Category: Hack/Doc Fest at Hampshire

Hack/Doc at Hampshire: Day 3

Accessibility discussion with Rob Eveleigh
Accessibility discussion with Rob Eveleigh, Five Colleges, Inc. Accessibility Coordinator. Photo credit: Sarah Ryder

The last day of Hack/Doc, as usual, was a bit shorter due to attendee travel plans. We wrapped up around lunch time after some discussions about Moodle 3.3, Boost, upgrade plans, and accessibility.

Moodle 3.3, Boost, and Upgrade Plans

The Hack/Doc group didn’t have major concerns with Moodle 3.3; some CLAMP schools are planning to upgrade to 3.3 for the fall semester and others are sticking with 3.1 or 3.2 for now. A few notes from the discussion:

  • The ability to choose a different document converter is nice.
  • The course overview bug is a concern, though it’s likely to be remedied in 3.3.1.
  • The expansion of user group and overrides is nice for students needing accommodation.
  • Review of the poster plugin functions as advertised, which helps some of the Boost concerns about a lack of a home for blocks.
  • One consideration of going to 3.3 is that it requires PHP 5.6.

Who is using or planning to use Boost?

  • One school is using Boost already and the feedback from faculty so far has been positive, but they just made the switch in May.
  • Another school is planning to roll it out in July.
  • Some other schools are considering it, but no solid plans to make the move at this point.


Rob Eveleigh, the Five Colleges, Inc. Accessibility Coordinator working with Hampshire, Amherst, Smith, and Mount Holyoke Colleges, joined us for a lively discussion around accessibility. Some of the items mentioned were:

  • Using semantic markup effectively
  • Providing alt text for images
  • Using descriptive and unique link text
  • Choosing colors with sufficient contrast
  • Captions, transcripts, and audio description
  • Clarity of language and layout
  • Ensuring accessibility of non-HTML content, such as PDFs and
  • Form labels
  • Skip navigation
  • Data table headers
  • ARIA
  • Javascript
  • Moving, blinking, or scrolling content and ensuring that the user can control the functions
  • Validating HTML
  • Forced file download is the most accessible setting for visually impaired users because they can use their system viewer rather than embedding it.
  • Ensure media players are keyboard navigable
  • Ally is an automated scanner and fixer of uploaded documents purchased by Blackboard and may be made available for other LMSs eventually

Some websites that provide information on a variety of web accessibility goals and strategies:

Some free tools to help evaluate web accessibility:

Andrew presenting about a file scanner.
Andrew presenting about a file scanner. Photo credit: Sarah Ryder

File Scanner Demo

Andrew Ruether from Swarthmore College worked on a tool that scans PDF files in Moodle. The local plugin runs whenever cron is set to run and evaluates the newest files first. Working on a small amount of files each time, it shows if the PDF is an image or text. Andrew created a block for Moodle to show a summary of the PDFs in the course for teachers. The database table keeps the content hash of the PDF, whether it was checked, page count, and OCR status. It might include scan quality down the road. It could potentially include the ability to spell check the OCR document. Ideally, it’d be nice if the non-OCR file could be converted on the fly.

A Little Bit of Git

Kevin Wiliarty from Hampshire College spent some time going over git techniques with other folks. One of the best aspects of Hack/Doc, in my opinion, is the ability to collaborate with and learn from others while feeling like you’re part of a supportive community. Thanks to everyone who attended and participated this week!

Git info on the whiteboard
Hack/Doc Whiteboard. Photo credit: Sarah Ryder

Posts from Moodle Hack/Doc Fest, Summer 2017 at Hampshire College: Homepage | Sprint | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Hack/Doc at Hampshire: Day 2

Dan presenting at Hampshire Hack/Doc
Dan Wheeler talking about his experience with eThink at Hampshire Hack/Doc. Photo credit: Sarah Ryder

Yet another productive day thanks to a well-attended Hack/Doc Fest.

Kevin Wiliarty from Hampshire College spent a little time in the morning encouraging some of the new-to-Moodle attendees to check out the free Moodle Mooc.

We took a break mid-morning to walk over to the R.W. Kern Center, which was built at Hampshire College last year with the goal of certification under the world’s most advanced green building standard, the Living Building Challenge: generating its own electricity, collecting its own water, and built avoiding toxic “red list” chemicals using materials mainly from local and regional sources.

Hampshire College Kern Center
The R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College. Photo credit: Hampshire College Communications Staff

After taking a quick tour of the building we headed outside for a group photo!

Hack/Doc group photo at Hampshire College
Hack/Doc group photo at Hampshire College. Photo credit: Jocelyn Edens

Lunchtime Presentations

Bonnie Solivan from Wesleyan University provided an overview of using Badges with Moodle 3.2. She encourages the use of badges, noting that it’s a great way for students to be able to visualize what they’ve learned and achieved. At Wesleyan they’ve connected Badges with so that students can pull their skills with badges into their LinkedIn profiles.

Megan Grady-Rutledge from Butler University shared her experience and results from a Moodle 3.1 Mobile pilot. Megan participated in a free Moodle Mobile Mooc and she used the tips acquired there to help guide course content design. Overall she thinks turning on and supporting the app is worthwhile based on feedback from students, but there is definitely a learning curve for faculty to think about designing their courses for mobile.

Dan Wheeler from Colgate University and Holly White from Luther College talked about the advantages and disadvantages to hosting their Moodle installations with eThink. Overall they’ve been satisfied with their experiences, though they shared some of the pain points that came along with giving up a certain level of control.

CLAMP Steering Committee Update and Recognition Awards

We had a brief update from the CLAMP Steering Committee to ask for more nominations for CLAMP member schools to join the committee, and to announce the CLAMP Recognition Award winners. Congratulations to Joe Bacal and Dan Wheeler!

More Updates from the Task List

Boost Accessibility Testing

A doc’er ran the Wave tool on all four themes installed on a test instance (Boost, Clean, Essential, and More) and found that Boost was the most accessible. Some of the accessibility issues will need to be updated by core since it has to do with the way PHP is rendering the code, so these findings regarding Boost will be submitted as UI bugs in the Moodle Tracker.

Merged Course Tool

This plugin was updated to include the option to move children courses to a category.

Automated Tests for LAE 3.3

Done, and the LAE beta with plugins should be ready by this Sunday.

Moodle Mobile 3.3

Some testing was done, but a comprehensive review was not completed.

And more fun…

There may have been a mid-afternoon field trip over to Flayvors at Cook’s Farm for some ice cream…

Posts from Moodle Hack/Doc Fest, Summer 2017 at Hampshire College: Homepage | Sprint | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Hack/Doc at Hampshire: Day 1

Charles Fulton presenting at Hack/Doc
Charles Fulton presenting about admin tool plugins at Hampshire Hack/Doc. Photo credit: Sarah Ryder

At Day 1 of Moodle Hack/Doc Fest at Hampshire College we began tackling the task list hashed out during Sprint Day. With such high attendance the day was incredibly productive and full of good conversation.

Lunchtime Presentations

Jason Simms from Lafayette College told the group about an idea that has been percolating amongst several CLAMP members for quite a while now. The idea is for CLAMP to consider offering an event to complement and extend the traditional Hack/Doc, something that will offer a broader array of topics more generally applicable to those working across the spectrum of information technology, web and backend development, and systems administration. Jason created a survey for CLAMP schools to indicate their interest in such an event, in addition to providing technical details about their Moodle environment in an ongoing effort to collect such data about our member institutions.

Kevin Wiliarty from Hampshire College provided some insight about the Moodle quality assurance testing process and strongly encouraged attendees to get involved with Moodle QA. Some of the benefits include:

  • Exposure to and understanding new features in Moodle
  • Getting to know the Moodle Tracker better
  • Earning a badge

If you want to get involved, send Helen Foster a message to indicate that you’d like to be a tester.

Charles Fulton from Lafayette College provided a brief show and tell of a few plugins developed at Lafayette.

  • Creating a course template for new courses (based on course ID)
  • Admin plugin tools (delete all courses in a category, hide all courses in a category)

From the Task List

Course Overview Block Bug

  • Hidden courses will still present their overview items
  • It’s been reported and there’s already a fix in the pipeline.

Poster Plugin Evaluation

  • In the Clean theme, the “add a block” menu is now at the bottom of the left frame of the poster plugin, once you’ve turned editing on and gone into the activity.
  • It’s not immediately obvious that you have to add blocks and then drag them if you want them in the right side of the activity, but again, that fits with how blocks have behaved before.
  • A handful of the available blocks will seem to “disappear” if editing is turned off and they haven’t been configured yet. Two other blocks (activity results, remote news feed) are visible in their unconfigured state (with a line of text instructing the user to configure them) but if they are then configured in such a way that there is no content to display, they will also seem to “disappear” when editing is turned off. In both cases the blocks are visible when editing is turned back on, but this behavior can also change the arrangement of the visible blocks on the page. This could be confusing or frustrating for faculty with a particular look in mind.

H5P Integration

  • Backups are slow with H5P
  • H5P roadmap
  • Allows one to create interactive “bits” or “widgets”
  • None of these H5P widgets, as we can tell, are accessible though H5P is “working on it.”
  • Can be authored directly in Moodle, which is somewhat compact, or they can be authored at and embedded into Moodle using iFrame.
  • You can also author and download a .h5p from a WP instance running the WP h5p plugin, in case creating a user on is a headache.
  • H5P: creates a column in Moodle Gradebook.
  • This tool can be integrated into “Book” as pure content, but it will not create a column in the grade book.

Lightbox Gallery

  • A rotating issue was reported to GitHub
  • Nice captioning, if short and sweet
  • Captioning is used as alt text, which means a screen reader reads it twice
  • Screen reader doesn’t read the lightbox, but reads the layer below.
  • Uploading en masse isn’t very intuitive because it requires a ZIP file

Downloading Files

  • A developer at UMass wrote some code to provide functionality for downloading all of an instructor’s files from a course. It had originally been implemented as a core hack so Charles spent some time putting it into a plugin and is checking in with the original developer about sharing it.
  • Some folks did some work on an existing python script used to extract files from a Moodle course backup and put them into a folder structure along with an html page linking to the items.

PCast Plugin

  • Hard to understand why this gets good reviews. 🙂
  • Cannot generate the podcast within the tool.
  • Discovered URL downloader in the File Picker. Not really sure what it’s used for.
  • Can import iTunes/RSS feeds


  • Can create custom preloaded content to preload contact information.
  • It’s a button added to the Atto toolbar.
  • Only site admins can create the snippets.

Course Merge Helper Tool

  • Making improvements: moving child courses into a different area

Automatic Display Setting in the URL Resource

It appears that the behavior is dictated by the presence or absence (and type, if present) of a final file extension in the URL provided.

  • No final file extension: link opens in the same tab
  • .jpg, .png, .gif, .mp3, .htm, .html, .php, top-level domain (.com, .net) or last character of URL is a “/”: bridge page with link (.htm, .html, .php, or /) or embedded media (for .jpg, .png, .gif, .mp3)
  • .wma: download prompt
  • The presence or absence of a “description” for the link resource has nothing to do with whether the bridge page is produced.  If a description is included but the display option is not checked, it will not be visible anywhere.
  • While creating a URL resource, if you choose “Save and display” instead of “Save and return to course”, you will be shown the bridge page whether or not this page will be actually produced when the user clicks on the link.

PDF Annotation

  • The PDF Annotate pane continues to display and tries to render a PDF even if there is no submitted file, and even weirder, when the assignment does not permit the uploading of files.

Moodle 3.3 Review

Better Office Integration is actually -not- Microsoft specific. G-Suite and Office 365 are the initial targets, and the dev page indicates that this is a cleanup and improvement of many small things, such as a simplified way for admins to enable/disable integration. It also includes: oauth SSO, file picker integration, admin settings to copy or link external repo files, offline linked files for Mobile use, backups of linked files into course backups, etc.

FontAwesome looks to be baked into 3.3–provides AAA accessible-rated icons. This feature is available for themes that support it. The More theme does not support FontAwesome icons.

Emoji support wasn’t working out of the gate; it looks to require utf8mb4 and needs a database update. More info on installation for the database.

Setting a ‘Grade by’ reminder (for teachers) only appears in the Course Overview area. It doesn’t send an email notification.

Specify assignment file types seems to work as expected. Acceptable file types can be added by extension, separated by comma or semicolon.

Collapse comments in assignments works as expected…mostly. The only complaint is it seems nearly impossible to know where the collapsed comment is going to appear on the document. It looks like it appears in the vertical center of the expanded box, but the expanded box can grow from the original box drawn.

Drag and drop media works well aside from always center aligning the audio player; it doesn’t seem like one can change this behavior. Audio and video can be displayed in the player on the course page or linked to from the course page as a web page.

Stealth activities were tested and work as intended.

More tag areas allow for glossary entries, forum posts, and book chapters to be tagged for easier searching.

Discussion Topics


  • Competency framework should be developed prior to implementing within Moodle and should have short naming conventions along with a description to each one
    • ID# or Short-name
    • Taxonomy:  Each competency created should also have 4 levels of taxonomy aligned to it as well identifying what type of learning activity that is being assessed
    • Scale type: there are two types the default and separate and connected ways of learning
      • Decide on default scale values, ie: not completed, competen
    • They can be aligned to forums, assignments, activities (I’m trying to align that in 3.3 which I am having a problem seeing it, but it does in 3.2)
  • Learning Paths should be created once the competencies have been created.

How do we use tools outside of Moodle?

  • Integrate or embed a la H5P or Zoom
  • Echo360
  • Mahara
  • Articulate
  • Camtasia

Boost: how are folks using it?

Based on our conversations this morning, no one is using Boost and no one looks to be interested in making the switch just yet. There are some pain points for developers, particularly the need to clear the cache each time an update is made to the theme.

Adopt the All or Nothing Question Type?

  • Butler is evaluating qtype_multichoiceset, which improves on the core multi-answer multiple choice question. The current author has abandoned it and is looking for a new maintainer. Butler is interested, but relatively new to Moodle plugin development.
  • Several of the developers huddled about this. The consensus was that if Butler should proceed and adopt the plugin, CLAMP’s developers would provide assistance and support. CLAMP would consider incorporating the revised plugin into the LAE once the plugin was brought up to specification, given sufficient interest from CLAMP members.

Moodle Dev Roundup

Several newer-to-Moodle hackers huddled in a conference room with several veteran Moodle hackers to discuss best practices for Moodle developers and how to contribute back to core.

Posts from Moodle Hack/Doc Fest, Summer 2017 at Hampshire College: Homepage | Sprint | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Hack/Doc at Hampshire: The Sprint Day

Wildflowers on the Hampshire College campus. Photo credit: Bonnie Solivan

PDF annotation, instructor download files, accessibility, plugin and mobile app evaluations, H5P, and Moodle 3.3 review are among the topics that CLAMP queued up during the sprint day for Moodle Hack/Doc Fest, Summer 2017.

The biannual Hack/Doc is being held at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. The event kicked off on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 with the sprint day. The event runs through Friday, June 23, 2017. The following tasks are queued up for Hack/Doc:

  • Improvements to PDF annotation–Google Drive is available as a backend in 3.3
  • New Course Overview block
  • Stealth mode for activities
  • Evaluate Poster plugin
  • Evaluate Lightbox gallery
  • Boost: how are folks using it? What are the gotchas?
  • Instructor download files: can we turn a core hack into a plugin?
  • Where do we stand with group and user overrides in various activities
  • H5P integration
  • Continue to look at accessibility in Moodle: discussion about Swarthmore’s PDF plugin, discussion about documentation
  • Review Moodle 3.3
  • Review Moodle Mobile 3.3
  • Better understand the Automatic Display setting in the URL resource
  • Package and test LAE 3.3.0 release

In addition, we are kicking around a number of group discussions:

  • How to use competencies
  • Are you tasked with preserving courses after the end of a semester?
  • Develop a survey for CLAMP schools (environments, event attendance)
  • Lafayette moving to a modified More theme
  • How do we use tools outside of Moodle?
  • How to handle streaming video in Moodle

Update after Sprint Day Activities

PDF Accessibility Scan

  • Swarthmore has a tool that scans through PDF documents in Moodle and checks them for images that need to be converted to text.
  • It was suggested that it be turned into a local Moodle plugin with a scheduled task to scan files.
  • Will be discussed more on Friday morning during our accessibility discussion with Rob Eveleigh, the Four College Accessibility Coordinator who works with Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, and Smith Colleges.

Poster Plugin

  • Used it in Clean and Boost
  • UX is not great
  • Block parking

Accessibility discussion scheduled

  • Rob Eveleigh, Four College Accessibility Coordinator working with Smith, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, and Hampshire will be on campus and facilitating an accessibility discussion with Hack/Doc attendees at 10 a.m. Friday, June 23.

Group and User Overrides

  • Allowable in Assignment, Lesson, and Quiz
  • User overrides trump Group overrides
  • Extensions trumps overrides

Posts from Moodle Hack/Doc Fest, Summer 2017 at Hampshire College: Homepage | Sprint | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

New Moodle LAE Releases for 2.7.20, 3.0.10, 3.1.6, 3.2.3

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 their project pages:

The next stable releases on the 3.2 and 3.1 branches are scheduled for mid-July. Moodle HQ has ended support on the 3.0 and 2.7 branches. Moodle HQ released Moodle 3.3 today; CLAMP will evaluate it and prepare a beta at the forthcoming Hack/Doc Fest at Hampshire College.

These releases were developed, packaged, and tested by Joe Bacal (Smith College) and Kevin Wiliarty (Hampshire College).