Using Moodle core activities to create engagement – a workshop

We ran a workshop on using core activities in Moodle to create engagement. We chose this topic because of what we see in current practice, considering what we felt would be most beneficial to the particular audience (a Moodlemoot) and we can offer to this community.

We offered to run this as a full day interactive workshop at Moodlemoot NZ 2016 in Whangarei as a BYOD session with wireless provided. There were so many workshops offered that we were given a three hour slot (with a half hour break!) and arrived to find a lecture theatre with a desktop projector and whiteboards. Lecture theatres aren’t exactly our favourite spaces, but we do love white boards.

Numbers of participants to expect was indicated as fewer than one hundred, maybe ten. We think there were 36 participants (plus us!) as that is how many accounts were actively used during the session.

Using the room you have

So our audience had everyone from newbies to the platform to experienced users, teachers, admins, managers, Moodle developers and plugin developers, instructional designers, accreditation bodies, from public/private/corporate sector…. Diverse is a good word here.

It’s all in the details

We did some planning, even painted our nails.  We created a lesson plan after action mapping what we wanted to do with our time, so you can see we find whiteboards are still useful.

Developing the materials

We wanted a Moodle course to lead everyone through. This involved finding the appropriate Moodle installation (with a useful version of Moodle) and then developing the individual learning activities and their flow and order. We had to keep in mind the limited time we had to take people through the course – 3 hours is not long.

How to differ our thinking

The learning outcomes of the workshop versus the learning outcomes of the demo course – there is the common issue of teaching tools versus teaching a pedagogical approach, so we tried to keep focused on the pedagogy in how we designed the activities, knowing that we were giving examples of how to use the technology that would lead to understand the tool.

Testing and getting feedback

Before the workshop we showed our course and lesson plan to some peers to get feedback and make some changes where appropriate. This helped the workshop run more smoothly.

The freak out stage

What does it feel like to stand in front of a full room when you are an elearning designer? Well, we have all had teaching roles before, but it does definitely have a different flavour when you are amongst your peers. Good preparation and knowing you are bringing experience with you helps.

Using the room

We needed to work with the physical space provided as well as the online space we prepared, so we did try to find ways to best work in groups given it was a lecture theatre. We wanted to utilise the existing knowledge of participants so our plan did incorporate room for that to take shape. We had lots of group work and lots of conversations, and we were getting participants to help each other, and bringing group’s comments back to the room. In a room with less than ideal layout (lecture style), forcing people to gather into groups to break out of the lecture atmosphere takes a bit of extra effort. With more than one presenter we can notch up the excitement and enthusiasm, and work to make the atmosphere as relaxed and comfortable and safe as we can for them to participate, which I am sure we did succeed in.

Being prepared for anything

We took big paper/pens, used whiteboards (we took markers with us to the conference), used our own devices as well as the provided computer and projector. Remember that tech conferences can use “old school” resources, and actually using paper and whiteboards can make participation more comfortable and reduce barriers to entry for those less technically literate. For some people they find it easier then to transfer their knowledge and connect ideas and concepts first on paper then write them on the computer.

Three presenters – yay!

We get that this is unusual and not always possible, but it certainly made our lives easier. We were able to present in turns and wander around to help one-on-one where needed, monitor group discussions, monitor timeframes, deal with issues as they arose. The energy created by having three presenters that work well together is not to be underestimated as we positively bounce off each other and watch the mexican wave of smiles in our audience. We smile and laugh together and watch the audience relax, smile and laugh together too. A total atmosphere change from the lecture style it could have been in that space, and usually is at conferences.

Self reflection and feedback

Straight after the workshop there was this “thank god it’s over” and “that went okay, didn’t it? People seemed to enjoy it.” There were some issues we felt we had addressed promptly. It felt like we could have had more time – we used it well but it would have been nice to spend more time on some things to let participants go deeper into things we barely scratched the surface on (guess those are next steps for them).

Only one thing fell over – the workshop activity (it’s the name of a module in Moodle for those who aren’t familiar with Moodle) – and this was difficult to test beforehand because it’s a one-use timed activity. We could have made a duplicate to test, which in hindsight might have been better. Feedback from audience was kind, even about this issue – they said it was nice to see that things went wrong even for people who know Moodle well. mootnzx-workshop1-feedback

After we read the feedback we felt better because people were generally kind and enthusiastic and the criticism was constructive and often aligned with our own feeling of “this wasn’t long enough, could have had more time”.

Where to from here

Well, actually we ran another workshop (covered in a different blog post) that we used this workshop as a basis for. It gave us useful data to work with to run a workshop on monitoring and managing a course.

We would definitely be happy to run this workshop again, with minor amendments or adaptations depending on the audience. We are also happy to offer the workshop lesson plan and Moodle course for anyone else who would like to use it.

Creative Commons License
MOOTNZ16 Engagement Workshop Lesson Plan by Miriam Laidlaw, Miranda Verswijvelen, Tabitha Parker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.




Action mapping – Cathy Moore

In planning our learning solutions, we use an action mapping approach to develop scenario based learning. We aim to target the attitude and behavioural changes required to affect the measurable goal, which is teased out through the action mapping session.

This technique helps groups of individuals come to a shared agreement of:

  • What the learning goal is and how we will know we have achieved it?
  • What behaviours and actions do we want people to be able to do and why?
  • The appropriate type of learning solution to achieve the learning goal

This ensures all interested parties develop a shared understanding of what the learning will (and potentially will not) include and deliver. It provides an ideal opportunity to gain clarity of outcomes and identify alternative options for the delivery. We make it clear going into the action mapping session that what comes out the other end may not be online learning.

This is our process boiled down to a simple diagram. There’s a lot that goes on in that purple circle, but this blog post is just about what’s in the blue area: the action mapping.

We meet with as many of the stakeholders as possible during this two hour session, and it can sometimes be a challenge keeping the conversation on behaviours and actions and away from “what do we want them to know?” That is the very last thing we look at, and we don’t necessarily look at it in the action mapping session, where we focus on nailing down that measurable goal (note: measurable!), and the behaviours to target that will affect that goal. We need to make sure we’re looking at things we can actually change.

Sometimes there are systems in place that people have to use, software or processes, and those systems are sometimes inherently flawed. If we don’t have the power to change those systems, then training will not fix the problem. So it is important to focus on the problems we can address with training. We actually sometimes find that through the action mapping session (and even more so in development and testing) the flaws in a system or process are better understood and this can be used to provide useful feedback to the system or process owners.

There is no one right way when it comes to training, or creating training solutions. The key is to remain open to change, hold your decisions lightly, and don’t be afraid to alter or sometimes completely scrap a piece of work (even if you have put blood, sweat and tears into it). Listen to your testers, they are the ones who represent the people who will be using your product in the end.

Always revisit your action map as you’re developing – it’s not something you did at the start and can then just forget about. It’s your working document. You can make changes as the development progresses, nothing stays static, just be careful you don’t stray into putting in things you avoided during the action mapping session itself – things you can’t change, and things people need to know. These are not for the action map, the clue is in the name.

Boost and Tours for Moodle Geriatrics

One of the presentations we did for iMoot 2017 was “Boost and Tours for Moodle Geriatrics“, where we talked about some of the new Moodle 3.2 features. Boost is a bootstrap theme which improves navigation and usability – but it does move things around a bit, which can be confusing for Moodle geriatrics like ourselves! Thankfully, the other significant new feature is Tours, which allows site administrators to create little pop-up tours when a user first arrives at a certain screen (think Clippy from the old Microsoft Office, though without the animated paperclip).

Our presentation was well-attended and we received positive feedback for the way we presented the new features, which is always nice to get. Eventually the presentations will be available for viewing on YouTube, but for now if you attended iMoot you can still see the recordings of our sessions.

Though the slides themselves may not make much sense in isolation, here they are for your enjoyment:

Some of the key features we highlighted:


A bootstrap theme, responsive to all device sizes.

The Nav Drawer, which slides away nicely, returning that prime real estate on your screen for the content and learning activities (and an improvement over docking blocks).

Nice clean, modern look (does anyone remember WOOD THEME?).

The ability to create new courses without all those pesky default blocks you just delete anyway (and without having to edit the config.php file).

Turn editing on/off button is gone!? But…

(breathe, it’s okay)

The COG/GEAR icon is your friend! If you’re looking for settings, that’s where you look. Wherever you are, the cog has your back.

Site administration also looks a little different. Rather than having it all in a collapsed menu on the side, there’s just one link in the Nav Drawer which takes you to a site admin menu page. Very tidy!

One challenge we faced was the fact that there’s just one place to go to now for seeing the users in a course (you used to go to Participants in Navigation, or Users > Enrolled users in Administration, or Participants in the People Block)… and once we got to the new single Participants page it wasn’t immediately obvious how we actually manage and enrol our users!

But remember!

The COG is your friend!

The little cog wheel up in the corner of the participants page has all those user functions right there. Phew!

If you remember that little fact, your life will be a whole lot simpler.


And to help you remember these things, administrators can make instructional tours for users of any level, and on any part of the site.

If you’ve already seen a tour and want to see it again, you can reset your tour in the footer of the page, or the administrator can reset the tour for everyone so that they get it again.

Communications in Moodle

One of the presentations we did for iMoot 2017 was Communications in Moodle 3.2 and beyond, where we talked about some of the new Moodle 3.2 features in messaging, forums and notifications.


In Moodle 3.2 there is an indicator (default top right in header) showing messages. It shows a count of how many unread messages you have.

A great new feature is the ability to search by course, not just by name, which will come in handy if you can remember your classmate by face but not by name.

You can quickly mark all your messages as read, or click through to read a new message, straight from the messages icon in the header.

The messages box resizes as you type to accommodate longer messages. It is easy to delete messages, and to add or block contacts, all from the messages area.


At a glance you can see notifications for things like forum posts, assignment submissions and grades, and badges awarded. Teachers can see notifications that they have assignments to mark and follow the notification link to the assignment to do said marking. Again, you can mark all as read, so you don’t have to click through to read every forum post or mark as assignments come in.


The user can easily change the notifications they are interested in as well. Clicking on the cog wheel from your user profile menu gives you a long list of preferences you can change. This is quite different to old Moodle, where the user had to find preferences in a variety of places, as now they are grouped together with an easy and understandable interface.

Notification preferences use a green/red traffic light to show on or off for web or email, online and offline preferred behaviour, so the user can see at a glance their settings.


The user can mark all as read, posts can be pinned to the top, and discussions can be locked. These new forum features help facilitators and moderators, as well as the end user (course participant).

Presentation Resources

Below is our slideshow from the presentation. At some point the recording will be made available on YouTube by the iMoot team, and when that happens we will add that to the resources below:

Showcase – Richard Lee Hill

So there’s this guy, Richard Lee Hill, who has nailed how to use Storyline to create some pretty good online learning interactions. We want to point you at this cool game he made, as in it he lets learning designers collect tips on how to use Storyline to do the things he has done in the adventure game. He even gets recognition from the CEO of Articulate for his efforts.

Go play Heroland then check out some of his other work on his website.

Heroland, Richard Lee Hill
Heroland, Richard Lee Hill

We liked the free-form, adventurous style, where the player can roam the screen and investigate what is around them, discovering things as they go. His use of parallax scrolling (or layered motion) on foreground and background objects helps to add depth by making the foreground and background move at a different pace.

Richard has ignored the limitations of Storyline and created EVERYTHING in Storyline. All the graphics have been drawn inside Storyline. No external interactions like Javascript were used. We applaud him for the perseverance he must have to achieve this. The only exception was the audio track.

Articulate 360

We’ve been playing with the new Articulate 360 features and are taking this opportunity to share some highlights.

Storyline 360articulate-dial

  • Dials – a completely new feature to Storyline, you can adjust the dials by clicking and dragging similar to sliders. You can also adjust dials using variables and other triggers. We can use this in medical elearning modules to show how you can alter a patient’s health, moving a dial into red or green phases based on treatments chosen by the learner.
  • Content library – new characters, backgrounds, templates, questions
    • We have identified a few favourite templates and have adjusted them to our needs, saving the projects for our team to use as bases for our development. We have done this by creating a project, importing the slide we want and editing it to be our own “template”. We delete unwanted components and slide masters to reduce file size, and save for repeated use.
  • articulate-motionpathsMotion paths – we played with two new features: orient object to path, and shape intersections. We used the orient object to path to make a patient faint more realistically (well, it is still Storyline). We can now translate and rotate an object more easily in an animation. The animation intersection options allow you to apply triggers when objects intersect and stop intersecting during a motion path. It will be interesting to see how we apply this in future developments.
  • Triggers – we do like the new trigger options for when an object enters or leaves a slide.  For example, making a character expression change when an object moves onto or off a slide.
  • Edit layers – this is possibly the best improvement in Storyline recently. You can edit all the layers on a slide at once! Even keeping the layer properties window open as you switch between layers is very helpful.
    • We have also found you can edit slide properties on all the slides in a scene or even the whole project from story view, so we can select the whole project and remove the prev and next buttons in one swoop.
  • articulate-publishPublishing improvements – html only, scene or slide only
    • Those who pay a fortune to publish based on file size will love the ability to reduce their file size by dropping Flash and publishing html only.
    • Publishing just one scene is really useful while working with SMEs as you are developing a course. We will talk more in the next section about this.


  • This is amazing. It can be difficult for SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) to comment on slides when the project is published as SCORM and uploaded to the LMS, or given to them in Word format where they can’t interact and see or experience the flow.
  • The more technical savvy SMEs we work with were taking screenshots and sending us the screenshots with comments on what changes they want, then we would go hunt out that scene/slide/layer to make the changes. Time consuming for all involved. The less technical SMEs would rely on descriptions of the slides, which were even more difficult for the developer they were working with.
  • In Review, the SMEs are commenting directly on the slides or layer, we can comment on their comment (context!!) and resolve comments as we made changes. It also means that multiple SMEs can be in on the conversation and they aren’t doubling up on feedback (or can contest a comment giving developers richer interactions).
  • The publishing of new versions to an existing project gives more visibility to the design process (which can be almost invisible to the SME), lets you see unresolved comments even in newly published versions.
  • Being able to publish to Review just a scene is far less confusing for an SME than seeing a designers very unpolished thoughts on irrelevant scenes.
  • Given Review is web-based and no account is needed, the developer can send a link to the SMEs, stakeholders and testers, and they can be many, and they can all comment without an account. Much less management and administration than doing this through an LMS where they have to log in, find the course (which needs to be visible to them and they need to be enrolled in it with an appropriate role).
  • Responsive – tablet and phone. Apparently. We haven’t looked at this much but we are excited. Honest. True story.
  • A future improvement we hope to see is some team features. Being able to publish projects to a shared team Review would make it easier for a developer to pick up someone’s project part way through. This seems like a suitable future feature for team account holders.
  • Oh, and a little tip for testing. We suggest you keep the player navigation buttons for your SMEs during testing stages or have the menu visible in your player, even if it won’t be there in the final product. SMEs like to move backwards and forwards to work out why a flow doesn’t feel right to them, and give you the best feedback.


  • If you don’t already have good screencast recording software then you can make do with Replay. We have so far just used it to make quick screencasts that show errors to techs and can see it being useful for a quick “here’s how to login and find your course” but it has its limitations.
  • You can choose the screen size and whether it records audio and webcam if available.
  • You can edit the video by cutting out sections but can’t resize or zoom. There doesn’t seem to be a way to highlight a section of the screen, or even highlight your mouse (which could be useful if someone is trying to follow along). You can’t change the speed of playback. You can add a second recording in track B which can be full screen or lower right corner or you can split video in each track and mix them up. If you do choose to have both tracks appearing on the screen, you can select part of the timeline and return to one video track when ready.
  • You can mute the sound and record or import audio tracks.
  • You can add subtitles but not choose where they are positioned on the video or how they look. You can decide how long the text is displayed on the screen.
  • There are no hotspot or interactive features that you might have seen in other software. Perhaps this will be a future development… hint…
  • We recommend when you are recording with this software that you have a really good script pre-prepared, that you take your time with your mouse movements to avoid the feeling of it being rushed. 


  • I was once told if you don’t have something nice to say …
  • glorified presentation, sort of an ebook

Monitoring in Moodle

At Moodlemoot NZ 2016 we ran a workshop on setting up your Moodle courses to reduce the teacher management workload, effectively monitor student progress, and empower students with the autonomy to self manage along the way.

Teachers often talk of the high workload in managing the online components of the course; checking which students have completed what tasks, looking for forum contributions and checking what needs marking. Whenever we show teachers how to use the Moodle tools for monitoring and managing their courses there is always a positive response with a sigh of relief. Getting these things right can free up time for important things like working directly with students.

This blog post will show tracking options and the reports available to teachers and students. We will focus on core Moodle tools that are available in a modern standard install. We know there are some excellent modules and plugins focusing on these areas, however we don’t want to showcase tools that you cannot use without administration rights.


There are different types of reports available in Moodle through the administration block or through the user profile page.

Logs and live logs

You can generate logs of course activity by selecting any combination: participants, days, activities, actions or events. Then click on “Get these logs”.

Use the ? icon to get more information. The logs give you active links enabling you to access the student’s profile page or the particular page they were viewing. IP address gives an estimate of the student’s location.


Teachers and students both have access to logs but they get different information. See the user reports below for student views.

Course reports > Activity reports

Teachers can assess the usage of each activity and resource within their course using the activity report. It shows the count of clicks and the number of unique users who clicked. This can assist in having conversations with learners about why some activities and resources have more clicks than others, but the data in isolation should not be used to make assumptions.

A question we pose during our workshop that helps teachers understand this:

You read the Course > Activity report and find one resource has 200 clicks, another has 20 clicks. Discuss which resource is the most useful to your students and why? What is the data telling you?


We discuss the possible causes of clicks:

  • “It was really useful so I referred to it often.”
  • “It was confusing and I read it over and over but still don’t understand.”
  • “I didn’t click on it because the name of it made me think I didn’t need to open that.”
  • “I didn’t open it because I already knew about it.”

Course reports > Course participation

Teachers can generate a participation report on a particular activity. For example: forum view or forum posts. A useful feature of the participation report is the option to send a message to all students who have or have not completed an action.


Course reports > Activity completion

If the Moodle site has activity completion enabled this can drastically improve course management and a huge time saver for both the teacher and the student. We explain setting up activity completion later in this blog post, so keep reading!



The reports we have just discussed are largely teacher focused. Next we look at the reports and tools primarily for students.

User reports > Profile page


User reports > Today’s logs and all logs

Students can use the logs to show their submissions were sent on time. They can also see what days of the week they are more active.


User reports > Outline report

This is a brief outline of the learner’s course participation. For more detailed information they can look at the complete report. This report is useful for a brief overview and to check if they have missed anything.


User reports > Complete report

The learner can use the complete report to get a detailed record of their course contributions. Depending on the course design, the learner can print their complete report and use it as a study guide. Teachers who would like to encourage this approach should get their students to write question and answers in forum posts, and ensure the layout of activities like database show the questions in the students responses so the questions appear in the complete report.

We have used this approach recently in a course that has an elearning pre-requisite to a face-to-face workshop. The learner prints their complete report and brings it to the workshop, instead of printing a large workbook.



Using the reports

When we teach people how to use the reports and logs we give them scenarios to consider in groups.

  • A student says that they have submitted an assignment before the due date, but it is showing as late. Which reports can you look into to see exactly when the student accessed and submitted the assignment? Discuss in a group and submit your chosen answer in this choice activity.
  • The teacher wants to check the students are all keeping up with the course work. They should have done the first three topics.  Which reports can you look into to see exactly where the students are at? Discuss in a group and submit your chosen answer in this choice activity.
  • One of the students has asked to meet with you about their course work. They are struggling with the course work but they say they have been trying to do all the course required activities. What report would you look at to prepare to meet with them? Discuss in a group and submit your chosen answer in this choice activity.


Completion settings

Earlier we showed you the Activity completion report. To use the report above, you need to set up activity completion at site level course level, and in each activity and resource.

It is helpful to refer to Moodle Docs > Activity completion settings to learn about this feature, but the brief is that you can use activity completion settings in Moodle to track and display activities and resources as “complete” for students based on criteria set by the teacher for each resource or activity, dependent on viewing, submitting, receiving a grade, or posting or replying conditions being met.


When we teach this we show how to setup activity completion settings on existing activities such as forum, glossary, page, quiz, and assignment.

We discuss self marked quizzes that show as complete immediately on submission, versus teacher marked assignments which can show as complete on submission or complete when a grade has been received. When the “completion” happens on grade received there is a delay.

Another consideration is that this tracking does not assess quality of contributions. For example, forum conditions can’t assess quality of posts, only quantity. Viewing a resource does not equal reading/understanding/processing etc.

Restrict Access settings

This feature allows you to restrict students from accessing a resource or activity based on criteria set by the teacher (roles are blurry, so I am simplifying here). add_restriction_popup
There is useful documentation at Moodle Docs > Restrict access settings for you to find out more.

Examples we use in our practice include:

  • Restrict access until another resource or activity is marked as complete – e.g. certificate not available until assignments are marked complete.
  • Restrict access until after a grade over 90% achieved in another graded activity.
  • Restrict access to a group or grouping – we use this to manage monthly new intakes and classes.
  • Restrict access until after a date – this could restrict the learner from viewing a resource or activity until after a presentation or a field trip.
  • Restrict access so only visible to people who have match a profile field – e.g. city equal to Auckland, this would allow you to show a label with a face to face event for learners in that city.

We commonly use restrictions to stop learners from viewing the certificate module until after feedback activity is marked complete, and they have a grade of 100% on the assessment activity.  This ensures instructional designers are always getting feedback on their development, and the learner has met the assessment standards agreed with the SME.

Note that when you have two restrictions there is the option to require the student to have met “all” or “any” of the requirements. With “all” you see “and” but with “any” you see “or” between the conditions.

The “Restriction set” is best left for teachers with some experience setting the other restriction types first.

Course completion criteria

When we teach course completion criteria, we demonstrate how to set this up and then encourage them to give it a go. Documentation for setting up course completion is here – Moodle Docs > Course completion – and you should totally read it.

This is our task list for workshop participants:

  • Turn on and off course completion tracking in course settings in practice course.
  • Add course completion block.
  • Set course completion criteria via the administration block
  • Discuss the risks of unlocking the criteria after a course has started (note the option to unlock without affecting current completions – how does this impact future participants?).
  • Discuss what happens if you want to add an activity, track it in course completion, after students have started? We promote pre-planning, but there is an option to retain some of the data if you do need to make adjustments after the course start date. We recommend reading

Grader report

Moodle includes a grader report that is automatically populated by graded activities in your course. The documentation Moodle Docs > Grader report will give you the steps to using grader report.

During our workshops we include

  • Looking at what is automatically put into the grader report, and what you can manually add. We show how to set up categories and grade items, how to use groups for filtering and set grade visibility, type (real/percentage/letter), and weighting.
  • Participants organising the grader report in a way that makes sense to their group, add categories and grade items as necessary, and decide on the weighting of activities.

What we want teachers to think about are the benefits to the students for having the grade structure organised, as well as themselves and moderators and auditors of courses.

Participants of our workshops share examples and discuss ways they can use these features in their courses.

We gathered feedback on our workshops and it was overwhelmingly positive. Participants were keen to spend more time on familiarising themselves with these features.

Some feedback received from participants:

  • “I have learnt more in the last 2 hours than in the last day… you have my creative juices flowing now.”
  • “This session is how I envisioned the whole day to be. It was great!”
  • “Impressed by the combination of solid development and “on the fly” flexibility.”
  • “I am very keen to add more activities to my courses. Our current pages are flat, unorganized and definitely have the scroll of death!”
  • “I’ve got a lot of information now to try and get more out of Moodle which is currently being hugely underutilized.”
  • “Really useful to discuss the ways the reports can be used and interpreted, using the as a start point for discussion!”


And despite each workshop being three hours long, when we asked “Tell us one thing you would change or improve” we received responses like these:

  • “Too short! Could spend a whole day using this type of thing.”
  • “Restricted time limit.”
  • “It would be great to have a bit more time to go over how to create these things.”
  • “More time!”