to test my students’ knowledge of the Scratch 1.4 blocks. I have not used the scores to inform a student’s ‘level’ but I have noticed that students are now using blocks they would have stayed away from in the past. Use this question bank to produce your own quizzes.

Scratch 1.4 Moodle question bank

Download link

Warning – Right-click on the link and ‘save as’

Scratch 1.4 quizzes for Moodle

You can use some of the quizzes that I have created using the Moodle question bank mentioned above. They are arranged by level of difficulty, and are aimed at 12 year olds with little experience of Scratch. Most students have been able to complete up to ★★★, but it is worth noting that none of the quizzes seem to have really stretched my high achieving students.

SampleLevelDownload links
1 star Scratch 1.4 Moodle quizDownload link
2 star Scratch 1.4 Moodle quiz★★Download link
3 star Scratch 1.4 Moodle quiz★★★Download link
4 star Scratch 1.4 Moodle quiz★★★★Download link
5 star Scratch 1.4 Moodle quiz★★★★★Download link
1 white star Scratch 1.4 Moodle quizDownload link
2 white star Scratch 1.4 Moodle quiz☆☆Download link
3 white star Scratch 1.4 Moodle quiz☆☆☆Download link

Click here to learn how to import these Scratch 1.4 quizzes into your own Moodle.

Scratch ‘lesson’

This activity is a very simple use of the ‘lesson’ module. There is no questioning involved, simply a series of links to great Scratch 1.4 tutorials, organised by level of proficiency. The ‘book’ module would have probably been better for this, but I don’t have it installed on my (old now) Moodle 2.2 version.

Scratch 1.4 Moodle lesson

Download link

Click here to learn how to import this Scratch 1.4 lesson into your own Moodle.

Scratch creations sharing database

My students were encouraged to share their Scratch creations once they were satisfied with the outcome. Others were then encouraged to download the file, rate it, offer a helpful comment, fix bug or add functionality to the program and re-upload it. This has been a successful activity and one that I highly recommend other teachers to try out. Note that it is worth spending the time discussing with the class what constitutes a useful comment. I have used the fantastic ‘book review’ preset found here.Moodle database template

Download link

Click here to learn how to import this Scratch creations sharing database into your own Moodle. Click here to learn more about Moodle database templates.

Enjoy! All of the resources on this page are provided under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Do feel free to re-upload remixes using the comments section below. Contact me using the ‘contact form’ at the left of this screen should you have issues with posting links to the comments section. 

Gamifying-a-Moodle-course.-What-difference-does-it-make-Week-9

Week 9 of experimenting with gamified and non-gamified Moodle courses. Today marks the beginning of iMoot 2013, the Worldwide e-conference on all things Moodle, and this year there are a few presentations on the gamification of Moodle. In this post, I list all of the sessions that ‘gamifiers’ might be interested in (all session times in Perth time, Australia, or UTC+8). If you have not registered for iMoot 2013, you can do so here.

Using Gamification to Increase Course Engagement and Autonomy of Non-Traditional Online Students

Presenter: Thomas Wilson

Sessions: Friday 24th May 2013 02:00, Saturday 25th May 03:30

[quote style=”boxed”]Thomas works for an institution that provides online courses for non-traditional students, namely, persons who are ordered by a court or agency to complete a specialized class such as anger management, alcohol/drug awareness, or DUI risk education to satisfy court requirements. Since students are responding to the game elements of the courses, i.e., maximizing “points”, he decided to use this game principle to (1) keep students more engaged and (2) increase autonomy, i.e., to reduce the number of phone calls for support.[/quote]

imoot

 (click here instead – picture doesn’t work :()

 

Gamification in Moodle. More than just Moodle badges

Presenter: Natalie Denmeade

Sessions: Saturday 25th May 2013 14:00

[quote style=”boxed”]This presentation includes demonstrations of core Moodle features and plugins to provide learners with rewards, feedback, levels, progression loops, boss fights, and achievement badges. You will see examples of Conditional Activities, customised Progress Bars, custom scales, and the newly released Badges Block.This presentation includes demonstrations of core Moodle features and plugins to provide learners with rewards, feedback, levels, progression loops, boss fights, and achievement badges. You will see examples of Conditional Activities, customised Progress Bars, custom scales, and the newly released Badges Block.[/quote]  

Dissection of a Gamified Moodle Course

Presenter: Julian Ridden

Sessions: Friday 24th May 03:30Sunday 26th May 06:30

There is no excerpt for this session (yet) but having seen what Julian, aka Moodleman has done before, I would strongly recommend you to drop by one of his sessions.

Open Badges in Moodle

Presenters: Emily Gogligoski, Julian Ridden

Session: Saturday 25th May 05:00

[quote style=”boxed”]Hear about Open Badges from Emily Gogligosky from the Mozilla foundation, whilst Julian Ridden will talk about the implementation of Open Badges into Moodle. I am really excited about this session. This session will talk about the exciting potentials offered by OpenBadges and Moodle.[/quote]
I am *really* excited by this session; It’ll be interesting to hear about Open Badges from someone who works at Mozilla foundation.

Gamify your Moodle courses – Increase student engagement with conditional activities & badges

Presenter: Frederic Nevers

Sessions: Sunday 26th May 14:00, Monday 27th May 06:30

[quote style=”boxed”]It is possible to ‘gamify’ your Moodle courses using out-of-the-box Moodle capabilities (i.e. without relying on third-party modules). In this presentation, Fred will show you how to gamify your existing courses, using free and easy-to-use tools. He will be sharing all of the tips & tricks he has gathered building & using gamified courses, and also talk about the mistakes he has made.[/quote]

Right, I’d better go and finish preparing for my session…

Gamifying-a-Moodle-course.-What-difference-does-it-make-Week-7

It is possible to use Google Analytics to report on users’ activity on a Moodle site. This week I have decided to take a closer look at this option to compare my gamified Moodle course against the non-gamified version. This is week 7 of the ‘what difference does it make to gamify a Moodle course?‘ experiment.

Setting up Google Analytics for Moodle

There is no plugin as such to install Google Analytics on Moodle 2. As explained in this blog post, Moodle URL’s are not Google Analytics friendly and you need to apply a simple tweak to your server for it to work well. It is fairly simple to get it going following the instructions put together by Bas Brand. You can read more about Google Analytics and Moodle here

Overview

Gamified courseNon-gamified course
Gamified course - All dataNon gamified course - All data

The students enrolled in the gamified course continue to generate more pageviews than their counterparts in the non-gamified course (7,529 vs. 6,559 or +15%). The spikes represent days when students had Computer Technology lessons (the scales are different in both graphs). The most viewed pages data roughly coincide with my previous findings. Students have mainly been working on their designs lately, and have not needed to use Moodle very much, aside from updating their checklists, hence the low level of pageviews for the past 10 days or so.

Technology

Until this post I have mainly relied on the Moodle database to find out what my students are up to in my courses. Whilst it is the method of choice for this type of project as the data is extremely accurate, there are a few tools that Google Analytics offer that the database method cannot match, for example reporting on the type of technology my students use to access Moodle. 

Browser

Gamified courseNon-gamified course
Gamified course web browserNon-gamified course - Most widely used Web browsers

It came as no surprise that overall most of the visits were done so using Safari (61% vs. 47%), as my computer lab is equipped with iMacs. I am surprised with the differences between the two groups, especially considering Google Chrome (21% vs. 51%) is not installed on the school computers. Are the results ‘skewed’ as one of the top users uses Chrome? Is there someone who has influenced students not to use Internet Explorer? More investigation is needed.

It is also possible with Google Analytics to find out the browser version used (although not for a filtered set of pages), and I discovered that quite a large proportion of our students use an outdated version of their web browsers. This sort of data can be used to prompt a discussion on ‘staying safe on the Web’ with your students. 

Operating system

Gamified courseNon-gamified course
Gamified course Operating systemNon-gamified course - Operating systems

Again no big surprises here, with a vast majority of the visits done using Mac OS (76% vs. 64%). However I was surprised with how few students access Moodle using a mobile devices/tablets (less than 1% in both courses). One point to keep in mind: if you have resources that use Flash, iOS users won’t be able to access them.

Screen resolution

Gamified courseNon-gamified course
Gamified Moodle course screen resolutionNon-gamified course - Top 5 screen resolutions

Again no major surprises here as 1920 x 1080 pixels is the default screen resolution on the 21″ iMacs in my computer lab. This setting is useful when you design courses. For example, I was worried that quite a few students wouldn’t be able to view the ‘Design Cycle’ image at the top of my course as I thought it may be too wide. This clearly isn’t the case for the vast majority of my students.

Student flow

Navigation

Gamified courseNon-gamified course
Navigation summary - gamified courseNon-gamified course - Navigation

The ‘Navigation summary‘ feature in Google Analytics shows the pages users visited before and after a specific page. For example, I wanted to know whether students have been using the navigation menus to access the course homepage, or whether they used ‘My Moodle‘ page, the category route or a shortcut (roughly). As I expected, most of the pageviews were generated by students who used the navigation menus and shortcuts. There seems to be quite a few students who keep using Moodle the ‘hard way’ and click on categories & sub-categories to reach courses.

Traffic sources

Gamified courseNon-gamified course
Gamified course traffic sourcesNon-gamified course - traffic sources

A majority of students accessed Moodle entering the address in their Web browsers (65% vs. 55%). A significant proportion of students searched for Moodle using their search engine (23% vs. 33%), and just over 10 % used various links to access the site (e.g. link available on the school website, in emails, etc.). I suspect the difference in keyword searches is due to more students in the non-gamified course using Google Chrome as their web browser, where the ‘address bar’ and ‘search bar’ are in the same location (the version of Safari we use doesn’t have this feature), although I cannot be sure.

Student behaviour

Hours of visit

Gamified courseNon-gamified course
Gamified course Busiest hoursNon-gamified course - Busiest hours

The busiest hours are during lesson times, not too surprised here. However, I think too many students are doing their homework too late. I am aware that students in Hong Kong are under a lot of pressure with extra-curricular activities (private tuition, etc.) but I am not happy to see 12/13 year old students working past 10pm. More investigation is needed.

Conclusions

Although I have found this an interesting exercise, it seems as though Google Analytics is best used on large data sets, where accuracy is not paramount and trends are more important e.g. whole Moodle course, categories, etc. Whilst it may not be completely appropriate to use Google Analytics for the experiment I have been running, I find it extremely useful as a Moodle administrator. There are some metrics that I find intriguing, such as ‘time spent on page’, and I will need to do more research on the topic to judge whether this metric, amongst others, can really be trusted. 

What are your experiences of using Google Analytics with Moodle?