Tag: moodle mobile

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 Fest Winter 2020 at Swarthmore College: Event page | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

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.

Hack/Doc Fest Winter 2020 at Swarthmore College: Event page | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Hack/Doc at Butler: Day 1

A grass version of the Butler University logo fills the foreground of this photo while the university's observatory can be seen in the background.
The Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium and Butler University. Photo credit: Ken Newquist

Day 1 of Moodle Hack/Doc Fest at Butler University saw the group delve deeply into Moodle 3.1’s improvements, the updated Moodle Mobile app, the mass action and collapsed topics plug-ins, options for printing quizzes and course pages,  and accessibility best practices.

Moodle 3.1 improvements

Select assignments for download

This feature allows you to select which assignments you want to download, rather than having to download all of them at once. This is a step forward in functionality, but it does come with a change to the base functionality. The resulting ZIP file now nests the assignment files in folders for each student, rather than using a single folder and prefixing each file with the student’s username and assignment info. This makes the assignment folder less browsable, and will cause teachers to drill down an extra level to view each students’ work.

The plus side is that the files themselves are no longer renamed, but this may be offset by the need to browse an additional layer of folders.

Topic Blocks

Topic blocks are now easier to manage — you can delete them, which sends their attached resources to the recycling bin.

Recycling Bin

The recycling bin works as expected, allowing you to restore deleted content such as resources. It is tied to the course, not the instructor (e.g., if one instructor deletes something, the other one can restore it).

Assignment submission view and document annotation

As we discussed during the sprint, the assignment submission view has been revised. It now displays (or tries to display) the assignment as a PDF alongside the necessary grading fields (grade, comments, etc.).

There are two problems with the feature.

    1. Converting to PDF: If the submitted document wasn’t a PDF, Moodle attempts to convert it to a PDF. This relies on having an obscure helper utility called “unoconv” installed on the server. If that utility isn’t there (and it’s likely it won’t be) then the conversion fails and the user is left with a blank PDF. This is an issue with Moodle’s requirement checking regime (if you don’t have unoconv, Moodle shouldn’t try to use this feature) that is actively being worked on in MDL-54165 New grading interface should hide “editpdf” if unoconv is not enabled
    2. The annotation tool is clunky: Even if everything is working as intended, the annotation tool remains clunky, being akin to adding a simple paint program to Moodle. Previously this was less of an issue because it was not front and center in Moodle’s workflow, but the new submission view puts it front and center. Comment on MDL-54818 Improve assignment PDF annotation if this issue is important to you.

Both of these issues should be called out in the CLAMP Moodle Exchange for further discussion.

Pinned discussion topics

This works as advertised; many thanks for CLAMP’s own Charles Fulton for contributing to this feature. By default, the teacher role and higher can pin topics, but that capability can be assigned to other roles in the system.

News Forum changed to Announcements

The “News forum” is now called “Announcements”, which is more in keeping with how that forum is used.


We began reviewing the new “competencies” feature in Moodle 3.1. Moodle’s documentation describes competencies as:

“Competencies describe the level of understanding or proficiency of a learner in certain subject-related skills. Competency-based education (CBE), also known as Competency-based learning or Skills-based learning, refers to systems of assessment and grading where students demonstrate these competencies.” — Competencies documentation

We’ve spent several hours looking at competencies and by the end of Day 1 we’d come to the conclusion that they’re complicated. They implement their own workflow involving “competency frameworks” — which hold collections of related competencies — as well as “lesson plans” which group competencies together for the use by students. We’re still getting our heads around the workflow; it would be helpful if the competency documentation did a better job of explaining how all the pieces were supposed to work together.

The dev documentation, which explicitly states it is out of date, does a better job of explaining the base assumptions behind the feature and how it’s supposed to work.

We did find a bug related to competencies: MDL-54721: Competency breakdown report: User selection is not working well. This bug is fixed in Moodle 3.1.1.

Grade Improvements

The grades interface is improved; there are now separate links for “Grades” and “Grade setup” in the Course administration block. The latter is the same as “Categories and items”, but makes more intuitive sense since that page is really about setting up and configuring the gradebook.

Search Improvements

Search was improved in Moodle 3.1 but it has additional dependencies that may be beyond the reach of many schools: it requires the installation of both the Solr server and the Solr extension prior to Moodle configuration and setup. Based on the documentation, the improved search respects user access and only returns items you have access to. It also appears to search just about all of the standard objects. (e.g. book, assignment, forums, etc.). We did not have Solr setup at Hack/Doc so we were not able to test this further.

Moodle Mobile

The new Moodle Mobile app works better in 3.1 and eliminates earlier versions’ need for a stand alone plugin. The app looks nice and you can now participate in certain activities, like quizzes, from the app, but it still frequently passes people off to the mobile browser version for much of their Moodle interactions.

By default the app only syncs with its home Moodle over wifi, which could mean that faculty and teachers would miss forum posts and other updates while walking in and out of wifi zones on campus. The app also has calendar notifications, but these notifications started showing up at midnight, and there appeared to be no way to disable them. The app does not support push notifications from individual courses.

Generally speaking the app worked better on iOS than Android, particularly when it came to file handling. Android would store files it didn’t recognize in a hidden directory, which could lead to storage capacity issues on your mobile device. The app does allow you to control the size of this download space.

Our sense is that if your school has a good mobile or responsive theme, you should tell people to use that rather than the app, given that the app will most likely send them there anyway.

New tools for managing and displaying courses

We looked at the Mass Actions block, which allows users to quickly update multiple activities or resources within their course. The general sense is that this is a useful block to have installed, and that Moodle 3.1’s Recycling Bin component provides a good safety net should someone accidentally mass delete multiple elements from their course.

We reviewed the Collapsed Topics course format as way of controlling the “scroll of death” in which large amounts of information, resources, and activities can lead to exceedingly large web pages that take a long time to scroll through. Collapsed Topics streamlines the course by reducing the footprint of each topic. They can be expanded or closed as needed.

There have been reports of Mass Actions conflicting with Collapsed Topics, but we were not able to recreate those issues in Moodle 3.1.


We looked at ways to streamline printing from Moodle, specifically creating printer friendly views of quizzes (for accessibility or offline quiz taking support) and weekly course topics (for use as a syllabus).

We found the following:


  • In Quiz settings, go to Layout and then choose a layout format a layout that gets all of the quiz questions onto one page. From here, there are a couple options…
    • For editable text, the best tool we found was a Chrome plugin called Clearly (by Evernote). This plugin cleans up the clutter on the page and gives you text that can be pasted into a text editor.
    • For a print and take exam, we found two options:
      • Print to PDF in Google Chrome cleaned all of the navigation clutter and allowed me to print a screen accurate version of the exam.
      • Evernote Web Clipper (Chrome/Firefox plugin) allowed the same, but added the ability to email/share an editable file.

Course as a syllabus

We looked at the following options for the Chrome web browser:

  • Print to PDF in Chrome can output a fairly clean page in some cases. There is a bit of navigation content at the top and bottom of the course content, but this can be fairly easily removed in Acrobat Pro. It works well for text heavy courses, but can be inconsistent on courses with a lot of photos or HTML content in Labels.
  • Evernote Web Clipper for Chrome will extract course content from the course page and allow you to edit and output a pretty clean document with minimal editing. The Firefox version will only detect content from the first topic section of the course page.
  • Save to Pocket plugin will only capture the Moodle login page, no course content.
  • Clearly plugin (a deprecated Evernote plugin) would only capture content from the first topic section of the course page.
  • Save to Google Drive plugin inserts all of the navigation links and block content into the middle of the course content. It also does not handle HTML in labels or photos in labels very well. Can’t recommend this option.


We spent considerable time discussing accessibility and universal design, both within Moodle and beyond. We’ve found a wealth of information which is worthy of its own post — in short we intend to build a list of accessibility best practices and then highlight them by designing a course with poor accessibility and then fixing it to create an new course with improved accessibility.

As part of this we leveraged the WAVE extension for Google Chrome to evaluate existing course pages at our home institutions. This uncovered a long-standing issue with how Moodle handles alternative text for its icons: for menu items it duplicates the text of the menu in alt text for its corresponding icon. This causes screen readers to read the text twice. MDL-46226 Pix_icon should not have the same title as alt attribute discusses this issue, but it hasn’t been revisited since 2014. We need to comment on this tracker to note that is an ongoing issue.

We’ve also setup a new #accessibility channel in the CLAMP Slack Team so that we can continue our conversation after Hack/Doc. The CLAMP Slack team is available at https://clamp-it.slack.com; join the team using “CLAMP’s Request access to services” form.

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