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Moodle Exam guard

By Eliot Hoving, on 19 April 2024

UCL Moodle has been updated with a new feature called Exam guard.

What is it?

Exam guard will prevent users from editing their course from 10 minutes before the start of a Moodle quiz until 10 minutes after the quiz has finished. Exam guard does this by looking at the “open the quiz”/ “close the quiz”  setting when a Moodle quiz is created. The course editing freeze will only apply where the Moodle quiz is open for less than 5 hours as it is designed to target Moodle quizzes being used for controlled condition exams.

A banner will appear at the top of your course when Exam guard is in effect.

Exam guard banner on a course page

Why is this required?

In the past, when users have attempted to edit and save changes to a Moodle course while a quiz is underway, it has caused serious performance issues while Moodle tries to refresh caches and implement the changes. This issue is particularly bad where a large cohort (300+) are taking the quiz, and has caused exams to be disrupted.

What do I need to do?

Exam guard will work automatically and should have no impact on the majority of workflows. Staff can still post to forums, and mark submissions in other assignments. They can also add user overrides for late minute ECs and SORA students to a quiz.

Staff will not be able to edit course settings or create or edit activities in their course while the exam is running.

Staff will no longer be able to manually release a Moodle quiz by making the quiz visible at the exam start time. This workflow is not recommended or required. A better approach is for staff to set the Moodle “open the quiz” setting to the exam start date and time when creating the quiz. Students will see the quiz item on Moodle but aren’t able to access the questions or begin the quiz before the open date and time so there is no risk your exam is released early.

UCL Moodle theme update – Thursday 14th March

By Eliot Hoving, on 8 March 2024

The Digital Learning Environment team have made a number of changes to the UCL Moodle theme to improve the functionality, speed and accessibility of UCL Moodle for students and staff.

The planned update is scheduled for Thursday 14th March between midnight and 4am. There will be a small outage of 15 minutes during this time. The period is a very low usage period so should have minimal impact on students and staff.

A highlight of the key improvements are outlined below.

Course search

Each course now includes a content search in the course index menu (left hand menu on course pages). Students and staff can search by content name or activity type.

 

Left hand activity menus

Book, Lesson and Quiz menus no longer show on the right side of page where they can easily be hidden by students and lost. Instead they now appear on the left hand side which should improve the readability of the navigation menu.

Footer search

The search for courses and for UCL Moodle content (known in Moodle terminology as Global search) has been moved to the footer and is now available on every page.

Course breadcrumb improvements

The course breadcrumb will now appear fixed on the top of course pages and includes the course icon for easier navigation.

Additional changes:

  • Course index menu (left hand menu on course pages) set to closed by default to avoid distracting students.
  • Notifications redesign with links to view source of notification, images, and persistence of notifications (i.e. not disappearing once read).
  • Messaging UI improvements.
  • Footer user menu.
  • Course section indentation on large screen to create visual hierarchy.
  • Colour changes to course section toggles, expand / collapse all sections button, to create better emphasis.
  • Back to top on all pages.
  • Large tables (e.g. grading) fill full available screen width.
  • Site admin links (those found most used in survey) moved to user menu.

Feedback or questions?

Please get in touch with the DLE team to provide feedback at digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

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. 

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.

Randomising Questions and Variables with Moodle Quiz

By Eliot Hoving, on 8 December 2020

One of the strengths of Moodle Quizzes is the ability to randomise questions. This feature can help deter student collusion.

There are several ways to randomise questions in a Moodle Quiz, which can be combined or used separately. Simple examples are provided here but more complex questions and variables can be created. 

Randomising the Question response options

It’s possible to shuffle the response options within many question types, including Multiple Choice Questions and Matching Question. When setting up a Quiz, simply look under Question behaviour, and change Shuffle within questions to Yes 

Randomising the order of Questions

You can also randomise the order of questions in a Quiz. Click Edit Quiz Questions in your Quiz, click the Shuffle tick box at the top of the page. Questions will now appear in a random order for each student. 

Randomising the Questions

It’s possible to add random questions from pre-defined question Categories. Think of Categories as containers of Quiz questions. They can be based on topic area, e.g. ‘Dosage’, ‘Pharmokinetics‘, ‘Pharmacology’, ‘Patient Consultation’ or they can be based on questions for a specific assessment e.g. ‘Exam questions container 1’, ‘Exam questions container 2’, ‘Exam questions container 3’. 

The first step is to create your Categories.

Then when adding questions to your Quiz, select add a random question and choose the Category. You can also choose how many random questions to add from the Category. 

Under the Add a question option in Moodle Quiz, you can select Add a random question.

For example, if you had a quiz of 10 questions, and you want to give students a random question out of 3 options for each question, you would need 10 Categories, each holding 3 questions e.g. ‘Exam Q1 container’, ‘Exam Q2 container’ … ‘Exam Q10 container’. 

Alternatively, if you want a quiz with 10 questions from ‘Pharmokinetics‘, and 10 from ‘Pharmacology’ you could create the two Categories with their questions, then go to your Quiz and add a random question, select the ‘Pharmokinetics‘ Category, and choose 10 questions. Repeat for ‘Pharmacology’. You now have a 20 question quiz made up of 50%  Pharmokinetics and Pharmacology questions.  

After saving a random question/s you can add further random questions or add regular questions that will appear for all students. Simply add a question from the question bank as normal.  

Be aware, that randomising questions will reduce the reliability of your Moodle Quiz statistics. For example the discrimination index will be calculated on the Quiz question overall, e.g. Q2, not on each variation of the question that may have been randomly selected from, i.e. all the questions from the Exam Q2 container. Each question variation will have fewer attempts compared to if the question was given to all students, so any analytics based on these fewer attempts will be less accurate.  

Randomising variables within Questions:

In addition to randomising questions, certain question types can have randomised variables within them. 

The STACK question type supports complex mathematical questions, which can include random variables. For example you could set some variables, a and b, as follows:

a = rand(6)  (where rand(6) takes a random value from the list [0,1,2,3,4,5,6]).

b = rand(2)  (where rand(2) takes some random value from the list [0,1,2]).

Variables can then be used within questions, so students could be asked to integrate a×xb which thanks to my random variables will generate 21 different questions for my students e.g. integrate 0×x0, 0×x, 0×x2, x0, x, x2, 2x0, 2x, 2x2 …  5x0, 5x, 5x2, 6x0, 6x, 6x2.

Random variants can be generated, tested, and excluded if they are inappropriate, in the above case I might exclude a = 0 as the question equation would evaluate to 0, whereas I want students to integrate a non-zero algebraic expression.  

The Calculated question type also supports randomising variables as well as  basic calculation questions for maths and scientific assessment. Calculated questions can be free entry or multiple choice. For example you could ask students to calculate the area of a rectangle. The width and height would be set to wild card values, let’s call them

{w} for width, and

{h} for height.

The answer is always width × height or {w} × {h} regardless of the values of {w} and {h}. Moodle calls this the answer formula.

The tutor then sets the possible values of {w} and {h} for the student by creating a dataset of possible values for Moodle to randomly select from. To create your dataset, you first define your wild card values e.g. {w} will take some value between 1 and 10, and {h} to take some value from 10 to 20.  You can then ask Moodle to generate sets of your variables, e.g. 10, 50, or 100 possible combinations of {w} and {h} based on the conditions you define. For example, given the conditions above, I could generate the following 3 sets: 

Set 1: {w} = 1, {h} = 14 

Set 2: {w} = 6.2, {h} = 19.3 

Set 3: {w} = 9.1, {h} = 11 

Creating a dataset can be somewhat confusing, so make sure you leave enough time to read the Calculated question type documentation and test it out. Once complete, Moodle can now provide students with potentially 100s of random values of {w} and {h} based on your dataset. Using the answer formula, you provide, Moodle can evaluate the student’s response and automatically grade the student’s answer regardless of what random variables they are given. 

Try a Randomised Quiz

To learn more, take an example randomised quiz on the Marvellous Moodle Examples course.

Speak to a Learning Technologist for further support

Contact Digital Education at digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk for advice and further support.