Hack/Doc at Butler: Day 2

Moodle spelled out using variable sized artistic block letters
Moodle becomes art thanks to the “Word Art” exhibit in Butler University’s Irwin Library. Photo credit: Ken Newquist

During Day 2 of Hack/Doc Fest at Butler the team tackled a review of third-party plugin compatibility with Moodle 3.0 and 3.1, continued our accessibility work by testing new tools and documenting best practices, reacquainted ourselves with the Workshop plugin, and delved deeply into Moodle 3.1’s new Competencies feature.

Plugin Review

We compiled a list of popular 3rd party plugins for Moodle and then determined if they are compatible with 3.0 and 3.1. Of particular note were the following plugins, which list compatibility with 3.0 but not 3.1:

  • Course Overview
  • TurnItIn
  • McGraw HIll

Course Overview was tested under 3.1 and seemed to work just fine. That said, the way it is configured changed in 3.1; it is now difficult to get to all of the settings on one unified page.

View the full list of third-party plugins.

Accessibility and Course Design

Continuing our work from Monday, we created a “scroll of death course” — aka an exceedingly long course — with a variety of accessibility issues. The course was created using the TinyMCE WYSIWYG editor, but edited using Atto.

As expected, Atto couldn’t fix much of what had been done incorrectly using TinyMCE, if for no other reason than it didn’t have the same editing options. Many of the problems in the course had to be fixed by going into the source HTML and editing it there.

Once the new course is completed, we’re going to create the following example courses that address the “scroll of death” issue while improving accessibility and usability:

  • an accessible course using stock Moodle
  • an accessible course with Collapsed Topics course format
  • an accessible course with the Grid course format

We also intend to look at an option that allows students to switch switch course formats (e.g. grid to topic) to help with accessibility. This requires the user to set a custom profile field called “accessibility” which — when toggled — lets them switch to a designated “accessible” course format.

Screen Readers

We spent some time experimenting with screen readers on Moodle and other websites. We started with ChromeVox, a plugin for Chrome that allows you to tab through a page and reads the elements to you. The lack of mouse support made it more difficult to use and there isn’t an obvious way to toggle the plugin on and off.

We experimented with TalkBack on Android. It works great, but it radically transforms the way you use your phone and introduces a number of double and triple click command for common tasks. It requires you to re-learn how to how to navigate your phone.

We also researched optical character recognition techniques and found ConvenientOCR is a plugin for JAWS. This plugin lets you mouse or tab over an image and then OCR it. We did not get to try this plugin, but it sounds promising. JAWS itself is an expensive piece of software that only runs on Windows, but there is a free trial version for those who want to check it out.

Annotations Workflow

We continued our review of the new Assignment Submission view and the problems associated with it (see MDL-54165 New grading interface should hide “editpdf” if unoconv is not enabled and MDL-54818 Improve assignment PDF annotation).

A number of schools are planning on turning off the PDF annotation component of Moodle until the issues with it are resolved. However, before turning off the feature we wanted to know how many people were using that particular feature at our institutions. We created an ad hoc query that looks for the use the annotation feature in Moodle assignments by identifying occurrences of “comments” and “annotations” in the database.

The annotation query is available through CLAMP’s Github; it requires the ad-hoc database queries plugin to run.

CLAMP House Cleaning

We fixed two issues with the CLAMP website. We’ve resolved the SSL cert error that occurred when you tried to browse www.clamp-it.org under https. We also fixed a bug that would redirect you to an account sign-up page when accessing http://clamp-it.org.

Printing Quizzes in Moodle

We continued looking at ways to print quizzes and documented a technique involving embedding a quiz within a “book” within Moodle. View the documentation.


We revisited Moodle’s Workshop module and found it to be a good peer assessment tool and fairly easy to set up. The tool has different student grading options including

  • comments, no grades
  • comments and grades
  • rubrics (which are different than assignment rubrics)


We spent considerable time at Hack/Doc reviewing Competencies and have come to the conclusion that it’s a complicated new system with an inherent workflow that isn’t well documented.

Here’s how the documentation describes Competencies:

“Competencies describe the level of understanding or proficiency of a learner in certain subject-related skills:”

In brainstorming use cases for competencies at our colleges the scenarios that stood out the most were those where some sort of interdisciplinary or cross-institutional outcomes needed to be tracked. For example, a writing program that establishes a set of skills that students should develop during their time at the college. Evidence of acquiring competency in those skills could be provided in a variety of ways:

  • Evidence submitted by students
  • Evidence submitted as part of a course activity
  • Evidence submitted by faculty for students.

Moodle Competencies handle this through three tools:

  • Competencies: The building blocks of the system, competencies establish a specific goal, and provide a mechanism for giving evidence that the goal has been met.
  • Competency Frameworks: A collection of competencies.
  • Learning Plans: A method for pushing out a particular set of competencies (possibly taken from multiple frameworks) to students.

The single biggest challenge with Competencies is that it assumes you have an existing offline workflow and framework and want to implement it in Moodle. If you have those things, we expect that the tool makes a lot more sense. If you don’t, then the published documentation isn’t going to help understand the usefulness of the tool or how to implement it at your college.

In addition, Competencies itself has an implied workflow that isn’t obvious to laypeople. For example, there is a process for students or faculty to request review of competency evidence. The per-student requests for such review appear on the “My Moodle” page, but it’s not clear if there is a place where faculty or learning plan managers could go to see the progress of an entire student cohort (e.g. not just an individual student’s progress toward meeting competency goals, but the entire cohort’s progress).

The development documentation does a much better job of explaining the purpose of Competencies and does a better job of explaining how the various pieces fit together.

* Dev: Competencies
* Dev: Competency-based Education

Posts from Moodle Hack/Doc Fest at Butler University: HomepageSprint | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3