Troy Patterson

Educator, Thinker, Consultant

Page 5 of 12

Moodle FlashCard Update

DB Ideas: Moodle FlashCards 2016-04-28 21-00-59

Moodle FlashCards are wonderfully useful. In doing some additional work, it became clear that it is preferential for the FlashCards to open in “Single view” mode. Indeed, I received a request with that particular feature. Essentially, doing so means that the FlashCards would open with the view of a single FlashCard. FlashCards are built off the Database activity within Moodle. By default, Database activities open in the List view.

So, how to change the default behavior in the Database activity to present a FlashCard straight away? I turned to the forums and William Lu came up with a terrific answer. He suggested that we move the actual FlashCard activity to an unseen Topic. For example, if you are displaying ten topics, move the activity to Topic 11. Then open the FlashCard activity and click on “Single view”. Now copy the URL. Then, go back to the section where you want the students to see the FlashCards. Create a new resource of the URL type. Paste in the URL that you copied from the FlashCard single view. A perfectly wonderful work around.

I’m lucky enough to know some other really smart people too. One of the worked up a couple of adjustments to the Templates. There are two Templates that you need to adjust.

First of all, you need to create a class to call. Copy and paste the code below into the List view template:

Templates | List template (Click on Disable Editor button) | Repeated entry box paste this code (replacing what is currently in the box):

<table width=”100%” class=”fc-list-item”>

<tbody><tr class=””>

<td valign=”top” align=”left” width=”175px”>##delcheck## Question: <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; ##edit## ##more## ##delete## ##approve## ##disapprove##


<td valign=”top” align=”left”>[[Question]][[Picture]]</td>





(The real difference here is on line one with the addition of class=…)

Next, replace the Javascript template code with the code below:

document.addEventListener(“DOMContentLoaded”, function(e) {

var redirect =‘redirect=false’) == -1;

var fc_list_items = xpath(‘//*[@class=”fc-list-item”]’);

if (fc_list_items.length != 0 && redirect) {

location.href = location.href + ‘&mode=single’;


var view_list_btn = xpath(‘//*[@title=”View list”]’);

if (view_list_btn.length != 0) {

view_list_btn[0].href = view_list_btn[0].href + ‘&redirect=false’;


var fc_btn_container = document.getElementsByClassName(‘button-container’)[0];

/ Add a random card button /

var fc_paging = xpath(‘(//*[@class=”paging”])[1]/a[not(contains(@class,”previous”) or contains(@class, “next”))]’);

if (fc_paging.length != 0) {

var fc_rand_btn = document.createElement(‘div’);

fc_rand_btn.setAttribute(‘class’, ‘btn-togglecard’);

var fc_rand_btn_h1 = document.createElement(‘h1’);

fc_rand_btn_h1.innerHTML = ‘Random Card’;



fc_rand_btn.addEventListener(‘click’, function(e) {


var fc_rand = Math.floor((Math.random() * fc_paging.length));

location.href = fc_paging[fc_rand].href + ‘#region-main’;

return false;



/ Add a previous card button /

var fc_paging_prev = xpath(‘(//*[@class=”paging”]/a[@class=”previous”])[1]’);

if (fc_paging_prev.length != 0) {

var fc_prev_btn = document.createElement(‘div’);

fc_prev_btn.setAttribute(‘class’, ‘btn-togglecard’);

var fc_prev_btn_h1 = document.createElement(‘h1’);

fc_prev_btn_h1.innerHTML = ‘Previous Card’;



fc_prev_btn.addEventListener(‘click’, function(e) {


location.href = fc_paging_prev[0].href + ‘#region-main’;

return false;



/ Add a next card button /

var fc_paging_next = xpath(‘(//*[@class=”paging”]/a[@class=”next”])[1]’);

if (fc_paging_next.length != 0) {

var fc_next_btn = document.createElement(‘div’);

fc_next_btn.setAttribute(‘class’, ‘btn-togglecard’);

var fc_next_btn_h1 = document.createElement(‘h1’);

fc_next_btn_h1.innerHTML = ‘Next Card’;



fc_next_btn.addEventListener(‘click’, function(e) {


location.href = fc_paging_next[0].href + ‘#region-main’;

return false;




var xpath = function(path){

var result = [];

var nodesSnapshot = document.evaluate(path, document, null, XPathResult.ORDERED_NODE_SNAPSHOT_TYPE, null );

for ( var i=0 ; i < nodesSnapshot.snapshotLength; i++ ){

result.push( nodesSnapshot.snapshotItem(i) );


return result;


That’s it. Those two changes will make is so that when you open the FlashCard activity (or, more importantly, when your students open the activity), a single FlashCard will be presented. *Please note that it is expected that the List view will briefly show before switching to the Single view.

Either method will produce the same result.

Note that the “hide the activity” and link the URL is a great trick to have in your back pocket. This trick could be used in other places and certainly with other Database activities. I love the Moodle community and their willingness to share.

If you are using the FlashCard activity, I’d love to hear from you.

The link below is a FlashCard zip file. Download and have fun.


Student Centered Interview

Joomla occasionally interviews experts on their Expert Interview page. I was recently honored to have been interviewed on Student Centered Environments with E-Learning. I hope that you’ll head over and check out the interview.

I talk just a bit about the concepts of student centered learning. The real focus is on the role of the teacher. I still believe that teachers make a HUGE difference in the educational process. A good teacher handily beats good software. It is far better to have a good teacher and good software.

Anyway, please check out the interview. 



Sometimes, you get things right. It is always good to receive positive feedback. Recently, this has happened with me in terms of curriculum mapping. It is something that I believe in strongly, in terms of communicating what the curriculum should be.

Sometimes, confirmation just takes a while to happen. I work on several long term projects. One of those long term projects is the implementation of curriculum mapping. I’ve set up an electronic system to map and communicate our curriculum. We used TODCM as the basis for our implementation. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be actively developed anymore.

We set the system up a couple of years ago. We heavily tweaked the system so that it would work for both elementary and secondary teachers. My constant pitch is that this has to work for classroom teachers. I don’t really care if it works for administrators or not, it has to work for teachers in the classroom. The system was largely born out of my visit to a kindergarten class. I was there to help a teacher with an iPad question. I watched the teacher for a few minutes. The lesson was engaging and high quality. I made a comment to her about what a nice lesson that it was. Her response was “I spent all weekend finding the lesson…” I thought that is was terrible that a teacher would have to spend a weekend looking for curriculum and lessons. We have several excellent kindergarten teachers. Shouldn’t they be able to easily share lessons?

Elementary teachers have very different needs than secondary teachers. TODCM, which we renamed DEC (Dearborn Educational Curriculum) is set up much better for secondary teachers than elementary. Each course is mapped to a subject area, thus secondary is a natural fit. We had to redo elementary by marking periods and make each marking period a different subject so that elementary teachers could see all subject areas at once.

Recently, I was informed that we needed to do some additional work on DEC. Not so much we, but the curriculum committees. It seems that teachers are now using DEC and have noticed that it is inconsistent in terms of quality of resources. (I’ve been pushing for more curriculum work for a while.)

Here’s the good news. We are now taking additional steps toward making the curriculum more consistent and more conveniently discoverable for teachers. This has taken longer than I would’ve liked, but it is another step in the right direction. Having curriculum committees review and agree on what the curriculum really should be is an important step. Making that curriculum available for all teachers is just as important.

All too often in the past, everyone “knew” what the curriculum was, but rarely did two people “know” the same thing. Now, we have the opportunity to easily have everyone looking at the same material. Additionally, we can identify those exemplary lessons and share those with all appropriate teachers.

Now the system is far from perfect. There are some technical issues that we can improve upon. However, the biggest improvement that we can make is in determining exactly what classroom teachers would like it be. I will be exploring that this Spring through some focus feedback groups.

YouTube is the new Bathroom wall

When I was an Assistant Principal, you knew that you’d “made it”, you were official, when your name was put on the bathroom wall. Usually, your name was preceded by swear word. I was talking to a friend who got a call from an Assistant Principal. It appears that the Assistant Principal had suspended a student. The Assistant Principal wanted to know if there was a way to save a YouTube video. Apparently, the suspended student had put quite the rant about the Assistant Principal up on YouTube.

I had a good laugh as I was able to pull out my old man creed of “back in my day”…kids put your name on the bathroom wall. Apparently, YouTube is the new bathroom wall.

Creating a Teacher Resource Folder in Moodle

Sometimes, it is helpful to have a Teacher Resource Folder within Moodle. Generally, when I create a course that others will be using as well, I create a teacher resource folder for each topic. I don’t want the students to have access to this folder, so I remove their ability to see it. Before I learned this little trick, I would use the Show/Hide function. However, that runs the risk of the teacher inadvertently showing the folder. That’s why I love using permissions to accomplish a Teacher Resource Folder.

This is actually very easy to do, once you know how. Let’s start by turning editing on. Then simply create a folder and title it “Teacher Resources”. I also add a description of “Teacher Resources are available only to a teacher or non-editing teacher in this course.“, and click Display description on course page to on.

Teacher Resource Folder

*I usually leave the folder empty at this point. This is because I generally will duplicate this folder once it is set up. Once the folders are done, I add the appropriate resources into each one.

*If you have completion tracking turned on, make sure that you turn it off for this folder.

I scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Save and return to course.

So far, I’ve added a folder, but it can still be seen by anyone in the course. So I choose to Edit Settings for that Folder. This will seemingly take you right back where you were, but there is one significant difference, now you will have a Folder Administration Block.

Premissions Magic

In the Folder Administration block, you will have Permissions. For our purposes, this is magic. Click on the Permissions link. This will open a window where you can adjust permissions. We are only going to change one.

Permissions in Folder

Find the last plus sign on the line “View folder content” (under the Prohibited Heading). Click the +sign. This will result in a new window. Here, click the drop down to select “Student”.

Permissions in Folder: Teacher Resources 2016-03-20 16-12-31

Click “Prohibit” and you are done. What you’ve just done is to prohibit anyone in the student role from viewing this (and only this) folder.

Next, I duplicate the folder by clicking on Edit and then selecting Duplicate. The duplicated folder keeps the same permissions. I simply drag this duplicated folder to the next topic. I repeat this until each Topic has a Teacher Resource Folder. Then, I just add the appropriate material to each folder safe in the knowledge that the students won’t see this material. Generally, I use this folder to provide teaching tips, thoughts and additional resources for teachers. Sometimes, the folder will include full blown lesson plans. Sometimes it includes background material that is useful for the teacher.

Naturally, you can use this tip for hiding any resources that you don’t want students to see. This is best for resources that you will never want students to see though.


More on Moodle FlashCards

The Moodle FlashCard database preset file has been updated. There have been a couple of improvements/corrections. The preset now works with any theme. Additionally, the Random button and next/previous buttons work on sites without JQuery installed.

So, how does this work? It is simply a database activity. This makes it powerful and easy to learn. Oh, and if you are so inclined, highly customizable. Since it is a database preset, all you really have to do is drag and drop one file and you are set to go.

Remember, database activities are available to all students. When students complete an entry, the entire class can view that entry (approved by teacher if so desired). This makes it possible for students to contribute the knowledge to the class. (Of course, the teacher could create all the cards, but I really think that misses out on the power of student creation and learning.)

So, what does this look like for a teacher? Simply head over the Moodle Courses and Content page and download the Database Preset: FlashCards file. (You’ll need this in a few minutes, so just make sure that you know where you are saving it).

Use these instructions to quickly make FlashCards. Log into a Moodle course where you have editing rights.

  1. Click the green box to turn editing on.
  2. Click on Add activity or resource
  3. Select Database from the list.
  4. Click on Add button.
  5. Enter a name for the activity. For our purposes, we used FlashCards.
  6. Enter a description. This is a good place to put directions. For our purposes, we used “Add interesting words that you find for the class”.
  7. Click Save and Display.

Now we’ll select the preset. You should see a couple of text boxes. One will say that “There are no fields defined for this database.” The other will say, “Please create some below or choose a predefined set to get started”. The choose a predefined set will be a hyperlink. Click that hyperlink.

On the next screen, you will have the option to Export or Import. Locate the file that you saved and drag and drop it in the box under Import for zip file (or use the Choose file button and navigate to the saved file that you downloaded a couple of minutes earlier). Then click the Import button. A new screen will load. Just click “Continue”.

You are now ready to go. Click “Add entries” in the box OR use the Add entry tab (do NOT click the “Continue” tab – it is pointless).

You will have four boxes available. Frontside of Flashcard has Picture or Question. Backside has the same options. (Note that there is also an “Alternative text” box under the picture section. This is used for ADA compliance as screen readers use that information). Something MUST be entered into the “Answer” box (even a space will do).
*Note that there is currently a bug in the database activity for Moodle which prevents the “Save and add another” from actually working. This will need to be to fixed in Moodle with an update. This is not specific to this activity, but to all database activities in Moodle.

That’s it. Now turn your students loose and let them create FlashCards.

Alright. Maybe you want a little more control. Maybe you want to approve the FlashCards before the other students can see them. If that is the case, look to the Administration block. Click on Database activity administration to reveal all the options, then click on Edit settings. Now click on Entries to show those options. Under Approval required select “Yes”. Scroll to the bottom and click “Save” (either one will do)

There are even more options. If you’d like to know more, contact me.

Moodle FlashCards

I work with some truly wonderful people. Chris Kenniburg, Bob Harrison, Amy Gwizdz and Sean Williams are four of those terrific people. Together, they have developed a way to do FlashCards in Moodle.

Why FlashCards? Well, there are several sites that allow for FlashCard creation. However, these all take the user out of Moodle. FlashCards can be a terrific way to study vocabulary and other concepts. Even better, doing so in Moodle means that the students can create the FlashCards. (I’ve noticed that teachers tend to create flash cards for students to study. I believe that this is backward. Let the students create. That is where the learning really happens.)

So, Chris was the lynch pin in this project (he is after all, a particularly helpful moodler). He put together a few disparate pieces of information: a request for FlashCards, a post by the Moodle Fairy (AKA Mary Cooch) on postcards, and a post about CSS tips. Chris started running with the CSS. Unfortunately for us, the CSS “flips” the card on mouse roll over. This is not ideal for kids and flipcards. Fortunately, Chris was able to change the CSS so that the card “flips” on click, not roll over. We also wanted a way to select a random card instead of just moving along in a linear fashion. Enter Sean. Sean whips up some javascript so that we have a Random Card button that, well, displays a random entry instead of a sequentially ordered card. Perfect.

Off to the Tech Coaches for thoughts and feedback. Bob and Amy propose some changes. They provided several tweaks to make things look and work better. One of those suggestions was the addition of “Next” and “Previous” buttons. This allows the students to work through the cards in order.

There are many things about this that I really like. First off, it allows for the students to create the flashcards. I’m really, really big on the students creating the content. Since this is a database activity, the teacher could set it so that the students would have to create some FlashCards before they would see any of the already created ones. The teacher can also approve the FlashCards before the students see them. Since it is a database activity, the FlashCards are visible for the entire class (again, once approved if the teacher wants to review them first). The FlashCards can contain text, images and/or video. Text, images and videos are available for both the front and back sides of the cards.

We still have a few things to work out. We are working on Ratings. We’ve thought about tagging. However, we aren’t sure if tagging would just make things too complex and not really solve anything. Using FlashCards per unit, for example, might be better than creating a large FlashCard set that is tagged with the each unit.

The teacher ends up having significant control over the FlashCards. For example, we’ve removed the Card numbers from the side of the screen. The teacher can easily have those displayed if that is desired. (We removed them for several reasons. First of all, it clutters up the screen. Secondly, a number doesn’t really say what is on the card. Third, in large datasets, this could quickly be over) We certainly understand that the teacher may want those displayed. Thus, it is easy to remove by visiting the CSS template (where there are directions on adding the page (card) numbers back in).

What does this look like?

Here is the front of a card that just contains a picture.

6th Grade LA Part 1: FlashCards 2016-03-04 22-34-40

The buttons say:

  • Previous
  • Flip the Card
  • Random Card

Here is the back of another card:

6th Grade LA Part 1: FlashCards 2016-03-04 22-37-07

The buttons say:

  • Previous
  • Flip the Card
  • Random Card
  • Next Card

Notice that these are adaptive. Since the front card is the last one in list, there is no Next. However, the back card is one that isn’t the first or the last, so there is a Previous and Next available.

Here is an overview of FlashCards from Chris.

If you’d like a copy of the template, just contact me. I’ll share. (It has been submitted to Moodle, but hasn’t been approved yet.)

*UPDATE: See the Moodle Flashcard Update Post for, well, an update.

Here is an example file that you can install.

OER Returns

OER (Open Educational Resources) is in the news again. The United States Education Department has launched a campaign to encourage schools, districts and states to Go Open (actually, it’s #GoOpen, thus further acknowledging that everything must have a hashtag). The GoOpen movement is being touted by the The United States Education Department as a way to “ensure that high quality resources created through our public funds are shared with the public”. The underlying idea is to provide high quality materials for all students. This movement is directly connected to materials that are created through grants from The United States Education Department.

Andrew Marcinek was hired as the first open educator adviser for the U.S. Education Department.

Additionally, a ten districts have taken up the #GoOpen challenge to replace at least one textbook with openly licensed educational resources within the next year. Additionally, there are Ambassador Districts which have committed to help more districts move to open resources.

I’ve written before about OER (Open Textbooks). In that post, I noted that the movement had begun a few years ago, but seemed to have died down. California has an Open Educational Resources Council, but California pivoted from PreK-12 to focus on Community Colleges. This happened in 2012. Utah similarly seemed to be pushing for open resources, but the latest post on their blog is from January of 2013. The Utah Open Textbook Calculator has moved off of the Utah Open Textbook site to the Open Ed group.

Michigan has supported open textbooks through the 22i TRIG program. Michigan has developed four social studies books. These books cover fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade and economics. There was quite a bit of controversy when they were first released. The books were criticized for grammatical issues and cultural bias. (There was very little follow up that I could find from WXYZ about the corrections made in the book).

The optimistic side of me is extremely pleased that we are focusing on open resources. As I’ve noted in other posts, I think that open resources could be extremely powerful and useful for schools. Open resources have the potential of providing better content at a lower cost. These could be customized and adapted for schools much more quickly and effectively than the textbooks that we traditionally purchased. Most of the textbooks that we purchased were targeted to the standards and expectation of Texas and California. Open textbooks could be tweaked to be much appropriate for states and districts around the country. As a middle school principal, we used textbooks that were older than the students. This was in large part due to the high cost of textbooks.

The pessimistic side of me is concerned that this will be the latest trend. Several schools, districts and states will “jump on board” with the OER movement. However, the hard work that is necessary to create, refine and implement OER will be missing. Some of those schools, districts and states will move on the next big thing before the true value of OER is realized. I’m also somewhat concerned that we won’t truly create open resources, but resources that are heavily dependent upon something else.

The President and First Lady have announced an initiative to provide ebooks for Title I schools and special education teachers. While this isn’t an Open Education Resource program, it is being billed in the same vein. The problem is that the resources aren’t open, most are private copyright enforced. Rather the resources are available only through an iOS app. So, the irony here is that the students who are identified as living in poverty (Title I), need an expensive device to access the free materials. It is better that this option exists than not, but I find the situation somewhat frustrating. (In full disclosure, I’m a really big proponent of the iOS eco system. I have a lot of Apple© products. I even bought Apple© stock long ago because I believed in the products.)

OER resources will remain a challenge. CK-12 is a leader in providing open resources. It is not an oversight that most of their materials are Math or Science. 3+4=7 can’t be copyrighted. Language arts becomes much more difficult. Copyright issues will continue to be a consideration when creating and using open textbooks. This is partly why the Department of Education announcement is crucial. It does mean that things created using Government grants must be open source. Most of the things that a government agency creates are open source. Thus, we get some great resources through NASA.

I truly hope that OER takes off. I hope that education will make the long term commitment to make OER an instrumental part of the educational process. I will work and support options that make that happen. But, let’s be clear. Creating resources is hard work. Making them easily available is a challenge as well. However, I believe in the many hard working, forward thinking, dedicated educators in America.

What should schools be like?

I love getting into classrooms. Recently, I visited a couple of classrooms that made me think. Both classrooms were in the same building. This was a middle school. One was down the hall and around the corner from the other. Thus, both had a similar student population. Both classrooms had two teachers (i.e. were co-taught classes).

The first classroom was a very traditional classroom set up. The students were seated in rows. The assignment was projected onto a screen. The teacher was leading the discussion. The teacher had set up a scenario in which the students were to respond. The students responded in their journals. Each student was to made a choice over which of the three options was the best choice. After a few minutes, the students then responded as to which one they chose. A few students volunteered why they made the choice that they did. The co-teacher was seated in the back of the room working directed with two students.

The second classroom was arranged into groups of tables. Each grouping of tables had four to five students sitting around the table. The students were working very collaboratively. The students were working on solving a problem. They were encouraged to talk to each other and check their answers with others at the table. Both teachers circulated and encouraged the students. One teacher had led the set up of the problem. The other teacher led the discussion of the answer (using a document camera to project onto the screen).

It was clear that the second classroom was much more participatory. The students as a whole were seemingly more engaged, more active.

In a follow up discussion, I was asked which classroom I visited was “better”. I think that this misses the point completely. Clearly, the second classroom showed the traits that we have been pushing to see in classrooms. The students were actively doing. It was different than what we would’ve seen even a few years ago. The first classroom was much more in line with what has traditionally happened in classrooms for years. Yet…

For some students, the “old” strategies work. Rather than saying this method is better than that method, we should insure that students have a varied experience in the classroom. There is not one single strategy or method that will work for all students. We never know exactly what the future will bring. Can we sure that getting kids to be active learners is good? Absolutely. We also know that novelty is crucial in learning. If every class is structured the same way, novelty goes down. By providing a variety of experiences, we truly reach the widest range of students.

The trick is to make sure that there is variety. This is not an excuse for each and every teacher to say “Cool. I’ll keep lecturing and let the other teachers be more interactive.” But, it is also a call to administrators and teachers to make sure that not every class looks and feels the same to students. We don’t need to sanitize education into a new standard. We need true variety, true novelty, true interaction with real students. Learning is messy.

So, let’s get out there and create positive experiences for students. Let’s make them do stuff. Let’s make them create. Let’s let them learn. But let’s not think that there is only one way to do that.

Reading the Test 2

In the last post, I shared an experience of teachers using Moodle to provide an audio version of a common assessment. Well, the results are in. The teachers are happy as the process was more efficient for them than reading the test to each student. They remarked that they were able to test several students at once (about 10). More importantly, they were able to assist students that needed help while the other students were listening to the test.

Of course, this led to a discussion of how we could make this even better. This test was a paper/pencil test with the questions in a fixed order. The answers were also in a fixed order. However, our teachers love the ability of Moodle to shuffle test questions and answers within those questions. So, is it possible to record the test question within the test question itself? Would there be a reason to limit audio to certain students? Or, would it be OK for all of the students to have access to the audio version of the test questions? What about shuffling the answers?

Moodle will allow for an audio version of the question to be included within the question itself. Answers work the same way. Thus, if a teacher wants to read the question and answers, Moodle will provide an avenue for this to happen. This means that teachers could shuffle the answers within the presentation of each question.

Thus, the question would work like this for a student. The student would see the question text and an audio player right under the question text. The answers would similarly have an audio player under the response. The screenshot below shows what this looks like.

Preview question: Can Moodle Read a Question? 2016-01-31 12-12-53 The students can click on the “play” button to hear each item. Since the teacher has recorded the question, it is a familiar voice. This is not speech recognition software at work. These are audio files recorded by the teacher.

The end result is fabulous news. Assessments can leverage the power of Moodle and provide accommodations to those students who need them (or all students). Providing an audio version of the assessment can meet the needs of a wide variety of students. The audio version can help students truly identify what they know. Additionally, some of the national tests are now including audio portions.

However, there are some negatives as well. There is not an audio recorded built in to Moodle. This increases the work flow since the audio is recorded in a different application and then linked. Also, some of the national tests don’t allow any accommodations. Thus, there will be the argument for “preparing” students.

Next up will be working on a system to allow students to read and record questions. I always liked to have the students write test questions. I would use some of the student created questions on the exam. Now, I’d like to think of a way to have the students write and record questions in a way that the teacher could accept the questions for use.

At the end of the day, this is a truly powerful opportunity. The ability to provide students with another means of accessing the questions to prove what they know is really cool. It helps students. It keeps the power of Moodle in place in terms of reporting, restrictions, reuse and more.

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