Category Archives: Moodle
All things Moodle
Prevention is better than cure – when it comes to catching plagiarism
It is better to remove the opportunity to plagiarise rather than have an assignment that presents the opportunity for students to plagiarise
The keynote from the founder of Moodle, Martin Dougiamas at this years Ireland and UK Moodle Moot provided several examples how online services and products can be used to produce assignments that will not be detected by the standard text matching services that we have all grown to rely on. With these advances in technology and the ubiquitous access to information through the internet plagiarism and academic integrity is a huge concern for education institutions. We all need to work together to reduce the factors that comprise academic integrity – the pressure, the opportunity to cheat and the rationalisation that students may have to cheat. It is a multifaceted problem and therefore requires a multifaceted set of solutions. For the purpose of this blog post I’m going to concentrate on one of those solutions – the design of assessments.
While there have been tremendous advances in text matching software like Ouriginal and TurnItIn in recent years – it is really a case of “the horse has already bolted” to coin an old phrase. If the gate was never open in the first place the horse would never have escaped. If the assignment was designed with Academic Integrity in mind it makes it more difficult for the student to plagiarise. I’m not saying impossible , just more difficult. Remember assessment design is only part of the solution.
As part of an Erasmus project we have had the opportunity to work with partners in Georgia, Austria, Sweden and the UK to help academics design the opportunity for plagiarism out of assignments.
One of the outputs from this project was the “12 Principles of Academic Integrity” in relation to design of assessments.
- Set consistently high academic integrity standards which values university, programme and student/graduate reputation
- Provide detailed information direction on how students might avoid breaches of academic integrity and ensure consistency across a programme team
- Regularly update and edit assessments and programme assessment strategies.
- Use marking criteria and rubrics to reward positive behaviours associated with academic integrity;
- Design assessments that motivate and challenge students to do the work themselves;
- Ensure assessments are authentic, current and relevant;
- Adopt a scaffolded approach to assessments for learning with feedback points throughout the assessment process;
- Consider assessment briefs that have open-ended solutions or more than one solution
- Design in elements for students to record their individual pathways of thinking demonstrating students own work
- Design assessments which allow learners to prepare personalised assessments (either individually or group based)
- Build in a form of questioning or presentation/viva type defence component
- Co-design assessments or elements of assessment with students;
These principles are derived following a comprehensive review of the literature which focussed on two main questions:
- What approaches to assessment design are used to promote or maintain academic integrity?
- What recommendations are being made on using assessment design to support academic integrity?
Over the next few weeks I will share examples how an educator may through using a variety of learning technologies integrate these principles into their assessment design. For now I will leave you short interview with Professor Phil Newton. Phil is the Director of Learning and Teaching, having oversight of all taught programmes within the Swansea University Medical School. His research interest is in the area of Evidence-based Education, particularly Academic Integrity. I had the pleasure of interviewing Phil a while back and want to share his words of wisdom again.
Do course templates really work?
A few years ago we introduced a template for our Moodle course pages to help ensure that our courses meet minimum standards with regards to course design – specifically universal design for learning. We had numerous features within this template and we wanted to examine the courses to see how many courses actually used the templates; rolling out the template is not a problem as we can roll them out as adminstrators and we can also easily customise the template for each course category.
Once each of the course pages are created using these templates the lecturer needs to edit the content provided through the template. For example our template provides a picture and the staff member is encourage to swap this picture with a photo of themselves. Similarly we put in a generic email address (email@example.com) and encourage a lecturer to replace it with their own email address. Through ad hoc visits to course pages we realised quite a few lecturers were not inserting their own pictures or email addresses. We have over 2400 course pages so manually checking every page is not practical. So with the help of Catalyst IT we developed a report to analyse all of the course pages. Because we have set up a category for each faculty and a sub category for each school in that category we can do reports on this basis. A sample of the report is visible in the screenshot below:
The next steps are to adopt the report to analyse additional parts of the template in the same way. Furthermore at the same time of enhancing the report we will provide CPD to staff to emphasise the importance of taking the time to swap/replace key parts of the template with information specific to their course pages.
For those interested here is the code that we used and as ever any suggestions for improvement would be very welcome :
courses.shortname ‘course (short)’,
CONCAT(‘‘, courses.fullname, ‘‘) course,
WHEN FROM_BASE64(configdata) LIKE ‘%firstname.lastname@example.org%’ THEN ‘X’ ELSE ‘OK’
WHEN FROM_BASE64(configdata) LIKE ‘%Avatar|%20pixabay.png%’ ESCAPE ‘|’ THEN ‘X’ ELSE ‘OK’
WHEN pos.visible=0 THEN ‘HIDDEN’ ELSE ‘VISIBLE’
FROM prefix_block_instances blocks
LEFT JOIN prefix_block_positions pos ON blocks.id=pos.blockinstanceid
LEFT JOIN prefix_context instances ON blocks.parentcontextid = instances.id
LEFT JOIN prefix_course courses ON instances.instanceid = courses.id
LEFT JOIN prefix_course_categories categories ON courses.category = categories.id
LEFT JOIN (
SEPARATOR ‘, ‘
FROM prefix_role_assignments assign
JOIN prefix_role roles ON roles.id = assign.roleid
JOIN prefix_context context ON assign.contextid = context.id
JOIN prefix_course courses ON context.instanceid = courses.id
JOIN prefix_user users ON assign.userid = users.id
WHERE roles.shortname = ‘editingteacher’
AND context.contextlevel = 50
GROUP BY courseid
) teachers ON courses.id = teachers.courseid
WHERE blockname = ‘html’
FROM_BASE64(configdata) LIKE ‘%Avatar|%20pixabay.png%’ ESCAPE ‘|’
OR FROM_BASE64(configdata) LIKE ‘%email@example.com%’
ORDER BY categories.name, courses.fullname
How to add a Post it Board to your Moodle course
Student engagement has always been a popular subject and there are numerous methods to facilitate that engagement. For every method of engagement there are probably ten times as many tools and software packages available for people to use for engagement. Each tool claiming to be better the rest or offering an exclusive functionality when compared to its rivals. Recent responses from the from DCU staff to the National Index survey highlight that our staff use a wide array of these tools.
While each one of these tools may be brilliant, it is not practical to have a licence for every one and the free versions always come with a hidden price – either limited functionality or poor data protection (in the majority of cases both). So instead of choosing one specific platform and paying an annual licence we have decided to develop Moodle “Board”.
Board provides the capability for a student to post a “note on a board” anonymously, emulating a real life equivalent of writing a note on a “post-it” on a wall, or whiteboard.
Lecturers can categorise the posts by creating different “columns” on the board for students to place their note on. Board works just as well on mobiles as it does on laptops. Feedback from our staff focus group was very positive and I look forward to hearing from student focus in the coming weeks.
Comparison to commercial platforms
Similar to most platforms users of Moodle “board” can post text, links, videos and images. However because this is built in Moodle we have “restrict access”, “completion activity” and “grouping” capabilities which are available in a lot of core Moodle features but not available in these commercial platforms. As the board is an activity within a course, posts are restricted to students in that course as opposed to just having a url publicly available.
Furthermore while the post appears anonymous on the surface a lecturer has the ability to export the content to a CSV file and link the usernames to the “posts” within the CSV file.
We don’t have it perfect and have listed a few enhancements for future developments and would welcome further suggestions from you.
Features/Capabilities to be added after beta testing subject to funding:
- Ability for a teacher to reorganize the posts by dragging them from one column to another
- Ability to set activity completion e.g. student must add X amount of notes to the board
- Pin one or more posts by teacher – Pinned post goes to top.
- Ability to “star” a post
- Ability to reorganize posts based on “stars” (currently only available by date of posting)
- Have a date & time for “post by” which stops students adding entries
- Lock an individual column
- Ability to access the board and post to the board even if the user does not have a moodle account
The plugin will be available for DCU staff in January 2021 and released to the Moodle community via the plugin database at the same time
Learning Technology Services, Brickfield Education Labs
Dublin City University as part of our wider approach to the pivot online following the Covid19 pandemic (additional funding was provided by the National Forum through the EASTDOL project, led by DCU)
Does an increase flexibility of our courses result in reduced accessibility?
In the last 20 years there has been a nearly six fold increase with students in higher education declaring disabilities, equating to over 14000 students in 2019. It is also worth noting that this number is just the students that declare a disability, I am confident that there are many more throughout the sector. For every “visible” disability e.g. someone in a wheelchair or a blind student there are many “invisible” disabilities such as dyslexia, autism and ADHD. Therefore as lecturers we will never know if we have students with disabilities in our class making the adoption of a “Universal Design for Learning” (UDL) approach more vital than ever. While we encourage lecturers to expand access and increase flexibility by moving towards a more blended provision of their courses – are they adhering to the principles of Universal Design. They are specialists in their respective disciplines and not necessarily web developers or accessibility experts. This post outlines how we assessed the accessibility of the course pages on our VLE (Moodle).
Figure 1: Number of students with disabilities in higher education
Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the ALT (Association for Learning Technology) annual conference. I co-presented Gavin Henrick from Brickfield Education Labs describing the research conducted to evaluate the accessibility of course pages within our virtual learning environment. This presentation described how, using existing open source libraries, we built a reporting tool to define which checks were carried out, how they were carried out, how this data was stored and reported on at module, programme, and faculty level. As the report is available at these various levels, a lecturer can self evaluate their own course pages and staff developers can identify the training and support that may be needed across an entire faculty.
A subset of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines was chosen for this study. These guidelines created by the World Wide Web consortium are a series of guidelines for improving web accessibility. Twelve separate modules within a programme were analysed for such checks as: are web links and images used on the courses accessible? Are headings within long passages of text used appropriately? The results while promising did highlight there is still room for improvement.
Figure 2 – Course checks per page
Figure 2 illustrates the results from one course in particular, illustrating that 5% of the images on this course have no alt text, 10% have issues with poor layout and 8% have poorly displayed links to other webpages. Figure 3 provides an alternative breakdown of the results illustrating what feature of the VLE is throwing up the most issues. For example we can clearly see on this particular course that the majority of the issues on this course are related to the Moodle “book”
Figure 3 – analysis of checks per moodle feature
These are just two of the reports that are available with several more available both at a course and a programme level. We look forward to providing an update on the next stage of this research at the World Conference for Online Learning in Dublin later this year.
World wide web consortium web accessibility initiative. 2008. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). [Online]. [2 April 2019]. Available from: https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/
Data on students in Irish Higher Education with Disabilities, 2018: Available from: https://www.ahead.ie/datacentre18-yearonyear
Addressing the challenge of a programme view of assessment
On so many occasions assessment across a programme can be disconnected. More often that not lecturer “A” doesn’t talk to lecturer “B” to discuss their assessments to identify opportunity for collaboration or at the very least avoid poor scheduling of assignments. Even in circumstances where discussion does take place it normally relies on one individual such as the programme coordinator to instigate conversations with each of the individual lecturers and collate assessment information for the student handbook. In addition to the additional workload created for the coordinator this handbook information can very quickly go out of date if an individual lecturer decides that they need to change their assessment for their module.
To help address this we have built a report in Moodle that works on a course page level and is accessible by the teacher associated with the course. This report uses the core ability of Moodle to tag courses in the course page settings. Each programme has a unique code which we use as a Moodle tag for each year e.g. “science1” for BSc in Science first year, “science 2” for BSc in Science for second year etc. Then Moodle pulls all of the assignments from each of the modules assigned that tag.
The following example may help illustrate how it works
A student studying in first year science studies three modules Chemistry 101, Physics 101 and Biology 101. The plugin that we have developed first adds the tag “science1” to each of the modules. Then any teacher on the aforementioned modules can generate the report through the reports feature on the administration block on their course page. The report pulls all of the assignments in each of the modules and presents them in several formats.
A bar chart with the number of assignments across the next 12 weeks, presented on weekly basis.
A list of each assignment, their opening date and closing date, the assignment description, whether it is a group assignment or not and what module the assignment is from.
The assignment description is available by rolling your mouse over the assignment title. The data is also available to download in a CSV or xls spreadsheet format.
Following an evaluation of this report with our staff we intend to make further enhancements to the report and then release it to the Moodle community.
Making audio feedback easy in Moodle – the joys of Open Source Software
Following our move from the text matching service TurnItIn to a rival product Urkund, the most common complaint that we received was the loss of “Feedback Studio” feature of TurnItIn and in particular the ability to easily provide audio feedback to students. Following consultation with the Moodle community we concluded that having the ability to provide audio feedback directly to students directly through Moodle would be a very valuable addition to the core Moodle capabilities. We raise a ticket on the Moodle tracker and proceeded to encourage members of the community to comment on and vote for this tracker item if they thought it would be worthwhile.
Power of the people
The Moodle community spoke and Moodle HQ responded as you would expect and agreed to examine the potential of adding audio feedback into core. I’m delighted to report that 12 months later, thanks to the team in HQ we have a “patch” enabling us to provide audio feedback to students on their assignments for our Moodle 3.5 instance and audio feedback will be available as part of core for Moodle 3.6.
This development is yet another example of the benefit of Open Source. I firmly believe that it would take significantly more time and persuasion to convince a commercial LMS provider to not only take on board users feedback but make significant changes to core product in such a short space of time. The community were able to investigate the code themselves, provide suggestions to Moodle HQ developers and troubleshoot problems as they arose. Of course that it not to mention that this significant enhancement is available at no extra cost to the end users once adopted into core.
We’re all in the same boat – so why not share? – reflections from Mahoodle 2017
We’re all in the same boat – so why not share? We are all understaffed and under funded. We all want the best learning experience for our students. We all are juggling numerous projects it doesn’t make sense to me that we are all doing it independently of one another.
This belief was driven home to me at the end of last week. Friday 20th October Cambridge University hosted the first Mahoodle conference in the UK – where educators that were interested in Moodle (the learning management system) and Mahara (ePortfolio platform) presented on various developments/projects that they were involved in involving one or both platforms. While I always welcome events like this for the opportunity to network with colleagues from other institutions, I was particularly looking forward to this one; We got to present the final stages of the AAIM project. This project was a result of a collaboration between University of Sussex and Dublin City University. More details are available on the project website but in a nutshell the goal was to improve the analytic reporting within Mahara.
We are delighted to announce that as of yesterday, the reporting capability developed as a result of this project are now in core Mahara.
6 months of work, 40 contributors & great new functionality: We published #mahara 17.10 on Monday. @maharaproject https://t.co/BsdSu1PMnQ
— Catalyst IT (@CatalystNZ) November 1, 2017
We are now going to release as many of our Mahara plugins as we can to the community and will work with Catalyst (the company behind Mahara) to get as much of these developments into core so everyone can benefit.
Following our tremendously successful experience working with Sussex we are looking for more Mahara projects that we can collaborate on. If you have any ideas or up for being involved in collaboration please contact myself (@glynnmark) or David Walker from Sussex (@drdjwalker)
Learning Analytics ….. measure what you value
Learning analytics is not a new term for higher education. In fact as far back as 2010 Learning analytics was mentioned in the NMC Horizons report. Last year I had the privilege of attending the LAK conference in Edinburgh in Scotland which is a very established international network of people researching learning analytics. So learning analytics is far from new. But, in my experience, until recently the conversations around student data and learning analytics were limited to a few people within institutions. However in recent months it is a term that is gathering a lot of interest in the every day conversations within higher education institutions. More and more people are seeing the potential and in some cases even realising the benefits of learning analytics. Dr Bart Rientes, Prof Shane Dawson and Prof Dragan Gasevic are people that I follow with great interest. Each of them leading the way in their respective fields, researching different aspects of learning analytics.The National Forum for Teaching & Learning, an organisation supporting T&L in higher education in Ireland has recently launched a project to raise the awareness of Learning Analytics so all of the indicators are that this is an area that is here to stay and will only get bigger in the years to come.
Personally speaking I got involved in learning analytics in DCU nearly 3 years ago examining if there was a correlation between a students engagement with the VLE and their success rates in the module. As you can expect, there is a very strong correlation. But we took it one step forward, using historical data we built algorithms to predict a students success based on their current interactions and we gave this information back to students with the hope of it improving completion rates. More information can be found here. Without spoiling the surprise, while the project was a success this project only gave one piece of the jigsaw.
Several different initiatives emerged following the findings from this project. Each one giving a different piece of the jigsaw.The next series of posts will outline the various learning analytics projects that we have conducted in DCU.
In conclusion learning analytics has proven to be a powerful tool that can help improve the learning experience of the student in so many ways but each bit of data is only one piece of the jigsaw. My word of caution that I would give to anyone interested in learning analytics is measure what you value, don’t value what you measure!
Guiding people around Moodle
Learning any new software can be difficult at the best of times but if you are not a “digital native” even an apparently simple system can be a huge obstacle. This is most certainly the case with Moodle. If you can’t use it, it won’t matter how good it is, it just won’t be used. In my opinion Moodle has an added complication that as it is an open source product designed by many people to suit a large array of needs it may not always be as simple as you would like it to be.
To tackle this issue we commissioned the development of a plugin for Moodle that gives users a guided tour around each page when they arrive on it for the first time. The guides can be for students or teachers and the plugin is designed in such a way to allow generic tours to be used on any type of course page, no matter how it is laid out or what blocks you have included on your course page.
It has great potential for student orientation with Moodle and also potentially removing a fear for staff if they want to try out new features on Moodle
Hopefully you will find this plugin useful
Here is a short presentation which I gave to staff recently – hopefully explains it a little better.
FYI “Loop” mentioned in this video is the name of our Moodle instance.
Please pass this post onto anyone that you feel would be interested.
Interested in Collaborating on Moodle 2
Everybody connected in some way or another with Moodle is aware that the system has undergone significant changes when it moved from Moodle 1.9 to Moodle 2. Some institutions are lucky to have significant resources at their disposal to cope with these changes – other institutions are not so lucky. Most of us have built up our training and support resources over a number of years. But the advent of Moodle 2 has put everybody onto the same starting point. To that end I have a suggestion for a collaboration. I suggest we sharing resources for Moodle 2. A logical suggestion considering the open source nature of Moodle.
We can potential share training resources i.e. training manuals and screencasts. In theory this level of collaboration is great, in practice though, there can be a great deal of difference between two different Moodle instances so my instructions on how to do x,y, or z is not applicable to your institution. That said, I do feel sharing instructional resources is a very useful idea and potentially a great starting point for collaboration between two or more institutions. However I have a specific suggestion on how to collaborate through Moodle.
I would like to collaborate on Moodle 2 orientated around an initiative led by Napier University in Scotland. This initiative is referred to as the 3E framework. The framework is based on an Enhance-Extend-Empower continuum. This was developed, with illustrative simple-but-effective examples that might be incorporated as a minimum (Enhance), through to uses of technology that give students more responsibility for key aspects of their learning (Extend), and to underpin more sophisticated, authentic activities that reflect the professional environments for which they are preparing (Empower).
The framework is best explained through examples. The link below provides such examples
I would like to support this framework by crowd-sourcing screencast examples/instructions on the various features of Moodle relevant to the example on the framework e.g. if the example under groupwork at the enhance level
- “Make the group working more manageable and ‘visible’ by having each group post a weekly update of progress to a private discussion board visible to the group and tutor” –
The relevant moodle screencasts would be how to create groups and how to post a discussion forum.
If you are interested in either of these initiatives please contact me via the comment box below or via twitter through @glynnmark
- Moodle feb 2013 (slideshare.net)
- 23 Moodle videos from Lynda.com (for free) (moodlenews.com)