Category: Hack/Doc Fest at Smith

Hack/Doc at Smith: Day 3

Train tracks and bike path head into the distance
End of the road for this summer’s Hack/Doc. 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 lunch time after some discussions about Moodle 3.7, Quickmail, and “blockless” courses.

Moodle 3.7

Chad Bergeron confirmed, following on on the previous day’s testing, that rotating a PDF in an assignment does not rotation the associated annotations, and reported the issue to core: MDL-66030. This is a comparatively minor issue, and on the whole attendees were pleased with the latest Moodle release.

Quickmail and going “blockless”

Menu with links
Quick in the settings dialog in Boost

With Boost becoming the default base theme many schools are adopting it or a Boost derivative. While Boost does support blocks, there’s only one columnar block region now (on the right), and core’s clearly stepping away from blocks as a pattern. This creates challenges if there’s integral functionality, like Quickmail, which is wrapped up in a block (largely for historical reasons).

For Quickmail, Lafayette College addressed this by making two changes:

  • Adding functionality to extend the default Course administration navigation to include a link to Quickmail by default, regardless of whether the block is added to the course.
  • Improving the internal navigation of Quickmail so that the links to all sub-pages are available from every sub-page.

Teachers can still add the block if they wish, but they can still use Quickmail in their course without it. This approach could be followed with any other “block” which uses the block interface for navigation but stores or displays its content independently of the block.

And that’s a wrap for this summer’s Hack/Doc at Smith College. Warm thanks to Joe Bacal and Smith College 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 Fest Summer 2019 at Smith College: Event page | Sprint | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Hack/Doc at Smith: Day 2

People sitting around a conference table
Andrew Ruether joins us via Zoom to discuss accessibility. Photo credit: Joe Bacal

Work on the task list continued during Day 2 of the Moodle Hack/Doc Fest at Smith College, punctuated by two lunchtime presentations from members of the community.

Lunchtime presentations

Darren Hall from Occidental College presented on the ACRL IL Framework and how they’re working to map each of the frames to Moodle competencies, and then associating activities/assignments/projects with those competencies.  Individual faculty could then add this competency to their course, but the conversation would have to be driven by instructional technology and librarians. Darren has created a document, Setting Up and Using Competencies, which illustrates the work behind this implementation effort.

Andrew Reuther from Swarthmore College called in for a group discussion of next steps for Swarthmore’s PDF accessibility tool. We were also joined by Rob Eveleigh, Five Colleges EIT Accessibility Coordinator. Swarthmore is still working on interface for administrators for system-wide status and reporting. They’re looking for a way to identifying bad OCR in files, possibly via spell-checking. There was also a discussion about CLAMP hosting an accessibility server on AWS for the benefit of its member schools. Dan Wheeler has created an ad-hoc report for aggregating results.

From the task list

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

Moodle 3.7 review

We ran down the list of new features in Moodle 3.7 and found that they mostly worked as advertised: improved printing from the book module, the new test email feature (would have been handy for the CME migration to AWS), the various messaging interface improvements, the new Boost-based “Classic” theme, PDF rotation, and starring/sorting forum discussions.

Asynchronous backup and restore mostly works. This new feature, which must be enabled by the site administrator, creates a background task for backing up or restoring a course. This eliminates the timeouts which can occur with large courses. While backups are in progress, a user with editing turned on is warned not to make changes to a course. No such warning is issued to a user when a restore is in progress. We did find one bug: if you choose to delete a course when restoring asynchronously, the course will not be deleted and the new and old content are merged. CLAMP has reported this issue to core as MDL-66021.

Moodle added custom course fields: MDL-57898. These are similar to custom user profile fields: you can define different types including checkbox, date/time, dropdown list, short text, or text area. The fields can be grouped into categories, which affects how they’re displayed on the edit course page. Visibility options include visible to students, visible to teachers, or hidden. The fields appear on course listing pages such as the default Site home or a course category page, but not on the course overview dashboard. This makes it hard for students to find this information. It’s not possible to filter on these fields either. The intended public use case is exposing them to global search.


Fordson is a Boost theme with innumerable settings and fiddly bits. Several CLAMP schools are running it or switching to it for Fall 2019. Mount Holyoke compiled and shared a document with their standard settings: Fordson Theme Settings from Mount Holyoke.

Hack/Doc Fest Summer 2019 at Smith College: Event page | Sprint | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Hack/Doc at Smith: Day 1

Red-tinted clouds above trees and a river
Red sky at night after a day of rain. Photo credit: Charles Fulton

The theme of this summer’s Hack/Doc Fest is the snowclone:


      1. a cliché and phrasal template that can be used and recognized in multiple variants.

Examples of this concept include “X is the new Y”, or “in space, no one can X.” Localized variants for this Hack/Doc include “Have Moodle, will travel”, “The mother of all tracker issues”, and “In Soviet Russia, Moodle Hack You.” That established, we began tackling the ever-expanding task list hashed out during Sprint Day.

Timeless Gradebook documentation

The morning session featured a large group discussion of the grade book, including common pain points and our various approaches to them. We created a new shared Google document, Gradebook Documentation and Advice, which contains a set of best practices and links out to individual school’s documentation. The document also contains a summary of overlaps between everyone’s documentation, which might be useful for onboarding new faculty.

Gaming lab tour

Man standing in a room with gaming consoles
Nick Baker explains the uses of the Gaming Lab

In the afternoon Nick Baker, our host at Smith’s Imaging Center, conducted a tour of the Gaming Lab. The lab is a collaboration with Film and Media Studies, and provides a space for students to “play, explore, experience and critique video games and virtual environments.”

From the task list

Moodle 3.7 Liberal Arts Edition release

The first Moodle 3.7 LAE release is ready for testing. Moodle core completely rewrote the internals of the forum module for this release. This change was long overdue and CLAMP is excited for the future changes this “brush-clearing” will enable. The only downside is that the Anonymous Forums patch had to be completely reimplemented to accommodate the change!

Exploring LTI

Several participants followed up on Daniel Landau’s LTI workshop by experimenting with custom LTI integrations and have started work on a document called A Framework for Evaluating Potential LTIs. This document explores what an LTI is, what common capabilities of an LTI are, how they’re installed, and potential pitfalls when using an LTI. We’re also curating a list of existing LTI installations at CLAMP schools.


Several schools are moving to Workday as a backend information system, or considering it. Chad Bergeron at Brandeis has started documenting their approach to a potential Workday-Moodle integration.

Competencies for information literacy

Occidental College is working on ways to more closely align their information literacy instruction with the ACRL IL Framework. Although we are tasked with IL instruction, there is no requirement that any courses embed this sort of instruction into the curriculum. This past semester, we have been investigating mapping ACRL frames to Moodle competencies and associating activities/assignments/projects on which we are collaborating with faculty with those competencies. Darren Hall is putting together a document for setting up and using competencies for this effort.

Navigation customizer

Andy Zito from Lafayette College has built a new plugin, Flat Navigation Customizer. This plugin will allow site administrators to add custom links to the left-hand “flat navigation” or “drawer” on sites using the Boost theme. One intended to use case is to add a link for Quickmail, eliminating the need for adding the block to every course.

Moodle 3.7 review

As mentioned above, there are numerous changes to the forum in 3.7. One new feature is “in-page forum post reply.” Clicking reply in a forum now opens a reply window in situ, without taking you to a new page. Note that the inline reply doesn’t load the Atto editor. While not technically a bug, this limits this type of reply to “quick” responses only. Adding images, formatting text, or other such niceties (audio/video WebRTC) requires clicking the “advanced” link (which isn’t necessarily obvious), which will bring you to the previous separate page for replying.

Another new forum feature is the “private reply“. Teachers and managers may make a private reply to a post; the reply is visible to the student to whom the reply was made, and all users with elevated roles. Students may not make private replies, and you cannot reply to a private post. After much discussion, CLAMP will not support replying to an anonymous forum post.

CLAMP infrastructure

Daniel Landau and Charles Fulton completed migrating the CLAMP Moodle Exchange to new hosting on Amazon Web Services, and Daniel’s now working on reimplementing CLAMP’s development environment.

Hack/Doc Fest Summer 2019 at Smith College: Event page | Sprint | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Hack/Doc at Smith: The Sprint Day

Two-story building with glass entry
Hillyer Art Library at Smith College. Photo credit: Charles Fulton

LTI integration and the Women’s World Cup are among the topics discussed during the sprint (half) day at Smith.

The biannual Hack/Doc is being held at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The event kicked off on Monday, June 24, 2019 with the sprint day, and runs through Thursday, June 27. The following tasks are queued up for Hack/Doc:

  • Evaluating Moodle 3.7
  • Trying out alternatives to Mozilla Backpack with OpenBadges 2.0
  • Refactoring CLAMPMail to work better in Boost
  • Group discussion about Swarthmore’s PDF accessibility block
  • Workflows for a potential Workday integration
  • Using competencies for an information literacy curriculum
Conference table with people sitting around it
Daniel Landau leads the LTI workshop

Daniel Landau from Reed College kicked us off with a workshop in LTI integrations. LTI is a protocol for interoperation between remote resources and a learning management system. It eliminates the need to build custom integrations for a specific LMS such as Moodle or Canvas.  Resources from the remote system can be embedded in the LMS, which handles the authentication. Typically an iframe handles the actual rendering of the data. The experience for the student is seamless.

We also had a spirited discussion about what qualifies as a penalty in soccer, with high points corresponding to the yellow card on Megan Rapinoe and her go-ahead goal against Spain at 76′. The US vs. France quarterfinal will be on Friday. Previous attendees recalled watching the US Men’s team in the 2014 World Cup while attending the Hack/Doc Fest at Macalester College.

Hack/Doc Fest Summer 2019 at Smith College: Event page | Sprint | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Join Us for Moodle Hack/Doc Fest, Summer 2019

CLAMP Moodle Hack/Doc Fest, Summer 2019 will be held Tuesday, June 25 through Thursday, June 27 2019 at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. A pre-Hack/Doc documentation and coding sprint as well as a workshop on LTI applications will be held on Monday, June 24.

The lodging deadline is Wednesday, May 29, 2019. The event registration and travel grant application deadline is Friday, June 7, 2019.