Category: Events

Summer 2023 Hack/Doc at Lafayette

Smiling man with can of Diet Coke and Mac laptop
Jim Nicnick, hybrid coordinator and manager of the Diet Coke inventory

CLAMP spent three pleasant days at Lafayette College evaluating Moodle 4.2. The group’s impression was favorable; Moodle 4.2 addresses several issues from Moodle 4.1 (see the Swarthmore report for details on 4.1) and improves the user experience. CLAMP also held a roundtable discussion on the present state of integrating Moodle with Banner, facilitated by Eric Merrill. Read on below for details of the various issues we discussed. CLAMP’s next Hack/Doc Fest will be held this coming January at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut.



Ellucian will deprecate support for traditional flatfile Banner extract generation (ICGORLDI) in June 2024. While the tool will not be removed, the end of support requires a rethink of integrating Banner with Moodle. The discussion at Hack/Doc identified four options:

  1. Switch to using Ellucian’s cloud-hosted ILP offering. This will require paying an additional yearly licensing fee and changing to a different Moodle enrollment plugin. In addition, Ellucian’s current implementation does not support all the features LMB supports. Schools would need to discuss this with their Ellucian representatives to determine possible loss of functionality.
  2. Build an alternative ILP integration using the Ethos and Person APIs. Oakland University already has a working implementation and is willing to collaborate with other institutions. This would allow real-time enrollment updates.
  3. Write a script that queries Banner and generates XML files that can be used by the existing LMB plugin, acting as a drop-in replacement for ICGORLDI. Swarthmore College already does a version of this and shared their scripts.
  4. Continue to use ICGORLDI, given that deprecated tools tend to continue working for years on end.

Several schools expressed interest in option 3 as a short-term step and will collaborate within CLAMP to produce a generalizable solution.


Moodle 4.2 restored the ability to indent items on the course page, albeit you may only ident one level. You do need to enable this behavior for the topics and weekly course formats in the site administration. In general, resources that were indented pre-4.0 are intended again in 4.2. The indenting was also backported to Moodle 4.1. As a further enhancement, the indenting is now reflected in the course index at left. Moodle HQ has also opened a new issue to discuss further improvements around creating a “hierarchy” within a course.

Plugin name on course page

Moodle no longer displays the plugin type (e.g. “Forum” or “Quiz”) under the name of the activity on the course page. This information is still available when editing is turned on. This change was also backported to the most recent 4.0 and 4.1 releases.

Student notifications

We looked into whether you stop students from disabling all notifications. The answer appears to be no: it is possible to disable the “moodle/user:editownmessageprofile” capability for a given role. This prevents the user from editing their messaging (User Menu > Preferences > Message preferences, /message/edit.php) and notification (User Menu > Preferences > Notification preferences, /message/notificationpreferences.php) preferences. This is a severe restriction and not advisable. CLAMP recommends setting up a report in the Ad-hoc database queries plugin to detect users who have all notifications disabled:

SELECT, u.firstname, u.lastname, FROM prefix_user u WHERE u.emailstop = 1

Old assignment module removed

In 4.2, Moodle removed the Moodle 2.2 and older assignment (mod_assignment). This had been retained for compatibility with old backups; old assignments were converted to the new assignment activity (mod_assign). The module is published on GitHub if anyone encounters this need in the future. We successfully restored an old backup into 4.2 using the module.

Text editors

At Swarthmore, we flagged an issue with the “new” TinyMCE editor integration and embedding links to documents and images. This is now fixed and the new TinyMCE is the default text editor on new installations. The “old” TinyMCE has been removed.


We reviewed the state of H5P and its integration with Moodle. CLAMP recommends that you review H5P’s content types recommendations to see which modules have accessibility challenges.

Grading interface

Table with rows and columns
Grader report with significant whitespace

A number of interface improvements for the grade book landed in 4.2. New editing features include collapsing, sorting, lock, and hide indicators to clearly show the current status of each grade category and item. If you nest a category within a category, there are a ton of extra empty cells at the top of the grader report which makes the table awful to look at/scroll through.

Messaging within assignments

Assignments now have a new ability in 4.2 that allows instructors to send a message to specific students. For example, you may easily message all the students who haven’t submitted an assignment. Messages sent are in the sender’s private messages. Messages received also are in the receiver’s private messages. Activity in the messaging system is logged in the admin log but isn’t obvious.

Permalinks to Moodle course sections

Context menu with list of options
Get a permalink to a section

Moodle 4.2 added the ability to permalink to a course section within a Moodle course. The permalink does not change if the course sections are reordered. It works with all course formats that we tested but isn’t very useful with the Grid format.

Moodle Mobile

CLAMP undertook another thorough review of the Moodle Mobile app. Hampshire enabled the app for evaluation; there were specific concerns about how well the app would support some of Hampshire’s customizations, such as support for monoymous names and pronouns. Findings included:

  • The app adequately supports mononymity and external user images, but none of our other front-end hacks like pronouns.
  • The app does not display custom blocks.
    The app is clearly designed primarily for students, since editing capabilities are slim to nonexistent.
    The free version can only send push notifications to up to 50 devices. The paid version is $218/year for 500 devices, $534/year for unlimited devices. Hampshire sees the push notifications as the primary advantage.
  • SSO logins are well supported, you can configure the app to just open whatever SSO you use in an embedded browser (Site Admin > Mobile authentication > Type of login).

Never submitted quizzes

Lafayette had a problem last year where a professor set an expiration/closer to a quiz and a student’s computer crashed and they were kicked out of their quiz attempt and were unable to submit the quiz. Moodle 4.2 addresses this by allowing a teacher to “re-open” a “never submitted” attempt, which will then be immediately submitted for grading.

Blocks–what is to be done?

Moodle 4.2 refactored the block drawer, reducing the default visibility of blocks. We surveyed participating schools to see how they’re handling blocks going forward:

  • Lafayette: went “blockless” by default when it switched to Boost; uses the main or secondary navigation for additional links.
  • Swarthmore: using default Boost with blocks in the drawer, but have experimented with Learnr, which allows for defined block regions.
  • Macalester: using default Boost with blocks in the drawer. Has default blocks at the dashboard level, not the course level.
  • Hampshire: using default Boost, blocks in the drawer, plus a “Course Information” block at the top of sections (core hack for that region). We use a lot of blocks (added to courses by default) including Filtered Course List, custom “Library Info”, “Learning Collaboratives”, and “Study Tools” info blocks, and Quickmail.
  • Connecticut: similar to Hampshire. Default blocks in course-level drawer include calendar, library/ARC, upcoming events, Quickmail. Default blocks in the dashboard drawer include student resources (accessibility), calendar. Courses will also have a block linked to a book hidden on dashboard moving forward.

Bulk actions

Moodle 4.2 adds a “bulk actions” feature for teachers. A “Bulk edit” button at the top of the page displays the user menu at the bottom with options to move, duplicate, delete, or change availability. It doesn’t do dates, so CLAMP still includes the “Edit Dates” plugin in the LAE. A few notes about the behavior:

  • If you select multiple things to duplicate, they will duplicate separately immediately under their respective original item.
  • If an entire topic is selected, the duplicate option goes away
  • Bulk moving only works using the “move” icon, can’t drag them even though the nav cross-hatch icon shows up when you hover

Independent of this feature, you can duplicate an entire section from that section’s context menu.


MoodleNet seems to be Moodle’s answer to the growing call for open educational resources (OER). It is meant to serve as a repository for individual resources (PDFs, URLs, etc.), modules (activities, quizzes, etc.), and entire Moodle courses that anyone can acquire and utilize. Users can upload a backup file from Moodle of any of these items if they wish to share it with a larger community. The website lets you browse openly for resources, though options are fairly limited at the moment. In order to actually put MoodleNet material into your Moodle site, one can simply click the “or browse for content on MoodleNet” icon at the bottom of the “Add an activity or resource” menu.

There doesn’t seem to be much moderation; there empty sites and some inferior resources. We were able to find a course that was populated with activities and was able to import it pretty seamlessly directly from MoodleNet (no download needed). Uploading open resources for others to use is also pretty straightforward. We’ll need to see how this develops.


The Learnr theme had a pretty significant update for Moodle 4.2. The developers recommend uninstalling Learnr prior to installing 4.2r6 or higher. Things that seem to have changed since 4.1:

  • “Boxes” in the navigation menu (left-hand) separate the topics
  • Course management bar at the top replaced old top block drawer
  • Less white space, even less than 4.1 Learnr
  • Big unavoidable banners present at top of page when course is hidden from students or if you are in a role other than your own
  • If you are in a hidden site as a student it does NOT immediately kick you out – it lets you look at the site as a student!
Warning banner
Learnr warns you if you’re student

Boost Dark Mode

There’s a long-standing proposal to add a dark mode to Moodle’s Boost theme. Boost is based on the Bootstrap framework; Bootstrap 5 supports dark mode, but Boost is still based on Bootstrap 4.

Kaltura navigation in 4.2

The latest Kaltura Video Package release updates the internal navigation for Moodle 4.2.  The “My Media” link is now in the main site navigation across the top. There is a configuration option for displaying the course gallery in the course settings or in the Kaltura Course Gallery block.

Hidden group membership

Moodle 4.2 allows hiding group memberships from certain roles (for example, for data privacy reasons). This worked as expected.

Moodle 4.2 Liberal Arts Edition

CLAMP has released the Liberal Arts Edition of Moodle 4.2.1. This includes the usual package of contributed modules and core modifications; we encountered no surprises in preparing it.

And in conclusion…

Whew! A big thank you to everyone who participated in this June’s Hack/Doc Fest, whether in person or online, and to those who couldn’t make it but sent in suggestions/ideas anyway. We’re looking forward to seeing you all in New London in January.

New Moodle LAE Releases for June 2023

There are four 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-August. CLAMP evaluated Moodle 4.1 at the Winter 2023 Hack/Doc Fest at Swarthmore College. Please see CLAMP’s report from Swarthmore for additional details. CLAMP will evaluate Moodle 4.2 at next week’s Summer 2023 Hack/Doc Fest at Lafayette College.

New Moodle LAE Releases for March 2023

There are four 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-May. CLAMP evaluated Moodle 4.1 at the Winter 2023 Hack/Doc Fest at Swarthmore College. Please see CLAMP’s report from Swarthmore for additional details. Reminder: registration for the Summer 2023 Hack/Doc Fest at Lafayette College is open.

Registration open for Summer 2023 Hack/Doc Fest

Sunlight reflects off a building and through a green-leafed tree.
The Sun reflects off Skillman Library on Lafayette’s campus

Registration is now open for the Summer 2023 Hack/Doc Fest, which will be held at Lafayette College from June 21 through June 23, 2023. CLAMP’s Hack/Doc Fests are twice-yearly unconference-style events dedicated to improving the Moodle experience for liberal arts colleges.

Winter 2023 Hack/Doc at Swarthmore

Paper sign taped to glass door
Kohlberg Hall, our home away from home for the next three days

CLAMP returned to Swarthmore College for three days of intensive evaluation of Moodle 4.0 and Moodle 4.1. Overall, the group’s impression of Moodle 4.0 and 4.1 was favorable, echoing the impression of the Summer 2022 Hack/Doc at Carleton College. We also did not discover any unpleasant surprises with the upgrade process. Read on below for details of the various issues we discussed.

Text editors

A quote from King Lear typed into a text editor
TinyMCE 6.x in Moodle; it’s possible to disable the icon. Note the word count and contextual formatting.

Atto, a rich text editor developed in-house by Moodle, has been the default since Moodle 2.7. TinyMCE has been available as an alternative. Moodle is now changing course, and TinyMCE 6.x is now available on Moodle 4.1, and will eventually replace Atto as the default text editor. There are now three text editors available on Moodle:

  • Atto HTML editor
  • TinyMCE 6.x (branded as TinyMCE HTML editor)
  • TinyMCE 3.x (branded as TinyMCE HTML editor (legacy))

Overall TinyMCE provides a more streamlined experience than other editors. One feature we liked was that you can select a block of text and then use a pop-up menu to apply formatting, similar to Tumblr and WordPress. There are a few things to note:

  1. You cannot apply font colors to text. This follows from Atto, which significantly limited the available colors on accessibility grounds. It does not sound like Moodle intends to change this behavior.
  2. Embedding links to documents and images aren’t properly supported yet; it will be in Moodle 4.2 (MDL-76520). CLAMP may backport this fix to Moodle 4.1 if there’s interest.
  3. The site administrator cannot configure toolbar buttons, as you can with Atto and TinyMCE legacy. Moodle recommends using capabilities instead. CLAMP is working on a list of these.
  4. When copying and pasting from Microsoft Word, TinyMCE properly cleans up all the custom CSS.

CLAMP does not recommend making TinyMCE the default until the link plugin is available, which should be in Moodle 4.2 or sooner.


Menu showing topics that can be dragged and dropped to re-order them
Dragging a topic on the left-hand navigation menu to change the order.

We noticed a number of interesting changes to the default Boost theme:

  • Boxes can be removed by switching from default to plain in appearance
  • Menu items at the top can be customized in Boost admin settings
  • Sections can easily be rearranged in the Navigation menu, and this will renumber the Topics accordingly
  • The Navigation menu shows items within topic sections
  • The Block drawer is on the right and collapsed by default
  • A collapse/expand option is available at the top of the course, but not in the Navigation menu
  • The new move option (in the vertical three dots on right) is MUCH easier to use
  • You can easily show/hide the Navigation menu (left) and block menu (right)

Gradebook reports

The grade book has a new Single View interface. The functionality is the same as Moodle 3 but the navigation and some of the behavior are different. Single View has more descriptive navigation but may take more clicks to get where you want.

You can select or search for users or grade items. You need to turn on editing (top right) to make changes to grades (this is a change from Moodle 3). Overall there are more steps than in Moodle 3 but possibly clearer for new users. You have to find the override/exclude options under the Actions menu instead of at the top of the table, which may be more mobile-friendly.

Upgrade testing

We did not experience any significant issues upgrading a Moodle 3.11 instance to Moodle 4.1. CLAMP has published a Google Sheet showing the various supported versions of PHP, MySQL, MariaDB, and PostgreSQL.

Swarthmore vs Swarthmore

CLAMP investigated whether to pronounce “Swarthmore” with or without the first “r” before turning to more profitable tasks, like extra credit calculation in the gradebook.

Reverse chronological order

There was some discussion around ordering topic sections in reverse chronological order. This is popular at Bucknell University. This is a manual setup: Instructors create topics in reverse order. For example (in a ten-week term), Topic 1 will be Week 10, Topic 2 = Week 9, etc. When the topics are created, instructors can set Restrict Access to a Date and time, which will then be automatically shown after said date/time. Asynchronous (and possibly synchronous) instructions will be needed. CLAMP also discussed the possibility of a small plugin that can do a one-time reverse-ordering of topic sections.

Database presets

The Database activity has new presets that may make it easier to use for journals and other uses such as diaries. Presets simply create the fields for you, but they can be updated and more can be added after the fact – no other settings are affected by the presets. Moodle comes with the following presets:

  • Image database preset – fields are title, image, description (alt text is a forced field, but you can’t make it required) (for those using Domains, this might be a decent substitute for an image-based splot)
  • Journal preset – entries are not private- all students see all other students’ entries. Date shows up at the bottom of the entry. This makes it less useful as an actual diary for personal use unless moderation is turned on and the instructor doesn’t approve anything.
  • Proposals preset – fields for title, summary, and content and then a field for whether or not it was approved (presumably for the instructor to update)
  • Resources preset – fields are title, author, cover (image), description, weblink, drop-down (type of resource – have to go in and edit the dropdown items manually) (useful for a group resource creation assignment).

Course reuse

We revisited the new Course reuse page, which we also discussed at Carleton. Import, Backup, Restore, Copy course, and Reset are all grouped under the “Course reuse” navigation item in the Course navigation. Navigating there brings up the Import page; the other pages are available from a drop-down at left. You may want to customize the “Course reuse” language string, which you can do by navigating to Site administration > Language > Language customization > English (United States) ‎(en_us)‎ > Open Language Pack > moodle.php  and then searching  “Only strings containing” with “reuse”.

Label, we hardly knew ye

Our old friend the Label resource has been renamed to “Text and Media area” (MDL-72531). It still behaves as it did before. One important note: when you have editing enabled, the label is listed in the left-hand Navigation menu, for easy manipulation. It’s listed using a truncated part of the text. If you duplicate it, the duplicated item appears in the navigation with the same text and (copy) appended. You will then need to modify the resource to update this. The students won’t ever encounter this issue.

Activity instructions

Moodle Assignment now has two separate text boxes for description and instructions. The (?) icon describes instructions this way:

The actions you would like the student to complete for this assignment. This is only shown on the submission page where a student edits and submits their assignment.

  • Descriptions can be displayed on the course page or within the module
  • Instructions are only displayed once a student “Adds a submission” or “Begins assignment” (timed)
  • Instructions can be used if you want to hide a prompt until a students starts an assignment
    Or give nitty gritty details: upload in a PDF format, title you file X, etc.

Event monitoring

Sharon Strauss from Haverford presented on Moodle’s event monitoring feature. This is not a new feature in Moodle 4.1 but many of the attendees were unfamiliar with it. Moodle defines numerous events that can be triggered, such as for new forum posts, or assignment submissions. With the event monitoring feature, you can allow teachers and administrators to subscribe to given events and receive email notifications. This is separate from any other built-in notifications.

Tour of Swarthmore’s facilities

Michael Jones, the Director Of Language And Media Centers\Makerspace at Swarthmore, kindly took the Hack/Doc attendees on a tour of Swarthmore’s instructional spaces. We visited a classroom equipped for active learning, a podcasting studio, a studio equipped for recording remote lectures, and a maker space.

What’s next

CLAMP will release a beta of Moodle 4.1 with the Liberal Arts Edition towards the end of January. The regular LAE releases will come out the week of January 16th. The next Moodle Hack/Doc Fest, focusing on Moodle 4.2, is tentatively scheduled for mid-June 2023, location to be determined.