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The Moodle Flexible course format is being phased out from July 19th.

By Eliot Hoving, on 14 February 2024

Why is this change being made?  

The Flexible format plugin has reached end of life and is no longer supported by its maintainer. The plugin has multiple usability and accessibility bugs. The planned upgrade to Moodle 4.4 over the summer will further impact both the function and look of the plugin making the format unusable. 

What do staff need to do? 

Staff using the Flexible format should manually change their course format by the 19th July so they can ensure their course is correctly updated and so they can communicate guidance or notice to students on the course.  

After the 19th July, Flexible format will no longer be available and courses in this format will be automatically converted to the Topics format to ensure that the course continues to function for students and staff. This includes course from the current academic year and those from previous years. 

You can view which course format you are using by going to your course page and clicking settings. 

Course page showing the settings option.

 

Under Course format you will see the format in use. 

Editing course format menu

Research by the Moodle UX team suggests many staff switched to the Flexible format for its visual appeal and to avoid accessibility issues in the Grid format. Recent updates to the Grid format have significantly improved its accessibility and in this respect it is now preferable to Flexible format.  Staff may be tempted to switch back to the Grid format. However, further research by the Moodle UX team shows that using images for each topic/week is not effective unless you take considerable time to design your images. In most cases, images take up space without providing meaningful information to students, or worse they are confusing to students. Staff can continue to use Grid format, however Moodle UX research shows using the Topics format is a better approach for academic courses. 

Before (Flexible format) 

Flexible course format

 

After (Topics format) 

Topics course format

Changing course format will remove any section images, so staff should save these images prior to changing formats if they wish to re-use them.  

Staff can experiment with how their course looks in another course format using the 4-demo environment. 

The recommended steps for staff to complete would be to

  1. Test out new course format in the 4-demo environment.
  2. Save any section images you want to re-use on your live Moodle course (optional).
  3. Notify your students with a Moodle announcement.
  4. Change your course format from Flexible Format to the format of your choice.
  5. Re-add any section images (optional).
  6. Do a quality check.

Courses from previous academic years and snapshot should be left to automatically switch over to Topics.

Questions?  

If you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch with the Digital Education team. 

#LearnHack 7 reflections

By Geraldine Foley, on 8 February 2024

On the weekend 26 – 28 January I helped to facilitate and took part in the seventh iteration of #LearnHack.

#LearnHack is a community hackathon organised by an interdisciplinary UCL team. The original event was held in November 2015 in collaboration with UCL Innovation and Enterprise at IDEALondon. The 2024 version was the first time it has been run as a hybrid event. It was held over the weekend of 26-28 January in the School of Management department at Canary Wharf in collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering, Digital Education and UCL Changemakers. Participants came from 12 different UCL departments, alumni, and external guests from Jisc. Everyone was invited to submit project proposals for how to improve UCL based on pre-agreed themes. The themes this year were AI and Assessment with overlap between the two.

Being fairly new to UCL I had not come across this event before, but when I was told about the ethos behind it which is to empower a community of staff, students, researchers and alumni to tackle challenges collaboratively and creatively, it sounded right up my street. I am a big advocate of playful learning and creating a safe space for experimentation and failure. I also liked the interdisciplinary approach which encourages people from all backgrounds to work together and learn from each other.  Anyone with a valid UCL email address can submit a project proposal to be worked on over the weekend and anyone can run a learning session to share their skills or ideas with participants. Everyone is encouraged to attend welcome talks on the Friday evening to hear about the different projects and get to know each other and form teams. Participants have the weekend to work on their chosen project and also take part in learning sessions.

I’m always up for a challenge, so I not only put forward a project proposal and ran a learning session, but I also helped to facilitate the online attendees on the Friday evening and Saturday morning. This meant it was a packed weekend and I got to experience all the different elements of #LearnHack, including joining online on the second day. 

View from UCL School of Management at Canary Wharf.

View from UCL School of Management at Canary Wharf.

The venue was amazing, with great views of London, and the School of Management spaces were perfect for collaboration and hybrid events. The learning sessions were great, I particularly enjoyed learning how to use Lumi and GitHub to create and host H5P activities outside of Moodle so that they can be shared externally. I also found out about the game that ARC had devised for engineers and developers to learn about the issues associated with generative AI where players can help prevent or create an AI Fiasco.

My own session on making a playful AI chatbot was run online but many people joined from the room. The session encouraged people to experiment with different types of chat bots and have a go at creating their own. We managed to create some interesting applications in the short time we had including a bot that accurately answered questions on using Moodle, Zoom and Turnitin. We also explored how a bot’s personality can impact a user’s interactions and perceptions on the accuracy of its responses and had some interesting discussions on some of the ethical issues involved with users uploading material to datasets.

In-between games, food and learning sessions, teams worked on five different projects. I was impressed with all the project teams and the work they managed to produce in such a short space of time. The winning team stood out in particular, as they created a working prototype using ChatGPT. Their project aims to reduce the time that medical science students spend manually searching through articles looking for replicable research. This team now have Student ChangeMaker funding to create an optimiser to filter through biomedical research papers and extract quality quantitative methods. It is hoped that the ‘protocol optimiser’ will streamline workflows for researchers and students to find suitable lab work. I am looking forward to following the development of their project and hopefully they will report back at a changemaker event later in the year.

#LearnHack 7 Feedback on participants ‘best bits’ of the event.

Despite smaller numbers of attendees than hoped, feedback from participants was positive with calls to raise awareness amongst the student population with promotion in freshers’ week and from careers to encourage students to join. Personally, I had a great time, although next time I wouldn’t try to do quite so much and would either stick to being involved in a project or helping to facilitate and run sessions. The Faculty of Engineering has already given the go ahead for #LearnHack8 and we are currently exploring possibilities with running some mini #LearnHack events before then, so watch this space for more details and if you have an idea for a project then get in touch.

Moodle upgrade and course format UX project

By Eliot Hoving, on 9 October 2023

The Digital Learning Environment (DLE) Moodle UX (User Experience) team would like to wish staff and students an excellent start to the 2023/24 academic year. 

By now, many of you will have noticed that UCL Moodle has been given a much-needed update.  Student and staff feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Nonetheless, the Moodle UX team is continuing to develop UCL Moodle based on UX research, accessibility requirements and user feedback. 

UCL Staff can receive early access to developments and participate in opportunities to feedback and shape UCL Moodle by joining the Moodle Development User Feedback Teams group. Alternatively, you can email questions and feedback to digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk 

There are a few quick steps we recommend staff take to update their course to make the most of the new look of Moodle and its new features.  You can read about them in the Moodle 4 – Quick tips for updating your course guide. 

The why about Moodle text editor changes 

As part of the upgrade to UCL Moodle, the ability to change font colour and font family has been removed from Moodle’s text editor.

Font colour has been removed to encourage content in Moodle to meet accessibility requirements.  This is in response to feedback from students who have reported that text on Moodle has often been formatted with poor colour contrast (e.g. red text on a white background) or that colour has been used to indicate information which is not accessible (e.g. conveying information solely using green or red colours). For further guidance, you can read the Digital Accessibility team’s guide on the Visuals and the use of colour. 

Changing font family has also been removed to avoid text that breaks UCL’s design system. Keeping text to a consistent font family will make it easier for students to read content and will also support a consistent and improved experience across UCL’s many webpages and applications.   

 

Upcoming changes to UCL Moodle theme

We’d also like to update you on some upcoming changes which should come into effect soon.

1 – New banner and navbar 

The UCL logo banner and navbar has been redesigned to align Moodle to UCL’s new design system and to conserve vertical space. This should make Moodle more accessible and improve useability on smaller screens and mobile devices.

 

Old banner

Old UCL Moodle Navbar

New banner

New UCL Moodle navbar

2 – New course index page 

The course index page is where staff and students can search or browse for courses. This page has been redesigned based on UX interviews with staff. The new design removes unnecessary information and should be easier to use. 

Old course index page

Old UCL Moodle course index page

New course index page

New UCL Moodle course index page

 

3 – SCORM package default setting changes 

Based on user feedback and an analysis of how SCORM packages are used at UCL. The following changes are planned to the default settings of SCORM packages:  

  • Disabled Preview Mode set to “Yes” 
  • Display Course Structure in Player set to “Disabled”.

We expect these changes to save users’ time when creating new SCORM packages. The changes will not impact already existing SCORM packages, and the default settings can always be changed when creating a new SCORM activity if required. 

Course format UX project 

The Moodle UX team is currently working on wrapping up the Moodle theme development (for now), with a specific focus on improving and embedding accessibility.  

Once complete, we will start working on a UX research project on Moodle course formats. Moodle course formats control how content is structured within a course (e.g. topics, weekly topics, tabs, flexible format, grid). We will be interviewing staff and students to better understand how different course formats are used. Based on the findings, we aim to build a bespoke UCL Moodle course format that fulfils UCL student and staff needs and builds on the best elements of other Moodle course formats. 

If you are interested to find out more or participate in this research, please email e.hoving@ucl.ac.uk.  

 

 

Moodle 4 – Quick tips for updating your course

By Eliot Hoving, on 27 July 2023

Moodle 4.2 and UCL’s new theme introduce a series of changes aimed at improving the user experience of students and staff.

For the most part, content will look and operate the same. However there are some quick steps you can take to update your course and make the most of the changes.

Consider how you can use the course index menu 

One of the new features of Moodle 4 is the course index menu, which is the new left-hand menu. 

Course index menu

Course index menu

This menu shows a link to all the resources and activities on your course.  

It may take some time for UCL to make the most of this new feature. Be aware that students and staff can close the menu, and access a course as they would have done in the past.  

I’d recommend viewing the course index menu, in its current state, much like an index of a book. It allows you to quickly look something up when you need to, but when your reading you don’t have to go back to the index to get to the next chapter, you simply keep reading. In the Moodle context, students and staff can use the course index menu to quickly find content they want when they need to, but when going through a course they can equally just view the content on the main center page and navigate to the next content item or section from within the main center page.

If we think of the course index menu like a book index, some of its quirks start to make more sense: 

  • The text is truncated so long section or activity headings won’t show in full. It’s best then that the text starts with the most important information, so it allows students to identify or recall what the content is. Numbering content can improve the readability of the index too. 

Numbering content

  • If you used a Label or “Text and Media area” as they are now called to create a horizontal line or add an image, the words “Label” or “Text and Media area” will show in the course index menu. You could delete them if they aren’t essential or add some text to them so this text will then show (see caveat below). 
  • Labels or “Text and Media areas” as they are now called, will also show in the course index menu. All the text in the Label will show, up to point it is truncated. If you want to avoid this, you could move your content from a “Text and Media area” to a Page so that only the Page title shows. UCL developers are investigating whether a seperate title for “Text and Media areas” can be created.

One feature that is particularly nice about the new course index menu is that it shows a green indicator alongside an activity when it has been completed, which allows students to quickly see what content they have done and importantly what they have remaining to do. This functions as a built in course checklist for students.

 

Green indicator in course index menu will show when an activity is completed.

Set up your course summary and image

In the past, it was common for Moodle courses to include a banner image at the top of their course. In Moodle this was called section 0.  Section 0 is now no longer displayed automatically to the student, instead the theme shows the course image at the top of the course. Course images are also shown to the student on their “My courses” page and when a student searches for a course. Whereas in the past you would have to add an image to section 0 and as a course image, now you just need to add it as a course image and it will automatically display at the top of your course. 

In the example shown, the course image is showing at the top, and the old banner image under section 0, which has been named “General”. If you have an old banner image, you can remove it by editing the section, or by using the bulk edit tool as described below.  

Course banner image

Course summaries will also be shown at the top of the course page. In the past the course summary was not easily visible to staff, so often the template text provided in baseline templates would go unedited and would often be shown to students when searching for their courses.  

A completion progress bar and percentage will also show which indicates to the student how many activities they have completed in the course. This will only show when activity completion is enabled on a course.

To add a course summary and image: 

  1. Open your course. 
  2. Click the Settings tab. 
  3. Scroll down to Description. 
  4. Under Course summary, include a brief description of your course. We recommend keeping it brief, think tweet length, 280 characters. 
  5. Under Course image, upload a file (I’d recommend that your image doesn’t include text as it may appear distorted on certain devices, and selecting an image with the size of 550px by 280px. I found my image on UCL’s Imagestore – a free repository of UCL images.) 
  6. Click Save. 

Spring clean using the new Bulk edit tool 

With the new Moodle theme it’s a good time to delete any old content, or formatting that doesn’t fit so well with the new layout and colour scheme (e.g. old course banner image). 

The new Moodle bulk edit tool makes it easier than ever to delete content. It is currently available on the standard “topics” or “collapsed topics” format. For courses in the tab format, you can use the Mass actions block. 

Simply: 

  1. With your course open, turn on edit mode. 
  2. Click Bulk edit at the top of your course. 
  3. Select the content you want to delete. 
  4. Click Delete at the bottom of the page. 

 

Check block images aren’t distorted 

The Moodle block region to the right of a course is now narrower which may distort some of the images you’ve used in the past. 

In previous templates it was common to layout content using a table. This type of formatting is not ideal, as it can lead to inconsistent results based on a user’s device and is harder to read for screen readers. 

So I’d recommend removing any table formatting, and laying out content and images vertically, with minimal styling. 

 

Before 

Block before

After 

Block after

 

Onetopic/Tabs format only – fix colour contrast of tabs 

Due to the colour changes made in the new Moodle theme, your course tab colours may or may not look readible and meet accessibility colour contrast requirements. 

You can change individual course tabs individually, by editing them. 

Alternatively, if you want to reset your course tabs to the default colours, you can temporarily change the course format to the “Topics” format under the Settings tab and click save. You can then change the course format back to “Tabs” which is the format “Onetopic” on Moodle. 

Note: This will remove all your colours and you won’t be able to get them back. 

 

Before 

Tabs before

After 

Tabs after

If you have any difficulty updating your Moodle course, please get in touch with your Faculty Learning Technology Lead.

If you notice any issues or errors, please report them to itservices@ucl.ac.uk so the relevant team can investigate.

Moodle 4 Upgrade Summer 2023

By Jason R Norton, on 6 March 2023

Moodle Logo

The UCL main instance of Moodle (moodle.ucl.ac.uk) will be upgraded this summer from Moodle 3.11 to Moodle 4.2. The upgrade will take place in mid to late July of this year (2023).

The Road to the Moodle 4 Upgrade

The image below provides a high-level overview of the activities that will be taking place over the next few months leading up to the upgrade in July.

 

  • March: Continued user group engagement and a demo site with all courses will be made available to the Moodle Development User group
  • April: A Moodle 4 demo site including an “in development” UCL Theme will be made available to all staff
  • May: Moodle 4 Train the trainer sessions will begin, Online self pace material will begin to be made available
  • June: General staff face to face training will commence, Student resource will be published
  • July: Staff training continues, Moodle 4 upgrade occurs
  • Post upgrade: Staff training will continue, development of the UCL Theme will continue

 

Why are we upgrading Moodle?

Moodle version 3 was released in 2018 and has now reached its end of life for support, bug fixes and security patches. To ensure our platform remains up to date and our user data is secure we need to move to the Moodle 4.

 

A More Modern User Experience and a New UCL Moodle Theme

One of the biggest changes introduced by Moodle 4 is a revamped user interface and user experience. This was Moodle HQ’s primary focus with the release of Moodle version 4.0, and they have updated the underlying technology, the layout and the navigation. This re-design means that Moodle looks more modern and significantly cleaner in its user interface.

To take advantage of these changes, UCL Moodle is moving to a new Moodle Theme. We are currently working with an external partner Titus Learning and internal and external design teams to bring a customised Moodle Theme that best supports UCL needs. This is an ongoing piece of work and one that will extend into the summer, post the release of UCL Moodle 4.2 in July.

The new theme (code name “Norse”) is currently being developed with input and comments from over a hundred and fifty staff, both tutors and course administrators as well as student focus groups. As you can see from our timeline, we aim to release an “in development” Moodle test platform to all staff that will enable you to look at a Moodle 4 environment with the new Moodle Theme applied in April.

This will enable you to see how the new theme and its interactions with course formats has impacted your course. From the review work and feedback already taken place, it is important to note that impact has been minimal.

The screenshots below of the new Moodle Theme should be taken as “in development”. Overall, the layout of the user interface will not change, however colour, icons, fonts, blocks, accessibility features are all still subject to change. However I hope these images give you a good idea of the new general look and feel.

 

Image of new Moodle Theme on a course using OnTopic (TABS) Course format

“In development” Moodle 4 Theme, showing left and right collapsable drawers and Tabs Course Format in the centre area

 

Image of new Moodle Theme on a course using Topics format

“In development” Moodle 4 Theme, showing left navigation drawer and right calendar drawer using the Topics Course Format in the centre area

 

What will courses look like after the upgrade?

The best way to see the changes coming will be to engage with the Moodle demo site that we will be making available in mid-April. This site will have the latest available version of Moodle 4 and the latest version of the new UCL Moodle Theme. From the development and testing work we have undertaken so far we are expecting impact on existing courses to be minor.

The Theme version on this platform is still in a beta state and will be updated as we work towards the upgrade in July. We expect between 2 and 4 additional updates will occur prior to the July upgrade as we refine the theme based on your feedback and complete accessibility checking and design reviews.

Moving from Moodle 3.11 to Moodle 4.2 will bring both changes and new functionality to Moodle. These changes will be detailed in a series of upcoming blogs and will also be the key focus of the training we are in the process of creating.

 

Staff Training

Staff training will be available via two distinct strands. The first will be an online self paced course that will be available on a Moodle 4.2 instance in late May. This course will walk you through the changes and additions to Moodle functionality including an initial topic on how the new Moodle navigation works. This self paced course will use Moodle activities, videos and course completion activities so that a badge or certificate will be received upon completion.

The second strand of training will be provided face to face or online in a more localised faculty/department context. We are currently working on a train the trainer programme, that will be delivered in May to the following individuals: Faculty Learning Technology Leads, Departmental Learning Technologists and Connected Learning Leads. If you would like to be part of the train the trainer programme, please discuss this with your Faculty Learning Technology Lead.

The online and face to face Moodle 4.2 training will commence from June and continue throughout the summer.

 

Student Support

A student Moodle user tour and updated student wiki guides will be made available in June.

 

Have Questions?

If you have questions please do get in touch with the Digital Education team.

 

Software for Success

By Jim R Tyson, on 2 February 2023

Student research successWhat does it take to succeed in a student research project, or any research project for that matter?

Well, there’s a whole lot of stuff that Digital Skills Development can’t help with, and anyway, you’re all really good at that stuff: the scholarship, the domain knowledge, the research skills.  But, there’s an awful lot that we can offer.

Getting on top of the choices that face you now and planning what tools you will use will allow you to work out what skills you need to acquire and how you are going to acquire them.  And beefing up your digital capability will not only improve your chances of research success, but will add to your capital in an area that employers rate among top desirable job skills.

When people plan research projects, they often forget to work out what software tools and techniques they will use, what skills those tools require, and where they are going to get those skills.  Often, we think it will all just be obvious and somehow it will come together.  Well, in a way it usually does, but with a little planning and foreknowledge, we can transform these decisions from afterthought to opportunity.

Digital Skills Development has six demonstration sessions to put you on the road to software success.  Each session introduces tools to tackle specific tasks for your research project.  We look at:

  1. writing: is there life beyond Word?  Is there any reason to go there?  How do I cope with fussy formatting requirements?
    Upcoming session: DSD: Software for success: Writing tools Fri 17-Feb-2023 12-1pm
  2. using survey tools: which is the best one for your research project?
    Upcoming session: DSD: Software for success: Survey tools Tues 21-Feb-2023 11-12noon
  3. winning with charts: which is the best chart type for your data?
    Upcoming session: DSD: Software for Success: Winning with charts Wed 15-Feb-2023 12-1pm
  4. data visualisation: what tools are available for visually presenting your data?
    Upcoming session: DSD: Software for success: Data visualisation Thu 16-Feb-2023 10-12 pm
  5. data analysis: is it worth learning to code, or can I cope by wrestling with my data in Excel?  I don’t do numbers, how can software help me?
    No upcoming sessions: DSD: Software for success: Data analysis & statistical tools join the interest list to be told about future dates.
  6. managing literature: imagine a world where your library and database searches link seamlessly  with your citation system and a database of annotated PDFs.  That world can be yours.
    No upcoming sessions: DSD: Software for success: Working with Bibliography and Citation Apps join the interest list to be told about future dates.

If you haven’t thought about what tools you will use for each of these tasks, or if you have thought about it but you’re just not sure what to do, these sessions are for you.  There will be demonstrations of different tools and approaches with guidance and discussion of what tool is best for the job.  If you think you know what software you are going to use, then we invite you to come along and  be challenged: there may be tools on offer that could smooth the way to a successful research project.

Now is the time to move beyond those good old coping strategies and tame the software beast.  These sessions will help you do it.