The Fiendish Moodle 2

manualgradingWorking with Moodle 2 (currently 2.3 on my own and MiraCosta College’s server) has caused a lot of the angst you’ve been reading about here on my blog, as the LMS again comes back to bite me. At first, in the early days, it was a good relationship. Moodle wowed me with nested discussion forums, and handled all those pesky household tasks, like adding up grades and helping with communication via pop-up Messages. Now, I can’t even get it to take out the garbage.

When will I learn?

Anyway, here’s a brief guide to the top ten demonic aspects of Moodle 2.

1. Contextual Menus

I’ve blogged about it before  and they are no less infernal now. Pay attention to those docked menus (you can dock and undock them – undocked they end up in your narrow column).

Here’s one horrid example. I like the Manual Grading feature, where I can grade everyone’s essay on one screen, or 10 at a time. I just clicked on the assignment -> attempts -> Manual Grading (3 clicks).

In M2, when I go to the assignment, I don’t see anywhere I can do that. I have to go to the main page, and turn Editing on for the whole course first. Then I can go to the assignment, click on the total attempts, and I must add the Navigation block onto that page. Then I must follow the lentils: My home -> My courses -> course name -> particular week dates -> Quiz -> Results -> Manual grading (7 clicks).

Sometimes I get the bends coming back up.

2. Deep sea diving for student records

Twice each semester I have students create a self-evaluation I call the Contribution Assessment. To do it, they (and then I) must be able to see their logs and activity reports. In Moodle 1.9 this was Participants -> Student name and their profile had tabs for all the information at the top. Two clicks back to return to the participants list.

In Moodle 2, you need oxygen tanks.

moodle2settingsmenu moodle2navimenu


The Settings menu (left) has settings (which are contextual – they change depending which page you’re on, so you often have to “back out” to the main page).

The Navigation menu (right) has things we would used to think of as settings, or at least items in the Admin menu.

The student information is in the Navigation menu, buried deep.  To actually view the chart of activity completion with all students, the path is : Navigation > Courses > My course > Reports > Activity completion.

3. Things not turned on

Moodle 2 diabolically puts more things under administrative control than before. Student permissions have to be set so you can access them (and often admins won’t allow this). You actually need an admin setting changed to allow students to see their own activity reports. Here’s some of the things I had to request our admin to enable (you can skip this if the back end isn’t your thing):

– Appearance – Themes – Enable course themes
– Appearance – HTML settings – uncheck box to allow html in labels
– Appearance – AJAX and Javascript – Enable Ajax
– Advanced – Enable Outcomes, Stats, RSS feeds, completion tracking, conditional access, plagiarism- Permissions – Course – Log in as other users must be enabled for faculty- Assign roles – override permissions – Manage files – allow
– plugins – activity modules – url -> uncheck Require activity description, Available display options select all, customize popups (800×600), customize frame height (100)
– Plugins – Activity modules – Forum – uncheck “Use email address in reply”, change “Read after days” to 160, “Enable RSS feeds” change to Yes
– Plugins – Activity modules – Page – uncheck “Require activity description”
– Plugins – Filters – Manage filters – turn off everything not using, enable only activity names auto-linking and multimedia plugins applied to content- Plugins – Blcoks – Manage blocks – make invisible what you nevewr use
– Plugins – Message outputs – Email (uses php default in Moodle to send mail, might need to change to SMTP)
– Plugins – Message outputs – Default message outputs – change Personal messages between users – check Online also so comes to your email also even if logged in – may have to turn off a lot of these or students see strange things in their – – Messages about their grade being changed every time an assignment is graded
– Users–>Permissions–>User policies -> Show User Identity -> uncheck email if it’s checked
– Location – Location settings – set these locally
– Grades – General settings – “Recover grades default” – check box
– Grades – General settings – “Navigation method” – tabs
– Courses – Course default settings – “number of week/topics” change to 18, news items = 3 , checkbox to “Show activity reports”, Completion tracking change to Enabled
– Courses – Backups – Active change to Enabled, schedule them
– Security – Site policies – Allow EMBED and OBJECT tags check box, Max time to edit posts change to 60 minutes, Password policy- Security – Site policies – Enable Trusted Content

4. Activity tracking 

activitycompletionThis one is only partly evil.

Let’s say you don’t want to go deep sea diving to see how each student is doing on work, graded and ungraded, in the class. You can set each and every item on the main page to be tracked. You add a URL page to Wikipedia – you can set it to mark a student has completed it when they open it. You add a quiz – you can set the quiz to mark it completed only when it’s graded. You add a forum – you can set it to be marked as completed only when the student has posted twice.

BUT (the evil part) you must do it for each and every thing you want tracked one at a time. There’s no way to set everything as Student must view or Student must receive a grade. Each item, each forum, one at a time.

And (more evil), if you change the Scale or any text in a forum after it’s in action, Moodle won’t save it properly until you delete everyone’s activity tracking. Which, of course, it warns you not to do. This isn’t anywhere in any documentation. (See #6, below, on weird tricks.)

5. Bye bye those bits of HTML 

Moodle 2, despite its TinyMCE toolbar for everything, doesn’t actually like HTML. It likes CSS. So when I wrote my own professorial post in a forum, I used to indicate it was mine by putting a horizontal orange line at the top and bottom of my post.

<hr size=6 color=orange>

Now I have to use:

<hr style=”border-color: orange; height:6px” />

I speak fluent HTML, but I don’t speak CSS. I have to copy and paste this every time.

6. You need to know weird tricks. 

Can’t add your code from somewhere in a post, even with the html turned on? A trick is needed: turn off the editor in your own Profile.

Sick of the huge blank column on the left of everything, making it so you can’t see a full window for the gradebook or page? Go back to the main page and turn off Editing.

Doesn’t seem intuitive? Too bad. Bwaah hah hah.

7. It tries to help, but the result is sometimes odd.

Take having students post images and videos in forums. Moodle now tries to be helpful.

On every post page, you can drag-and-drop files now. This means the big drag-and-drop window has to load every time. What if you don’t want students using that window to upload things, but would rather they link? Then you have to turn the number of attachments to “0” for each forum. Site admin -> Plugins -> Filters -> Multimedia plugins has an option “Enable auto-embedding of linked images”. So if a student posts the URL of an image and links it, that image will appear as embedded. It also does it with YouTube video. Trouble is, if you try to do what’s right and use the embed code plus a live link, the video will appear twice in the post.

Similarly, Site admin – plugins – filters – manage filters has Multimedia plugins -> Convert URLS into links. If a student posts an (unlinked) URL it will make it linked. This behavior sometimes doesn’t play nice with the auto-embedding behavior.

8. Evil continued from Moodle 1.9: The Gradebook and Messaging (cue scary music) 

More bags of tricks needed!

If you know the grades are there but are not appearing in gradebook, lock and unlock gradebook items, including total.

You must change gradebook report preferences to have more students show (the default is only 25).

The one good thing: the course settings in gradebook lets you hide percentages (and scale ranges).

Messaging has always been a horror in Moodle. We delight at the pop-up that alerts students they have a Message, which is so much better than Blackboard, where you have to dig deep to check for a Message you may not have. But that’s where the heavenly part ends. Messaging is part of the central system rather than connected to the course. Faculty teaching multiple courses in Moodle can’t tell which course a student is in when they are sent a Message from them. Moode 2 compounds this problem by removing you from the course to answer the Message. There is no link, no breadcrumb, no “Go Back” to get you back to where you were after you’ve read a student Message. You are stuck at system level. It’s enough to make you give up and use email.

9. The font is very small.

And it’s small in most of the themes, some of which can’t handle basic functions. For full functionality one has to use a standard theme. There hasn’t been enough development yet to use something better. Only a few can be adapted in administrative settings – anything else requires running your own installation and a deep knowledge of CSS. I can’t even figure out how to change the font in Arial when I have access to all the files.

10. It’s ugly.

I’m sorry, but the home page is dumb-looking by default (clouds and birds?), and the fonts and spacing are a step down from the clean look of 1.9.

Yes, we have no choice but to stay together if I’m going to use an LMS. Back in 2007 I contemplated LMS divorce because the other options were looking so good. Now I contemplate because the problems are internal – and infernal.


5 thoughts to “The Fiendish Moodle 2”

  1. I really appreciated reading your blog. I would love to share it as we are going through an LMS review. Would it be OK to share your blog link with my colleagues? This was so well done and I could see how familiar you are with Moodle and the changes/issues with the upgrade. From a Moodle administrator perspective, it is just as hard on us!!

  2. I agree with some of your comments but a few things:

    #6 – gradebook width is a function of many things including the length of the column headings, I try to get instructors to make it as small as possible. Some instructors use the import/export with excel as an option.
    #8 – the administrator sets the default for the number of students, I prefer to use 13 or less as it displays better and keeps the headings
    # 9 – some themes have small fonts (afterburner) and some have large. You can also control the font size with the Ctrl and the scroll button on the mouse.
    #10 – the default page on your homepage is set by the administrator. We don’t force the homepage and one can set a default in their personal profile. I don’t like the birds either but I don’t choose it.
    Sounds like you and the administrator need to get together for a chat 😉

    1. Thanks, DaveB! I do make requests from our admin team, and they’re great. A coupla responses:

      #6 It shouldn’t be necessary for instructors to make the gradebook smaller, or change their grading methods, or to use an external proprietary program to handle grades.

      #8 The instructor can only set the default up to the limit made available by the admin, that’s true, but there’s also a PHP memory factor involved in making it larger for those of us who like it big.

      #9 It shouldn’t be necessary for the end user to adjust browser font size settings (and you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to do that anyway).

      #10 Yup, this one I could ask about – thanks again! (However, I think the defaults should be as plain as possible – featuring Hallmark-looking birds is cruel.)

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