Thursday, May 10, 2018

7 aspects of accessibility to consider when designing and developing online courses

I recently had an interesting discussion with a colleague about accessibility in online learning and I was inspired to make this table listing some aspects of accessibility for online course designers and developers to consider.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Making Moodle pages that are accessible site wide

If you'd like to add 'global' pages on your Moodle site that you can access anywhere, you might find the options in this post useful. These are the options I know of - I won't be surprised if there are more!

Option 1. As part of courses open to guests: You could create a course on your site that is open to guest access, and you could make pages and put publicly accessible resources here (as a kind of repository). The trouble is when you link to any page or resource here, the user will be taken to a completely different part of your Moodle site and this might break the user experience. The user might drift into the course with all the publicly accessible stuff and wonder what it's all about!

Option 2. Using the Main Menu block: On your site homepage add the 'Main Menu' block. Within this block you can add not just pages but any Moodle resource or activity that your site supports! I don't want my users to see the block itself on their homepage so I edit the block-level permissions to make it invisible to students and other roles. This does not affect the visibility of the pages I create in this block. I copy the URL and put it anywhere I like. And they appear neatly as 'Home -> Site pages -> Page title' in the breadcrumb without the confusingly long trail as in option 1.

Option 3. Using the Static Pages plugin: This plugin adds a feature to the Site Administration menu to let you create and maintain static pages. It's great but for one problem: spaces are not supported in the page title. So you are constrained to use one-word titles like 'FAQ' and 'contact', or you need to add hyphens/underscores between words in the title, which ends up looking weird in big font when the page is published.

Option 4. Adding a page directly on the site homepage: If you enable the setting 'include a topic section' in the Front Page settings of your site, you can add any resource or activity directly in the main section of your Moodle site homepage just as if it were a course section. I think the Label resource is particularly useful for the site homepage: with the right design or CSS you can add visually appealing content on the homepage. If you add any other resource/activity such as a page, the homepage develops a course-like character that you might not like! 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Free Moodle test site with Bitnami and AWS

As a Moodler at a nonprofit I like to know how I can run a complete Moodle site on a low budget if I need to experiment. MoodleCloud is great to try stuff at the course creation level but it does not come with full rights for site admins. I'm a Moodle site admin, not a system admin, so I'm not too particular about server access.

A couple of weeks back I started on a project at work to make our Moodle site more visually appealing. I wanted to show prototypes as we went along without disturbing our production site, and I remembered that Bitnami has a Moodle stack. I opted for the Amazon Web Services (AWS) option as it seemed to offer the cheapest monthly price. Then I found out that I could sign up for the AWS Free Tier which offers 750 hours per month of compute time free of cost for 12 months! A month can have a maximum of 744 hours so I figured I should be able to run one Moodle 'instance' on the AWS Free Tier nonstop.

The process of setting up a Moodle instance on AWS through Bitnami was a bit intricate and I got stuck at the point of copying in the access key ID from my AWS account into my Bitnami account. There was something weird about the form field on Bitnami where I had to put in the access key ID. But soon it was a happy ending and I was lord of my own Moodle site in an obscure corner of the internet :)

Now I'm looking forward to tinkering on this site free of cost for up to a year!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Moodling in 2017

It's that time again when I reflect on my Moodle experiences in the past year!
  • Last January I tinkered with the Moodle database for the first time soon after taking the MoodleBites MySQL Reporting course. My goal was to get a count of the number of forum posts that received 'useful' ratings. I posted a query and a solution on the Moodle community forums, and my friend Farhan posted a better solution in the same thread. I've not yet got a chance to try out his solution though.
  • In February I was busy revising a research article I'd written with my colleagues. We had submitted the article to a journal a few months before and we got a load of reviewers' comments. I thought the revised article would again be peer-reviewed so it was a huge relief when it was accepted a couple of days after we submitted it. The article, titled 'A MOOC approach for training researchers in developing countries', was published in the March 2017 issue of Open Praxis.
  • May and June are the hottest months of the year in south India, where I live, but luckily I had some travel to take my mind off the weather. I went to Hyderabad to speak at ICT4D 2017 (Hyderabad was also hot though!) and made two trips to Tanzania to conduct training-of-trainers workshops for university lecturers interested in running the AuthorAID online course locally.

  • I was inspired to look at the AuthorAID online course through a new lens after attending a scholarly commons workshop at Indiana University Bloomington in July, and I wrote this piece: Can an online course be a commons?
  • In August my colleague Andy Nobes and I were invited to give a talk based on our Open Praxis paper at a webinar series run by e/merge Africa. We had a really engaged audience who asked a lot of questions!
  • Last year we ran two AuthorAID MOOCs on our usual schedule: one in summer and one in autumn. Before the second one I had some time to make the course materials compatible with the Moodle Mobile app, and it was less work than I thought it would be. The course lessons are made with eXeLearning and I only had to change the theme for mobile compatibility. The core activities were of two kinds: quizzes and writing activities including peer assessment. Moodle Quiz is compatible with the app (even the offline feature of the app) but Moodle Workshop (for peer assessment activities) isn't compatible yet. Still, it was great to see that most of the course materials work well in the app! We got some nice feedback from the learners too :)
  • After another exciting year of Moodling, it was unfortunate that I couldn't attend the MoodleMoot in Mumbai that took place in December. But I'm happy that my friends Farhan and Michelle, two of the most high-profile Moodlers in India, were part of it. Martin (the founder of Moodle) even went to Michelle's school! I'll sign off with the video he made: