Revisited: Best Modules & Plugins

I’d like to revisit a topic I’ve posted about in the past, the best Modules and Plugins for Moodle. With Moodle 2 coming out, a revamp of the plugins directory and the time since our last look at modules and plugins, I thought it’d be good to take another look.

Here are the modules I’ve posted about in the past:


Revisions of previous Modules rationale

Integration: Moodle-Google Apps
I used to love this Moodle-Google SSO module but a few years later I prefer the other authentication option of Google Apps Directory Sync or even better, a custom solution tied to your Google domain and your other solutions (crossing fingers we can do this in our district). A few reasons why–quirky issues with the plugin that I was able to troubleshoot but just inconsistency in account creation, third-party services in Google Apps (like Aviary) did not work and features like organization management are available with the sync tool.  However, does have better documentation of this module.

Activity Module: Questionnaire
Still a great module, but I believe they are working on a new and improved survey module that combines the Feedback, Survey and Questionnaire module into a standard Survey module. It does not look like it’s come out yet or if there is active development. I have not installed Questionnaire yet on our Moodle 2 site but if the standard module doesn’t come out by Fall I will install it.

New Modules

Here are a few modules that are either new to me or ones that have jumped in rank in my opinion.

Certificate (activity module) 1.9, 2.1 and below
I’ve mentioned this before but I have only recently added it to our Moodle 2 site. I’d like to give this module an extra bump as it could be very useful for professional development and courses where credits or proof of completion are important. Works in Moodle 2.

Drag and Drop file Upload (block) 1.9, 2.x
This block could possibly make me our teachers’ new best friend. I’ve heard about this plugin for awhile but only recently installed it on our Moodle 2 site. Tried it once and got very excited. Just like the title says, this block allows a user to drag a file from their desktop onto a Moodle course. I still have to see how it works with other browsers but this could be a great help when we transition our users to Moodle 2 in the Fall.

Grid Format (Course Format) 1.9, 2.2 and below
I have not yet installed this Course Format but from what I understand it basically does the Compact Design for you. In the discussion thread there were a few bugs but it looks like it was updated last week which takes care of those. I still want to look a little more into it before installing but it looks great.

Onetopic Format and Topic Forums (Course Format) 1.9, 2.1 and below
I haven’t installed these Course Formats yet but they look pretty cool. Onetopic looks like it adds tabs for each section which will show one topic at a time. This would prevent the issue of the “scroll of death”. The topic Forums Course Format works the same way but it also puts a discussion forum in each of the section pages.

HTMLArea toolbar Extension (Other) 1.9, 2.1 and below
I have not yet installed/modified our code which enables this feature. It really got me interested and excited when I attended a session on it during last year’s iMoot. At that time I don’t think it was compatible with 2.x but it does look like it is now. Again, I need to look into this more especially because it involves modifying code. This module adds many different features to the WYSIWYG Editor. Definitely something I plan on installing in the future.

I installed the Certificate and Drap and Drop module last week in our Moodle 2 environment. I’m being cautious on installing a few of these and waiting a little longer so the bugs can get worked out. We’ll be transitioning to Moodle 2 next fall so I’m sure there will be more Modules I’ll find and report back on. If you have any favorite Modules please feel free to comment!


Extending the Moodle Database Activity with CSS, templates & HTML

I was recently given the task in my district to develop a solution for a searchable forms database on our new web site. These forms include staff forms for HR, district permission slips,art box enrollment forms, etc. We just migrated our site to a paid for service which included many features except a way to store, search and display forms (files).

I decided to use a Database Activity in Moodle. A few obstacles I initially saw:

  • Integrate the activity into the district site seamlessly
  • Integrate the look into the district site
  • Customizing the display
  • Meeting the district’s needs of menus, filters and search

Integrate the activity into the district site seemlesslycheck mark

A simple solution for this, although I don’t particularly enjoy using them, was to use an iframe on our district web site. I only had a WYSIWYG Editor to use that allowed HTML. Clicking a link on the district site which opened a link in Moodle wasn’t an option. It needed to be embedded within the web site and not be noticeable that it’s using another product or site. So, iframe it was.

Integrate the look into the district site check mark

The biggest issue was the header and footer in Moodle. I was able to remove all of this using the CSS template in the Database Activity. With much help from Mary Evans in the Moodle Forums on I used Firebug to accomplish hiding the header, breadcrumb navigation, description box and footer.

Below is the screenshot pointing out each section and below that is the code corresponding to each section in the screenshot.


/*Hide header, banner*/
#mod-data-view #header { display: none;}
#mod-data-view #banner { display: none;}

/*Hide breadcrumb navigation*/
#mod-data-view #page .navbar { display: none;}

/*Hide description box*/
#mod-data-view #intro {display:none; padding-top:0px;}

/*Hide footer*/
#mod-data-view #footer { display: none;}
#mod-data-view .paging {margin: 0px;}

Customizing the display check mark

I lucked out in that the theme I picked, Leatherbound, matched most of the colors for our district site. Now, I wanted to add in some highlighting and shadowing. I lucked out again that has documentation on “How can I add highlighting like on the Modules and plugins page?“. I modified it a bit and put it in my CSS template.

Meeting the district’s needs of menus, filters and search check markdrop down menu

Finally, I needed to add in some drop down menus to departments and buildings. I got tons of help again, from the forums. Itamar Tzadok helped me out in several Database Activity Forum threads.

I put that HTML in the “List” template. I was able to get direct links to each “field” by manually searching for that field and copying and pasting it as a link. ‘Department’ and ‘Building’ were fields, so I was able to search (filter) and get the link.

After a lot of testing and troubleshooting here is the final product (you can see the Moodle Database Activity bordered in black)

final product

You can see it live by going to click on “Quicklinks” in the top right, then click on “Forms A-Z“.

More helpful links

Phew, time for a treat! Moodle to the rescue!


Moodle Activity Module: Focuspad

I was recently (well actually quite awhile ago but I’ve been so busy) asked by Ryan Chadwick to take a look at a recently developed Moodle Activity Module called Focuspad by Mintranet.

Focuspad is a Moodle module/activity aimed at encouraging and supporting creative writing. Pieces of writing are saved as posts and managed through the library. read more

Here is some “about” information for this Moodle activity taken from the ‘find out more‘ page on the module’s official site.

Focuspad is similar to blogs and assignments that are already in Moodle but differ in a few key ways that make it a cleaner solution for a lot of tasks.

  • Unlike blogs, Focuspad posts can be graded.
  • *Unlike assignments, Focuspad allows you to submit multiple items.

Focuspad also has these features:

  • Word limits on posts.
  • Time limits on posts.
  • Autosave of documents every 5 minutes.
  • Templates on posts so that you can guide students writing.
  • Notes area so that you can encourage students to plan their work before diving in.
  • A streamlined marking process. Run through the posts smoothly as you mark them.
  • Pause posts. For some students with special needs it is not uncommon for them to be allowed to pause their assessments. Focuspad allows for this.
  • An editor designed to maximise focus and minimise distractions.

*I think the standard assignment activity, “Advanced uploading of files”, does allow this

What can you do with Focuspad?

  • Basic Blogs – but in a more localised, managed manner.
  • Essay based assignments and assessments.
  • Learning Logs/ Journals
  • 25 word or less style competitions (works great in conjunction with a specially set grading scale).
  • Allow for a fun component in student election campaigns.
  • Guided learning on how to write essays or reports (by use of templates).
  • Open creative writing (let the students form their own targets).
  • Fill in the blanks, use a template to provide the framework for a story and let the students expand on it.


I played around with Focuspad as a student as well as a teacher. At first glance it looked very elegant and smooth but it seemed a little confusing as to what everything was meant for and did. For example, I didn’t know if this was public or only the teacher saw it, I was unsure if clicking “done” meant I could not edit it again and I was just unsure of how the whole thing operated. It took me only a few minutes to get the hang of it and now it seems pretty darn easy! It is a one time cost of $99.95 (for every Focuspad sold $5 will be donated to Moodle). You are able to put it on as many installations in your organizations and you have access to any upgrades.

There are two elements to Focuspad: the library and the editor. The library is open source and the editor used is what you have to pay for. The general idea of Focuspad is a Moodle activity where students can write (within Moodle – no uploads of Word files) an essay, fill in blanks from a template, fill out a learning log, etc. and hand it into the teacher. It is a very slick and attractive activity. It works very much like Microsoft Word and it’s really cool because the students see the entire piece of paper and layout. It’s not like Moodle’s WYSIWYG editor, where you see a small box with some buttons in the middle section of a page.

What I liked:

A student can make their post public or private. This is a great option to allow a teacher to make an assignment for their eyes only when students should not be able to see other student’s work, but you can also choose to make it public to share their work and findings with their classmates.

The ability to edit multiple times within Moodle (if that setting is set) is a real convenient feature in my opinion. A student can start an assignment and finish it later or add on to it later like a journal.

The ability for teachers to create templates. This is a pretty awesome thing to be able to do. If there are guidelines or a certain format the teacher wants students to use they can create a template. The only drawback or issue I see is I was able to edit the template, so students could accidentally (or on purpose) edit the template. There may be a lock on this but I did not see it.

Everything is done within Moodle!!! This is the best part of the module. Kids do not have to have a word processing program or worry about uploading files. No worries about versions of Microsoft Word or viewing PowerPoints.

In Conclusion

I think this Moodle Activity Module is a very smooth, easy to use and useful feature. It sort of combines the blog, the journal and the advanced uploading of assignments into one. The fact that a student can work on an assignment, stop, come back the next day and finish it and then hand it in – all within Moodle is great. Moodle does have an “online assignment” but it does not compare to Focuspad. I think teacher’s would love this activity. I haven’t seen any other comments or reviews on Focuspad but I would be interested to see other reviews. In conclusion, after playing around with this Moodle activity I see it as a very useful tool that is more enhanced and robust than any standard writing assignment activity. I will be interested to see what upgrades they have to this activity and any other resources they come up with. Before actually purchasing and installing this feature I would have to test it out and see if there are any bugs but it is something to definitely take a look at.

Related Links:
Find out more
Moodle Focuspad Playground
Download/Buy Focuspad
Discussion about Focuspad
Focuspad on Modules and Plugins
Mintranet Blog

Best Moodle modules & plugins

Moodle has many approved Modules & Plugins, but what are the best and most useful ones to try out? Depending on the type of Moodle site you run and how your users use Moodle can determine what is considered a useful module or plugin.

This blog post is just a working list on the best Moodle modules and plugins for a large K-12 school district which is used for student use at home, staff development and as a personal portal to store and show resources via a projector during the school day in the classroom.

Activity Module: Book

“This module makes it easy to create multi-page resources with a book-like format.”

Rationale: The Book module is great for displaying all types of content. Yes, you are able to display content using the “compose a web page” resource but in the Book module you have a navigation menu where you can navigate to another page with content. You are able to create an outline with sub categories acting as a chapter-book going in order or just an outline of topics.

Why I love this module so much is because the courses that I create have a lot of content in them. I hate putting too much text in the middle column of my course and using the “compose a web page” is a bit hard when I have too much content. With the Book module, it is much easier to organize the content and it creates a more user-friendly way to navigate without having one resource with tons of content on the same page making the user scroll forever.

Here is a simple example of using the Book module for Frequently Asked Questions.


Activity Module: Questionnaire

“The Questionnaire module allows users to complete online feedback style forms using a variety of user input methods. It allows you to create your own questions, unlike the Survey module which has presets to choose from, and it allows for more advanced questionnaires than the simpler and easier Feedback module.”

Rationale: No one uses the standard survey module in our district (actually I think we have it disabled). It’s not that they don’t have a need for a survey it’s just because the presets it comes with are not what they want. This module allows users to create their own kinds of surveys. You are able to customize the survey however you want.

Being the admin of our Moodle site I obviously have very different kinds of courses in Moodle. Mine are mostly help pages and giving information – with not much interaction. I can’t say that I have used the Questionnaire module a bunch, however I can see the uses of it for a classroom teacher and I have seen many praises about it online.


Course Format: Collapsed Topics

“A new topic based format that attempts to solve the issue of the ‘Scroll of Death’ when a course has so many topics. All topics except zero have a toggle that displays that topic. One or more topics can be displayed at any given time.”

Rationale: Tired of scrolling…and scrolling….and scrolling… in your course? Are your students? This may be your solution! This course format collapses each section in your course and allows your viewers to click on an individual section header to open up that section. This saves you a lot of scrolling time. It’s pretty slick and creates an easy to view course. A drawback *could* be that your viewers can not see what they are looking for right away – they have to click to view things.


Block: HTML Block (standard block)

Description: A HTML block is a standard block used to add text or images on a site or course page. The title bar can be left blank.

Rationale: You may be wondering why I included a standard Moodle block. The reason I included this block as a “best” is because of the possibilities and flexibility of this block. If you are not very familiar with HTML and/or CSS this may not be of a lot of use to you. If you are, there are a lot of potential possibilities. This block can be used to insert text, links, images and any other multimedia. You can be creative and link to external, internal or anchor links. I think using the HTML block allows you to be creative and treat your Moodle course as a regular web site. If you are looking for a certain kind of block chances are you can somehow manipulate the HTML block to do what you want.

The HTML block is not only useful on your course homepage – it can also be a tool for you on your My Moodle page (if enabled). If you have certain sites you always visit you can create links in the HTML block and use your My Moodle page as a portal.


Module: Database (standard activity)

Description: “The Database module activity allows the teacher and/or students to build, display and search a bank of record entries about any conceivable topic.”

Rationale: Another standard module! When we first rolled out Moodle in our district we did not have this activity enabled. I think mostly because we were not very familiar with it. After awhile, I enabled it and played around with it some. I immediately saw the great potential this activity had. I tried out some of the Database presets and found some great ways to use this activity. I don’t think many teachers are using this activity but it will definitely be something we show our staff when they get better with Moodle. This may be an “advanced” feature we show teachers in the future.

Creative uses
Database for Databases

Block: Quickmail

Description: “The quickmail block adds a link to a tool that has a checkbox list of all students in the course, and a mail composition text area. You can check the students you like, and email those and only those. This enhances the existing communications systems of messaging (one user) and subscribed forums (all subscribers) by allowing teachers to select a specific subset of students.”

Rational: This is a block that was recommended to me by @carolinekmoore and I have seen get a positive response while doing research online. We do not have this module installed on our site and it would not really make sense for us to do so because our students currently do not have emails. However, we are in the process of getting student emails (Google Apps) and enabling them in Moodle.

Once we get student emails up and running this will definitely be a module for us to look into. This module seems like such an easy and convenient way to communicate with students. Hopefully we will be able to use this next year!


Other modules

Depending on the type of Moodle site you run there will be a difference in what modules and plugins are the “best”. Some of the previously listed modules and plugins we currently use and some I plan to take a look at in the future. I know there are many I have missed, so please reply with your favorites. Also, if there are any other links to lists of “the best” Moodle modules please leave a comment.

Related Links:
Moodle Tip – Top Moodle Modules and Blocks (Around the
Where is a list of the “best” moodle blocks/plugins? ( discussion thread)
Moodle Modules & Plugins –
Collaborative Liberal Arts Moodle Projects

Tip: Flexibility with resource/activity links

One thing I had trouble with when using Moodle is getting it to look “nice” and laying out the middle content how I wanted. This was a bit tough when adding resources and activities because 1.) you had to use the icon set for that resource/activity 2.) I could not change the font size or color and 3.) I couldn’t lay out multiple activities on the same line which made for one long list.

Then I stumbled upon Moodle Docs: Course Homepage – Tips and tricks. Basically, that link gives the idea to make resources or activities in a hidden section, copy the link then use that URL somewhere else giving you more flexibility to link to your content. Here are modified instructions from that link which I have used:

  1. Set your weeks or topics to 1 more than you need
  2. Create the resources or activities you want in that last section
  3. Choose a resource or activity that you just created, open it and copy the URL (this is the direct link to that resource/activity)
  4. Navigate to the place you want to link to the resource/activity you just copied
  5. Insert a label
  6. Insert text or maybe even an image and make that a link using the URL that you previously copied
  7. Go back to your course settings and set the weeks or topics one less (hiding that last section with the stored resources and activities)

How can this be used? I have used this method when I wanted the activity link to be bigger, a different color, an image or when I wanted to make multiple activities be on the same line. I have also used this method when I did not want the default icon for a certain activity.

In my opinion this method gives you much more flexibility in formatting your links look and layout. You can also use the copied URL direct link in an HTML block, compose a web page resource or any place where you can make a link instead of the label resource which I mentioned in the above instructions.

Check out Tips and tricks from Moodle Docs for a more in depth and varied ways of this method. I would like to hear if anyone else has a different method of accomplishing the same thing or would like to add their two cents!