If we had used an off-the-shelf LMS, our potential to customise the system would have been limited. Part of the reason our School chose Moodle was to allow us to make it our own. This potential is a double-edged sword: it takes time and effort to customise a system, especially when School leaders get in the habit, but the results allow us to achieve a system we would not have been able to achieve otherwise.
One trap to avoid is modifying core Moodle code as doing so will affect your future upgrade prospects. So far we have managed to avoid this and have been able to make all our modifications by creating plugins.
An Announcements System
Moodle allows you to use the Forum module as a mechanism for sending messages to users at course and site levels, however when planning for an LMS change, stakeholders were asking for particular features the Forum module doesn’t deliver, so we started developing our own Announcements system and it’s been the largest single developed solution we have created.
Our announcement system allows us to:
- target single users, groups, courses, campuses, year levels and more;
- combine audiences in union (eg all Year 7 and 8 students) or intersection (Football players in Year 10);
- send messages to parents (mentors) relative to students;
- moderate messages sent to large audiences;
- impersonate senders (eg the PA to the Head sending on behalf of);
- brand single message and digest emails;
- see an infinitely scrolling list of past announcements;
- see context specific announcements (eg course-related) in that context;
…and many more subtle tweaks.
Students (and their parents) need ready access to their timetables for the day. We provide that with links to courses for each period. The display changes over the course of the day as time passes. It’s possible for users to skip forward by days, according to timetable information provided by our SIS.
In the Primary school, timetables are simpler. We show a link that takes students straight to their year-level course. We also show unusual activities such as specialist classes (art, PE, music, etc) and individual tutoring sessions.
We add these blocks in a region we’ve added at the top of the Home page.
Particularly during remote learning, we were needing a way of gauging staff and student mood, to assist pastoral care staff and counsellors. Our solution was to create an overlay on the front page that asked users how they were feeling.
Responses are channelled into a table that allowed us to generate alerts and reports.
Mentees+ for Parents
The core Mentees block shows only a student names to a parent, with links to the students’ profiles. We have created an enhanced version of this with photos and direct links to the student’s courses (which we allow parents to access). This provides parents with quick access to all their children’s involvement in an obvious fashion.
The block is placed in an added region at the top of the Home page.
When a parent has many children, the block can be collapsed down. There’s also an option to hide the content of the block for teachers who are parents and don’t want students in their classes to see details.
Targeted Quick Links
For our School, the LMS also acts as a portal to other systems. We therefore created a quick links block that allows buttons and text links to be added for specific audiences that can be targeted by combinations of site role, campus and year level, giving a personalised experience.
Past Courses in Boost
The Boost theme is more responsive than previous themes and we’ve embraced it. One downside to the simplified navigation is that only current courses are listed. To allow access to past courses we created a plugin that adds them in an expanding menu below the normal list of courses.
Repo: Local plugin
Transcoding for Apple Devices
The RecordRTC features of Moodle provide convenient audio and video recording, but the open formats it uses are not respected by Apple devices. We looked at the Poodll plugins, but the downside was that our recordings would need to sit on servers overseas. We created a tool that runs in the background and transcodes the audio and video files to formats that are compatible with Apple devices and provides these compatible links embedded as additional source files within the original links for compatability.
Repo: Admin tool
Syncing more User Data
Most of our user data comes from our SIS. Automating this means the LMS is easily managed. As well as syncing user details and course enrolments, we’ve created a number of admin tools so we can also sync:
- class groups,
- parent (mentor) relationships and
- category and site enrolments.