Tip: Allow HTML Tags in Activity and Resource Names

Our district just upgraded from Moodle version 1.9.1 to version 1.9.7. One of the many changes I was excited about was the option to use HTML tags in activity and resource names. This means you can bold, make fonts bigger or change the color of fields that do not have the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor.

This setting is found in the admin block on the front page under Appearance/HTML Settings

HTML setting in Moodle

Here is an example showing why this is cool

Before using HTML tags in activity or resource names

before using HTML tags

See how all activity and resource names are in the same format and small? Well, what if I want my “Homework Help Forum” to be bigger and bolder than the rest of the activities and resources? I want it to stand out.

Simply add the vigrx plus comparison to other pills HTML tags to the activity name field like this:

activity name field

then it displays….

html after

Cool, huh? I’m not quite sure which version this change was made in (and I am almost 100% positive this was not an option before – correct me if I’m wrong though, and even if it was it’s useful to know!).

Of course you need to know a little HTML but I think this is a really useful and neat little option. You can also use this in quiz questions (science teachers were wanting to use subscripts in their quiz questions now they can!). I’m now going to see if any CSS styling is possible – borders maybe?

I think this small option can give teachers the power to better customize, highlight and layout their activities and resources.

Edit: “Home” = “Homework” in the ‘after’ screenshots…you get the idea : )

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Tip: Automatically put students into groups using enrollment keys

With school beginning I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about automatically putting students into groups using individual enrollment keys. This is definitely NOT a new Moodle tip, but it’s such a useful piece of information that teachers love I thought I would share and remind Moodle users to take advantage of it.

First, I want to give credit to Julian Ridden (aka Moodleman) for exposing me to this great tip. I first found out about this through his blog post (including a screencast), “Automatic Assignment of Class Groups“. There are other sources that explain how to accomplish this task (see below in “Related Links”) but I personally found out about it through his video.


Groups are set up with individual enrollment keys before students enroll into the course. Teachers will tell students what enrollment key to use according to what group the teacher wants them in. They enter in the key when enrolling into the course and they are automatically put into a group according to which key they enter.

Why use this?

When students are in groups teachers are able to filter grades, assignments and participation by group. This is especially useful for secondary teachers who have multiple hours (or periods) of the same class. If there were no groups teachers would see all their enrolled students in one long, alphabetized list (which is hard to manage and can get very annoying with hundreds of enrolled students!). With groups, teachers can view each group (or hour or period) separately when viewing grades, assignments and participation. If you only use groups in this way and only this way, the students will not even notice anything. This is something a teacher would (greatly) benefit from.

Another (more advanced) use of groups is using groups within activities. Using groups within activities allows a teacher to create an activity and view their participation by group. It also gives the teacher an option to choose whether or not the groups can or can not see other groups participation. But enough of that, this post is showing you HOW to automatically put students into groups. More information about using groups and taking advantage of them will be listed below under “Related Links”.

Click here for a video screencast I created for our district showing the below process

Text Directions

Step 1 – Setting your Course Enrollment Key

1.) Click on “Settings” in your Administration block
2.) Scroll down to “Availability” and set your Enrollment Key
Note: You need to set this enrollment key in your course settings, as well as setting the group enrollment keys [later on]. This enrollment key will NOT be used by students; it only needs to be set to “turn on” the enrollment key option which will prompt students to enter in a key.
3.) Save changes on the bottom of the page

Step 2 – Creating Groups & Setting Group Enrollment Keys

4.) Go to “Groups” in your Administration block
5.) Click the “Create Group” button
6.) Enter in the Group Name (ex: Hour 1)
7.) Set the Enrollment Key (this will be what Hour 1 students will enter after they get prompted to enter an enrollment key when they click on your course for the first time)
8.) Click Save Changes
9a.) Create as many groups as you need

Step 3 – Giving directions to students

9.) Have students log in
10.) Tell them to navigate to your course and click the course name
11.) It will prompt them to enter an Enrollment Key
12.) Have the student enter the Enrollment Key that you provided them
Note: Make sure you give each hour (or group) their individual Enrollment Key
13.) Once they have entered in their assigned Enrollment Key they are enrolled and put into the group

Notes & Tips

  • Do not confuse the course Enrollment Key (in course settings) with the individual group Enrollment Keys. If anyone entered in the course Enrollment Key they would still be enrolled but they will NOT be in a group.
  • Students only have to enter in the Enrollment Key once.
  • You can move, add or remove students from groups by going into the “Groups” link, highlight the Group name and click the “add/remove users” button.
  • To ensure groups are not messed with in the future (on purpose or by accident) you can change the Group Enrollment Key to something else so no one can join the group later.
  • If you ever forget an Enrollment Key: check the “unmask” box next to it and it will reveal the Enrollment Key in plain text.

Note: While looking for other links and videos on this process I ran across a recent great post from Around the Corner-MGuhlin.org describing the value of Moodle groups. Check it out!

Related Links:

Some Links

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 Corner-MGuhlin.org)
Where is a list of the “best” moodle blocks/plugins? (Moodle.org discussion thread)
Moodle Modules & Plugins – Moodle.org
Collaborative Liberal Arts Moodle Projects

More links : )

A few links to check out

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!

Moodle Tip: Get rid of that pesky News Forum

For some people this might be a “duh” tip but I know there are some people who are wondering why the News Forum keeps coming back after deleting it or wondering how to get it back because I didn’t know when I was first starting out!

The News Forum is a special type of forum that is in your course by default. Think of this forum as a one-way street of information. The teacher(s) can give out information but student can not reply (unless you tweak other things). Another useful function of this forum is that by default it forces everyone to be subscribed which sends out an email to students when there are postings. This can of course be turned off.

So, you don’t want that forum? Okay…

  1. Go into your course Settings
  2. In the drop-down menu “News items to show” choose 0
    News Forum Items to Show
  3. Scroll down, Save Changes
  4. Delete the News Forum by going to your course, turn editing on, click the X
    News Forum Delete
  5. Delete the Latest News Block (or hide it)

Yahoo, it’s gone and will stay gone!

Uh oh, you want your News Forum and Lateset News Block back?

  1. Go to course Settings and choose the number of News items to show
  2. Scroll down, Save Changes
  3. Go back to your course homepage and Turn Editing On
  4. Add the “Latest News” block
  5. Add Latest News block

Done, you got it back!

I personally like the News Forum because it is a way to give important news to your students. I’ve used this for our district’s main page when there is news about our district’s Moodle site. This works out great because it emails the teachers that have Moodle accounts automatically, so I don’t have to hand pick each staff’s email. However, users use Moodle in such different ways that this may not be something they would ever do.