My Profile Block for Moodle 2

Having just implemented student timetables and student attendance registers into Moodle I required space on the MyMoodle page for links to these two new pages.
The most logical place for this was in a block and the “Logged in User” block was the perfect place to embed these links (and future links if required).

In order to keep everything core I decided against hacking this block directly and instead cloned the block and hacked this one instead.  I’ve cleaned it up and added some extra CSS elements and the final result is shown below.

Now when I upgrade Moodle nothing gets overridden as this is now a separate block.  I also have a block now with wich I can add extra functionality should the need arise.

My Profile Block for Moodle 2

My Profile Block for Moodle 2


Assignment Grading hack for Moodle 2

One of the biggest frustrations with Moodle 2 is the changes to the theme that create an iframe scroll effect for content that exceeds the width of the theme.

For example, if your theme is 1000 pixels wide, the gradebook doesn’t get pushed off the edge, as in Moodle 1.9, but instead is wrapped inside the container with an additional horizontal scroll bar.  Whilst this does look neater, it makes grading assignments with many users a cumbersome task.  And here at Leeds, this receives the most complaints from tutors.

Tutors have to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the horizontal scroll bar and then back up again to find the student.  Even pressing the right arrow key on the keyboard doesn’t stop them from finding their place in the table, and sticky user profile pics doesn’t cut it either.

I know this year I said I would refrain from hacking the course code but this is a necessity.

After much deliberation I decided the cleanest and tidiest way to improve the grading of assignments was to replace the user pics column with an additional status column.

Now when a tutor views an assignment they see the link to either “Grade” or “update” right next to the student name.
No more sideways scrolling and it’s quick and easy to see what hasn’t been marked.

To do this I edited mod/assignment/lib and around line 1478

$row = array($picture, $userlink, $grade, $comment, $studentmodified, $teachermodified, $status, $finalgrade);
$row = array($status, $userlink, $grade, $comment, $studentmodified, $teachermodified, $status, $finalgrade);

All we have done here is replaced $picture with $status.
I then made some CSS changes to make the link appear more like a button by adding some padding and a background colour and border.

Now everyone is happy I can get back to my other tasks….for now anyhow!

Moodle Subpage Module

This has to be one of the best modules I’ve seen for Moodle. It’s created by Sam Marshall from the Open University and still in beta but I simply had to install it.

It allows tutors to split a course up into sub-courses and add resources and activities within these sub-courses.

A bit like how I use meta courses already. But doing it this way reduces the overhead on the meta enrolments and easily allows resources to be moved around the course.

The tutor simply adds the sub-page through the “Add a Resource” activity.

The mod installed perfectly and I applied the patches that fix the redirect as suggested by Sam.
I wasn’t keen with the way it orphans the activies in the sub-page so I removed orphaned activities using CSS (I don’t like the orphaned activities in Moodle 2 period, I prefer to increase/reduce the number of topics instead).

Lastly, I added some CSS to my theme so that the links to the sub-pages use the same graphics we use for all of our unit links.

This mod has several advantages:

1)Long courses can be split up into units
2)No coding necessary
3)It auto creates the link to the new section
4) It auto creates the standard graphic we use for creating units
5) If you put assignments in a sub-course, or sub-courses, it will show from your main course gradebook, so everything is in one place.
6) You can have sub-courses, within sub-courses within sub-courses…great for complex courses or modules
7) You can use groups and groupings on the sub-course link so that only certain students on your course can see the sub-course

Thanks Sam, this mod is amazing. I’ll be keeping my eye on its development and maybe tweaking it some more myself.

Moodle Mobile Usage

Last week I produced a mobile usage report for the Leeds City College Moodle. By using Google Analytics I was able to determine which devices users were accessing Moodle with and calculate the average number of mobile visitors per month.  The plan is to increase our Mobile usage by improving the user interface and promote the benefits of using Moodle via a mobile to all of our students.

As expected, the iPhone has the highest number of users, followed by Android.  I was disappointed by the lack of Windows Devices and hope to get hold of such a devise to test properly and maybe improve the user experience.

Here is a quick overview:




The importance of Moodle backups

There is a phrase, or it may even be a brand slogan that says, “If it’s worth creating, it’s worth backing up“.  And from my experience this week, nothing could be closer to the truth.

As the size of the Leeds City College Moodle grows, so does the number of assignments, grades and feedback.  And as this grows, the critical importance of Moodle grows with it.  And ultimately it’s all my responsibility, sadly my salary doesn’t grow inline with it.

Last week we experienced a glitch that could have been catastrophic if it wasn’t for our regimented backup routines.
It was brought to my attention that a tutor on a course deleted a student assignment that had been uploaded in the wrong place.  The delete worked but it also deleted every other assignment in the course and every grade and feedback.

And that’s where the panic kicked in.

Over 335 assignments had gone, along with the tutors feedback.  This left me with 2 options;

  1. get each student to resubmit every piece of coursework from scratch and ask the tutor to re-grade them, or
  2. restore what I can from the backups

Option 1 was not possible, nor was it fair on the students or tutors.

Our Moodle database is backed up each day, the Moodle Data Directory is incrementally copied to a remote server so we can always roll back at least 24 hours.  Sometimes even further if required.

I couldn’t simply do a course restore as the course was in full time use, and since the disaster other students had submitted other assignments.  So to restore the course would lose even more data.

So I had to fix this “old school” .  By extracting the assignment submission entries from a database backup 24 hours before and then manually log in as each student and resubmit the original files.  By importing the submission data I was able to restore the feedback and grades.

And yes, there were over 335 to do, and this involved finding the file, saving it locally, logging on as the student, uploading the file, logging out and repeating the process each time.  Needless to say, it took me 3 days.  My eyes were strained, my wrist in tatters and my will to live in pieces but I got there in the end.  Luckily it was only 335, and not the 16,000 uploaded since September.

Had I not had a backup then we would have lost over 300 assignments, and the feedback, and this is all crucial to our students future and qualification grade.

If you take anything from this blog post, aside from sympathy for me…then please…devise and implement a solid backup plan…it could save your sanity and your job.

Now I  just have to figure out what caused the assignments to all disappear in the first place…