Author: Charles Fulton

Hack/Doc at Swarthmore: Day 3

People sitting around tables
Hack/Docers hard at work in the CLAMP Executive Lounge. Photo credit: Charles Fulton

The last day of Hack/Doc, as usual, was a bit shorter due to attendee travel plans. We wrapped up around lunchtime after some discussions about Moodle 3.8 and accessibility.

Forum grading accessibility

We logged a third and final issue with the new forum grading tool and accessibility: MDL-67663. Again, some of these issues are specific to the tool, which some are broader problems with Moodle itself. We’ll continue to monitor the situation. A major related issue is MDL-64494, where Moodle core is tracking project-wide color contrast issues.

Filescan block

We discussed the future of Swarthmore’s “filescan block“, which evaluates the accessibility of PDFs uploaded to Moodle. Several schools, including Hampshire and Lafayette, have been using the block on their Moodle instances. CLAMP is going to organize a workshop this winter for interested schools to come together to develop a roadmap and implement changes, which an eye toward publishing the plugin on the Moodle plugins repository and incorporating it into the Liberal Arts Edition.

Roster

We have released a new version of the Roster report; you may now configure which fields are displayed for each student, including custom profile fields. This release is available on the Moodle plugins repository and will be incorporated into the next release of the LAE.

And that’s a wrap for this winter’s Hack/Doc at Swarthmore College. Warm thanks to Andrew Reuther and Swarthmore for their outstanding hospitality this week. If your institution is interested in hosting a future CLAMP event, please consider filling out our host interest form.

Hack/Doc at Swarthmore: Day 2

Buildings beneath a blue skyline
View from the top of Singer Hall. Photo credit: Charles Fulton

Work on the task list continued during Day 2 of the Moodle Hack/Doc Fest at Swarthmore College, interrupted only by an expedition to the Solar Lab on the roof of Singer Hall, which provided a commanding view of Swarthmore’s campus and Greater Philadelphia.

From the task list

We continued to work on yesterday’s tasks and added a few new ones:

LTI integrations: Perusall

Perusall is a social annotation platform. Launching from the LTI module in Moodle will place one into a workflow to create their Perusall account on the fly. It’s important to set the launch container to Existing Window or New Window or it won’t work. The default launch container can be edited for the LTI module in the site admin. Student Perusall accounts are created as students use the tool. The tool also automatically creates an entry for the student in the gradebook with a grade of 100. The service is free for those using their own texts (e.g., PDFs or OERs), but texts available through Perusall require payment as does the ability to brand it for one’s institution.

LTI integrations: Google Assignment

Google Assignments allows you to create and share coursework within the LMS using Google Drive. It wasn’t clear if enrollments/permissions are managed dynamically. When creating from LTI, the grades appear in the Moodle gradebook automatically. The question bank is pretty good; other nice features include a plagiarism tool, the ability to grade all and then submit all at once, rubrics, and the ability to convert Word documents and PDFs to Google Docs while preserving the original. One caveat is that Google Assignments created through the LTI will not show up when going to https://assignments.google.com, and vice-versa.

Moodle Mobile app

Following on from yesterday’s equivocal evaluation of the Moodle Mobile app; it’s best to think of the app as a consumption tool and not a creation/editing tool. It’s certainly student-centric while allowing instructors the ability to grade some items. There is no wholesale gradebook access for instructors, but there is for students in the menu item that looks like an analytics logo. It’s important to manage expectations if your institution decides to roll it out.

Moodle 3.8 review

Michael Harris from Bryn Mawr College encountered a problem that, as far as anyone can remember, is unique in the 10+ years of Moodle Hack/Doc Fest: Moodle’s JIRA tracker has a built-in limit which prevents you from reporting more than one new issue per hour! Michael had been meticulously documenting accessibility problems with the new forum grading feature. Two have been reported so far (MDL-67652 and MDL-67655), with more on the way.

The Course Overview block now supports filtering based on, among other fields, custom course fields. For example, you could create a custom course field named “department”, and then allow teachers to filter based on the department in their dashboard.

Course Merger Helper

Courses created with the Course Merge Helper were not receiving all the default course settings unless the school was using the local course template plugin. Examples of incorrect behavior included no sections in the new course, or the gradebook enabled when it should be suppressed. We’ve squashed this bug and released a new version of the plugin.

Hack/Doc at Swarthmore: Day 1

Wayfinding signage on a glass door
Wayfinding for Hack/Doc and the CLAC HPC Mindshare. Photo credit: Charles Fulton

The biannual Hack/Doc Fest is being held at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. The event kicked off on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, and runs through Friday, January 8. The following tasks are queued up for Hack/Doc (very much subject to change):

  • Evaluating Moodle 3.8, which was released last November
  • Improving the Roster report to support pronouns
  • Taking a fresh look at the Moodle Mobile app
  • Improvements to the file accessibility block

This year the Hack/Doc Fest overlaps, physically and otherwise, with CLAC’s high-performance computing (HPC) mindshare, taking place on the lower level of Singer Hall. Rumors of superior lemonade at the CLAC craft table may–or may not–have led to direct action around lunchtime.

From the task list

Moodle 3.8 Liberal Arts Edition release

The first Moodle 3.8 LAE release is ready for testing. Moodle core continued its revamp of the forum module, which began with Moodle 3.7. Fortunately, this required far fewer changes to Anonymous Forums this time around!

Moodle 3.8 review

One new feature in Moodle 3.8 is the ability to grade forum posts. Evaluating this feature produced Hack/Doc’s first bug, a browser conflict in Safari. That issue aside, and presumably it’ll be fixed soon, the feature is a significant improvement over the old workflow. It presents a user-by-user view of forum posts and presents the teacher the ability to give that user a grade for the forum, based on their contributions. It’s very similar to the assignment grading view. The forum also supports a nested view of the discussions now. This appears to work as expected showing primary forum posts with the nested post, open and visible below. The threaded view shows the reply post below the original but it is closed and only viewable by clicking to open it. This worked in the Mobile app as well.

Moodle has also taken the first steps toward core support of H5P. H5P is an interactive, web-based content authoring tool, and a perennial subject at Hack/Doc Fest (Brandeis, Hampshire, Lafayette). At this point, the core support complements the existing H5P activity plugin, rather than replacing it outright. The new core functionality allows you to add H5P content to Moodle as you would a page or a label, but you can’t yet use it to author content within Moodle. It also adds an Atto button for easier embedding. For now, if you’re already using the H5P plugin, you’ll want to keep doing so.

Moodle Mobile app

No one’s quite sure when CLAMP first kicked the tires on Moodle’s Mobile app (there have been several), but it may have been at the Winter 2012 Hack/Doc at Tulane, where we described it as “lackluster.” We’ve looked at it off and on since, and a number of CLAMP schools now have it enabled and report few support issues. This time around we noted a few positives and challenges:

  • There are some accessibility challenges related to color contrast. It may be possible to mitigate these with a custom CSS file.
  • The default behavior is still to sync changes on Wi-Fi only, but it’s possible for the user to change this behavior.
  • Assignment submissions worked well.
  • Login with institutional single sign-on is smooth and the login persists.
  • Push notifications have to be configured server-side and there’s a lot to review there.

The consensus in the room was that there was no downside to turning on support for the app, though no one planned to make a big push to encourage adoption.

Roster report

We discussed ways to make the Roster report more flexible, and Sharon Strauss from Haverford raised the possibility of giving it a capability similar to Name Coach, which allows students to record the pronunciation of their names. One option would be to have a custom field with the attached audio, which could then be exposed via the report.

New Moodle LAE Releases for November 2019

There are three new Moodle: Liberal Arts Edition releases. There are no new LAE features; these are maintenance releases only. You can download the updates from the CLAMP code release archive.

The next stable releases are scheduled for mid-January. Moodle HQ has released Moodle 3.8; CLAMP will prepare an LAE beta and release during the forthcoming Hack/Doc Fest at Swarthmore College. CLAMP evaluated Moodle 3.7 at the Smith College Hack/Doc Fest in June 2019; please see CLAMP’s daily reports for details: Sprint Day, Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

These releases were developed, packaged, and tested by Charles Fulton (Lafayette College), Kevin Wiliarty (Hampshire College), and Andrew Zito (Lafayette College).

Join Us for Moodle Hack/Doc Fest, Winter 2020

CLAMP Moodle Hack/Doc Fest, Winter 2020 will be held Wednesday, January 8 through Friday, January 10, 2020, at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. CLAMP’s Hack/Doc Fests are twice-yearly unconference-style events dedicated to improving the Moodle experience for liberal arts colleges.

The lodging deadline is Monday, December 9, 2019. The event registration and travel grant application deadlines are Friday, December 13, 2019.