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August 23, 2018

New Moodle layout for PAIS in 2018–19

Over Summer 2018 we decided to hold some Moodle focus groups with PAIS students to find out more about how they are currently using Moodle to support their learning. As part of this, we discussed a potential new course layout which would involve structuring the module page by weekly topics.

The new layout for PAIS in 2018-19
An example of the new PAIS module layout

This suggested layout was warmly received by the focus group participants, and is intended to provide three main benefits:

  • More consistency across PAIS modules.
  • A simpler, cleaner layout that works better on mobile devices.
  • An easier interface for not only finding content, but also editing and maintaining it.

The restructure proposal also received strong support from the PAIS Senior Management Team (SMT) and has been commended by the central Academic Technology team.

In particular, consistency in layout and presentation was highlighted by students as a major area for improvement. When asked to consider the statement 'My modules are presented in a consistent way', 0% of the participants agreed with the assertion, with 91% actively disagreeing. However, it was also recognised that tutors ought to have the creative freedom to deliver content how they see fit, within a given framework. Our aim is therefore to provide a consistent page template, within which colleagues can still create any resources they wish.

This article outlines the main changes that have been made, which can be summarised as follows:


Course pages are now structured by weekly topics

It made pedagodical sense for our Moodle pages to reflect the structure of the course itself, i.e. a 10- or 20- weekly schedule of topics. This has been achieved via the 'Collapsed topics' course format, i.e. a dropdown of sections, which provides easy access to the content without required much vertical scrolling. There is also a 'General Information & Resources' dropdown at the top for easy access to resources that might not fit into specific weeks, such as the module overview and assessment information, or any other resources that could be useful to refer to throughout the year.

The old grid layout
Previously: Organised by categories
New weekly layout
Now: Organised by weekly topics

Previously, course pages were organised by relatively arbitrary categories that were arranged in the grid format on the homepage, e.g. 'reading' / 'resources' / 'additional resources', with each module using slightly different variations. This made it more difficult for students to find what they were looking for, and sometimes the grid sections were simply being used to house a single link, requiring unnecessary extra clicks. The grid format also had a number of bugs associated with it, including issues around visibility settings and permissions, and was also difficult to use on mobile devices.

HTML tables have been removed, which were previously being used to present the course structure. These were exceptionally difficult to navigate on mobile phones, often requiring awkward horizontal scrolling. The new collapsed topics layout is much easier to view on mobile, which is important as our research found that students are accessing Moodle on a multitude of different devices.

The dropdown structure now effectively takes the place of the old weekly schedule tables, except that now we have the ability to add Moodle activities/resources directly into weekly topics (rather than just having to edit the section summaries), which will have great improvement our ability to quickly add content, move and edit existing material, and also access learning analytics data for individual resources.

The old layout on a phone
Previously: Accessing table-based resources in the narrow popouts was difficult on a phone
New phone layout
Now: Students simply tap the weekly dropdown

Students also expressed a strong preference for using Talis Aspire to present reading list material rather than static lists within Moodle. For those using Talis Aspire, the link is still available via the block in the right-hand column, though in the future we also hope to make use of an incoming Talis Aspire plugin that will enable us to embed weekly reading from Aspire into the correspondingly weekly dropdown on Moodle, which will make it quicker and easier to access the current week's reading.

Teaching staff contact details are now presented in a standardised format

The ability to easily access the course director's contact details and feedback hours was a feature that all students wanted. Students also commented that it would be helpful to see the contact details for seminar tutors.

The vast majority of modules were already displaying basic contact information for the director, such as name and email address, though we noticed that several of the email links were not working due to errors that had been introduced when adding the 'mailto' links.

Given that all modules ought to have this information as standard, we decided to implement a more consistent way of displaying this, and have now placed contact information for the module director and additional teaching staff in the right-hand blocks. This now includes additional details as standard, such as a photo, link to staff profile, and an office number that ties in with the interactive campus map. Placing this information in the side column now frees up space in the main section for course-related content.

Teaching staff information
Some example contact details

To view the contact details, users simply click on the lecturer's name to open the dropdown. (Note: On some older browsers, e.g. Internet Explorer, the show/hide dropdown functionaility may not be supported, in which case all the contact details are displayed by default).

All courses now have a standard header template

All module pages were using an image in the top-left, but the size/dimensions of the image (and therefore the way in which content flowed around it) was inconsistent. Again, there were problems associated with viewing on mobile devices.

We have decided to standardise the presentation of the header by including a PAIS-themed header image which incorporates the module image via a circular cut-out. The header uses red shades from the official PAIS colour palette and displays the module title and code. It has also been set to always span 100% of the available width of the page, meaning we no longer have isues with text wrapping, and it displays well across all screen sizes.

The new header image
An example of the new header image

This new header provides a more consistent look and feel, which is both asthetically pleasing and provides a clear visual indiciation to students of which module they are currently accessing. Anyone who wishes to change the photo shown in the circular cut-out can do so by contacting James Roscoe.

A PAIS resources block has been added

Lots of the existing module pages had links to standard departmental references, such as the PAIS website, marking critieria, the UG/PG handbooks, and Intranet sites. For instance, last year a link to the new marking criteria had to be manually added to all PAIS module pages, which was took a reasonable amount of time.

We've now decided to offer a standard set of 'department-level' resources on all PAIS Moodle pages, which has been rolled out automatically via a department-wide side-block. This is now much easier to update (e.g. should we ever need to add/remove/edit any of the links) as it can be changed in one place rather than needing to edit every single module manually.

PAIS resources block
The new PAIS Resources block

If there are additional PAIS web links that you wish to add into the main body of your module page, then this is of course still possible.


We hope that you will find the new Moodle layout an intuitive and flexible way to deliver your module's online content. While it is always a little daunting to adjust to a new system, we are confident that after a little getting used to it we will all find the new format easier to edit and maintain, and that these changes will give students a much better experience using Moodle to support their learning.

If you have any comments, questions, or simply want a refresher on using Moodle, don't hestitate to get in touch our Academic Technologist, James Roscoe.


Our thanks goes out to Kostadina Yanakieva and Alex Paszta-Keene, our temporary members of staff who helped with much of the legwork for reformatting the 80+ modules across the PAIS department.


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  • Yes really good to see a deep understanding of the needs of mobile users when accessing course conte… by Sally Hanford on this entry
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