X Close

Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'General Learning Technology' Category

Goodbye to Moodle Snapshots!!

Jason R Norton11 May 2022




From this summer (2022) there will be NO Moodle snapshot taking place. The current “live” Moodle will be the only Moodle going forward and all courses (past, current, and future) from this point will be located within that single instance of Moodle.


What does this mean?

  1. There will not be a Late Summer Assessment (LSA) Moodle instance. All Moodle related LSA work will take place in the main Moodle.
  2. A new category structure will be created based on SITS categories each Academic Year in Moodle.
  3. All courses starting within a particular Academic Year will be located within the new category structure for that year.
  4. The course “rollover” functionality will shortly be made available in Moodle. This tool will facilitate the “Rollover” of courses from one year to another.
  5. Moodle Courses will no longer be reset, they will be “rolled over” into the next academic year and the original kept as a historic record of assessment and for student access.


Why are you getting rid of the Moodle Snapshot?

Moodle Snapshots have been taken historically for two key reasons: –

  • Provide students with access to their previous years course content.
  • Meet our statutory obligations to hold electronic assessments and feedback in line with the UCL data retention policy.

However, creating a Snapshot Moodle generates a series of issues, especially since the introduction of Late Summer Assessment period in 2018.

  • Confusion by both staff and students over which Moodle they should be accessing
  • Two live platforms to support and maintain
  • Complex administration processes
  • Duplicate courses in “live” and Snapshot Moodle
  • Fixed deadlines for course teams to complete Snapshot activities so the Snapshot can made read only.

By moving to one instance of Moodle with a new annual category structure we can accommodated the two primary reasons and reduce or mitigate the associated issues.

It will also allow us to build on exisiting features in Moodle such as Global Search, and allow staff and students to eventually search across multiple years of content. Using the now mandatory course start and end date will enable us to enhance and develop the Moodle user dashboard, so users will be able to view past, current and future courses at the click of a button.


The New Category Structure

The new structure will be created annually by the Digital-Education team as soon as taught Modules are confirmed in SITS as being available in the next academic year. The structure created will be based on SITS data. This should ensure that courses are created within their correct location based upon the selection of the Module occurrence/mapping within the CLC-Tool. An example of this new structure is displayed below:

an image of the new moodle catagory structure

The Course Life Cycle (CLC) Tool (first release)

This plugin will allow you to “rollover” any single course into the new category structure, based upon its SITS module occurrence. Course Administrators and Tutors will access this tool from the administration block, and will be walked through a series of steps to confirm information such as course mappings, catagory and course start/end date, before activating the “rollover” process.

image showing the course rollover menu icon

Course Rollover will be located in the Course administration menu

The previous “original” course can then continue to be used until the course completes. In previous years using a snapshot this would be restricted to the end of November when we would make the entire Moodle read only.

Below are the three steps of the course rollover tool (please note these are development screenshots and layout and text is still subject to change)

course rollover tool page one - selecting your mappings

course rollover tool page two - choosing your course type

course rollover tool page three - confirm rollover options and start process

Guidance and support documentation for the Course Rollover plugin will be released shortly. We plan to make the plugin live in Moodle on the 1st June 2022


Development of the Course Life Cycle Tool?

The CLC tool that we are releasing is our “Minimal Viable Product”, this version contains all the features and functions that we believe are the essential for course teams to Rollover their courses.

This however is not the final version, and our development team will continue to enhance the current functionality and add new features.

On our development roadmap we have the following features to add post initial release.

  • UI/UX changes based on intial release feedback
  • Bulk “rollover” of courses group and/or selection
  • Automated new course creation
  • Course level read-only function and automation
  • Lecturecast link “rollover” function

Removal of the Course Reset Function

As part of the move to course “Rollover”, the Moodle course reset function will be removed on Friday the 13th of May.  Using the Course Life Cycle tool will include reset functionality to create the new version of the course, while maintaining the data integrity of the originating course.

General Questions

What about the existing Snapshot Moodles?

The existing Snapshot instances will be maintained inline with the UCL retention policy of six plus current academic year before being deleted.

How do I make my course read only?

Courses cannot at this point be made read only. Our development team is currently working to release an addition to the CLC-Tool to do this function. Courses can still be hidden.

Why can I not reset my course?

To ensure that we do not suffer any accidental data loss, we will be removing the course Reset function as courses will now be “rolled over” with the CLC-Tool and not reset. If you feel that you require a specific course reset please contact digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk

Who can use the new Course Life Cycle Tool?

Access to the Course Life Cycle Tool and rollover functionality will be restricted to the Course Administrator and Tutor role in Moodle.

Getting better at Stata and R!

Jim R Tyson9 May 2022

It’s possible that some Stata and R users are like me: I am much more likely to spend an hour exploring a new package for k-means clustering or time series techniques or panel data, than I am to look in any detail at new features in graphics routines or learning how to format tables. I tell everyone that the most important part of data analysis is communicating results, but I don’t follow my own lead.

So, in an effort to improve my own knowledge in both Stata and R, I have designed three short new workshops/demonstrations:

  • Scripting Stata Graphs
  • Scripting Stata Tables
  • Better Tables in R

The first of these covers a topic that I have some familiarity with – I have always created simple graphs from do files. I decided to take a more systematic approach and so I’ve created this workshop to cover the most common options and settings when using the graphing commands, but also to demonstrate efficient ways to export the output of these routines from scripts. Scripting more fully leads to a much better experience of visualising data with Stata.

The same goes with tabulations in Stata. From Stata 16 the table command itself has changed and from Stata 17 and on, Stata Corp have been promoting the use of collections in conjunction with tables as the best way to customise tables and then to export the results. While some of us may still prefer to export default tables, and then edit them in Word, for most situations it will be worth at least considering scripting more of the process.

In R, there are too many different table packages, and they differ in what outputs they support (PDF, HTML, etc) and in how much customisation you can easily achieve. Some packages are fine for a limited range of purposes – I have always used Stargazer for regression outputs, for example, but I do often end up taking either the LaTeX output or the Microsoft Word output in a knitted document and doing the formatting myself. For custom tables, until now I felt stuck with HTML or LaTeX since RMarkdown doesn’t have a powerful table language. Now, I’ve committed to learning gt() which although new and presently lacking some small things and still needs simple, reliable cross-referencing, looks to be going in the right direction for a reasonable table language built in a modular, systematic way.

So, if you like the sound of improving your Stata scripting skills or of learning the basics of gt(), sign up!



Office for Students blended learning review

Jo Stroud25 April 2022

As many of the UCL community will be aware, the Office for Students (OfS) has launched a review of blended learning. Although the experience of the rapid and unplanned pivot to remote learning has been mixed, in the longer-term blended learning must be seen for its inclusive, positive, and facilitative qualities beyond the pandemic context. UCL teachers have demonstrated some outstanding practice in the past two years, and we are conscious of several strong arguments or narratives in support of effective blended teaching.

Make a contribution

The OfS has suggested that there are two key themes upon which the review will focus:
  • Effective delivery of a high-quality academic experience through a blended approach to teaching and learning
  • Resources to support a high-quality blended learning experience.

To support our engagement with this review alongside UCL initiatives such as the Education Priorities and Programme strategy, we would like to invite staff from across UCL to contribute an informal micro case study evidencing effective examples of blended learning. These can be drawn from any time period, either prior to the pandemic or during it, and should ideally underscore an intervention’s value and impact, highlighting key points such as the benefits to students and staff, effects on pedagogy, examples of practice, and so on. As a guideline, a response should be no longer than 250-300 words and submitted by COP 11th May.

Submit your case study

Moodle 3.11 New Features

Fiona Harkin28 March 2022

UCL Moodle is being upgraded to version 3.11 on 5th April 2022.

Amongst some smaller changes to the platform, there will also be some enhancements to how students view their course content.  For any courses which already have course completion enabled, completion conditions for each activity will be displayed to students when they log in.

Below is an example of what a student might expect to see if these settings are enabled:

Students will now have the the completion requirements displayed for each activity, and will show what steps they need to take to complete it.

This behaviour deviates from the existing behaviour we usually see in Moodle.  If this information is something you do not wish your students to see, you can change the settings on your course.  To do this:

  1. Go to your course page
  2. In the Administration block, click Edit Settings

You can set the Show activity completion conditions to No.

You will also notice in the Settings that Activity Dates are a new option; by default, this is set to No, but can be enabled if you would like students to see this information on the course page too.

Moodle HQ have also released a walk-through video showing this new feature from both a student and staff perspective.  Please click here to view it.

If you have Course Administrator or Tutor rights on your Moodle course and have course completion enabled, you may notice a greyed out button beneath each activity or resource.  This is expected Moodle behaviour and will not impact your course completion logs.


Turnitin Plagiarism Detection In Moodle Quizzes

In addition to course completion changes, Moodle 3.11 also introduces Turnitin functionality for essay style quiz questions in Quizzes.  If you would like more information on this, please click here see our online guidance.

For more detailed information on all new features and enhancements in the upcoming Moodle release in April 2022, please see the official Moodle documentation:


Please email digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk with any questions.



Moodle Roadmap and Termly Increment Planning

Jason R Norton1 March 2022

Moodle Logo Image

This post is to layout the near and mid term roadmap for UCL Moodle.

Moodle version Update

UCL Moodle is currently running version 3.9, as we recently announced we will be upgrading UCL Moodle to version 3.11 with a target date of the week commencing 04/04/2022. We will confirm this date via our normal channels once this is locked in by the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Product Team. Details of the changes being brought with Moodle 3.11 can be viewed from this blog post.

Our original intention was to upgrade to Moodle 4.0 during the summer of 2022, however this version of Moodle has been delayed by Moodle HQ and with all the workload associated with a major upgrade we have decided to postpone the move to Moodle 4.x until the summer of 2023. This enables the VLE product team to focus on more value adding work such as Course Life Cycle Tool set which we believe will give more value to our end users than a version upgrade.

Technical work on Moodle 4.0 will commence from our termly increment 4 which starts on the xxx. The extended time will enable our technical and support teams working with our Moodle partner (Catalyst IT) the to fully test the platform, its configuration and our interfaces with other systems.

Once we have deployable version of Moodle 4.x we will create an accessible test instance that that all administrative users of Moodle will be able to log in and explore the new versions features.

Moodle Theme

As part of our upgrade to Moodle 4.x we will also be introducing a new Moodle theme. The Moodle theme governs the look and feel of the whole Moodle site and includes navigation. Moodle 4.x brings changes to its UI/UX experience, and we feel that it provides us with the best opportunity to makes changes to the UCL Theme. Members of the VLE Product are now working on Moodle Theme development with internal user groups, ISD’s web design team and external Moodle partners.  This work will be broken up over the next 16 months and the new Moodle theme will be deployed as part of the Moodle 4.x upgrade in summer 2023.

As the new theme develops and takes shape, we will make available both visual mocks ups and working Moodle instances for our stakeholders to see and feedback upon its development.


Agile Delivery and Termly Increment Planning

As part of ISD’s move to “Agile” delivery using a variant of the SAFe Agile Framework, Digital Education has been split into several Product teams.

Moodle is within the Virtual Learning Environment product team with Jason Norton as the Product Owner, Alistair Spark as the Technical Lead and Deborah Okogwu as the Agile Delivery Manager.

As part of this new delivery model the Academic year is split into four Termly Increments or TI’s for short. These TI’s are themselves broken down into seven sprints of two weeks. All work for a TI’s is planned via a series of TI planning days the week prior to the start of the first sprint. During this planning the Product Owner brings a series of high-level features that have been gathered from various stakeholders of the product. These features represent items that will bring value to the products stakeholders, if a feature brings no value to stakeholders, then it will not be implemented. All features that have value are then prioritised during the TI planning and the product team works together reviewing their resource capacity and other metrics to plan which features will be delivered during that TI. The product team then begins to break down each of the agreed features into stories that can be completed within a single sprint of two weeks.

Currently we are halfway through Termly Increment – two (TI-02). The high-level features for this increment are displayed in the image below.

The features are listed in order of priority (red, green, and blue) and during each sprint planning session that priority is used to govern the delivery of the work.

Image showing termly increment planning information for TI-02Virtual Learning Environment Objectives TI-02

Our three key features/objectives for this termly increment are as follows.

Moodle Site Reliability Engineering

Site reliability engineering are a series of principles and practice that are being introduced to the VLE product team to ensure that Moodle reliability, resilience and scalability are being actively monitored. These tools and practices will enable the technical team to react quickly and with knowledge to prevent any degradation of service becoming a user impacting incident.

Wikipedia states that:- Site reliability engineering (SRE) is a set of principles and practices that incorporates aspects of software engineering and applies them to infrastructure and operations problems. The main goals are to create scalable and highly reliable software systems.

Moodle Course Lifecycle

The Moodle course life cycle feature is our large development piece that will span both TI-02 and TI-03. This feature is about making the end and start of a Moodle courses life simpler for our course teams to manage. While at the same time removing the need for an annual Moodle snapshot and the Late Summer Assessment Moodle. This feature we aim to deliver the first iteration of our course rollover tool.

A full blog article with more detail about this will be published shortly. However, in overview the tool will allow a course team to rollover (course copy/reset) any existing Moodle course into an automatically created category structure based on SIT’s data. We will also provide course teams with a tool to lock down an individual course to prevent student write access to the course, at a date suitable to that course and not the entire site.

Moodle Upgrade

As previously mentioned above we will be upgrading to Moodle 3.11 W/C 04/04/22.

Moodle Roadmap Page

We have recently updated our Moodle Roadmap page on the UCL wiki which can be found at this link. We hope that this link will be active within the next two weeks. This page will provide a high level summery of our planned TI’s and you will be able to see the high-level feature document that our Product Owner and Technical Lead (Jason Norton/Alistair Spark) are hoping to take to the TI planning sessions.


Virtual Learning Environment Objectives TI-03

Below we provide an initial view into the features that will be taken to TI planning in April for TI-03. These features should not be considered as confirmed until after the appropriate TI planning session. More details about these features will be exposed on our Moodle Road Map wiki page, once they have been prioritised and agreed at our TI planning days.

Image showing termly increment planning information for TI-03

Virtual Learning Environment Objectives TI-04

Below we provide an initial view into the features that will be taken to TI planning in July for TI-04. These features should not be considered as confirmed until after the appropriate TI planning session.

Image showing termly increment planning information for TI-04If you have any questions about this post or wish to raise ideas for developing or enhancing UCL Moodle please contact the Product owner j.norton@ucl.ac.uk

UCL Moodle Upgrade to Moodle 3.11

Jason R Norton1 March 2022

During the week commencing  04/04/22, UCL Moodle will be upgraded to version 3.11.  With this upgrade, there are number of key changes designed to enhance the user experience for both staff and students. This upgrade will include features from Moodle 3.10 and 3.11

The key new feature is the introduction of Turnitin functionality for the following activities:

  • Moodle quizzes- for Essay Type Questions
  • Moodle forums
  • Moodle Workshop

Each of the activities will allow students to make submissions which will be checked against the Turnitin database and will generate a similarity score.  These activities will behave in a similar way to a Moodle assignment with Turnitin integration.

For guidance on how to set one of these activities up on your Moodle course, please see our online guides:

Enabling Turnitin for essay type questions

There are also several smaller changes coming, with changes most noticeable to students.  Course completion will be enhanced, and will include:

  • Activity dates and completion conditions being shown at the top of the activity page
  • Manual marking option for students
  • Additional display settings (or staff)
  • Improved activity completion reports


For full details about the new features in Moodle 3.10 please see Moodle 3.10 features

For full details about the new features in Moodle 3.11 please see Moodle 3.11 features

Please note at the current time we are still evaluating/reviewing the Accessibility Toolkit feature and will not be releasing this feature with the Moodle 3.11 release.


Or watch this  YouTube playlist of 3.10 New features created by Moodle HQ

Or watch this  YouTube playlist of 3.11 New features created by Moodle HQ


For a comprehensive list of all changes in Moodle 3.10, please see the Moodle release notes.

For a comprehensive list of all changes in Moodle 3.11, please see the Moodle release notes.

If you have any questions about this changes, please email digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.