Custom Moodle theming and reporting

A selection of custom moodle themes

Welcome to 2011, wishing you all an exciting and prosperous year!

Over the past year we have been involved in several projects that have involved developing custom themes for theMoodle Learning Management System usually aiming to match an existing website design. I thought I would share some of these in the image above which shows just how versatile Moodle is when being themed.  This really is one of the strengths of Moodle as its open source nature means you can get right into the code to modify the interface to match designs and layouts in detail.

Another benefit of the open access to Moodle code and database is that customised reporting facilities can be developed to meet the exact needs of course tutors and administrators (below is an example custom moodle report on a user’s progress in a course).

Example custom user progress report

Accessing appropriate data for tracking user progress in any Learning Management System is usually complicated and and off-putting.  Moodle is no exception to this.  However with a bit of PHP coding and an understanding of the data structures used by Moodle to log user interactions with the system, facilities displaying the appropriate information clearly and without extra clutter can be developed.

Developing custom Moodle themes and reporting facilities are spome of the many e-learning related services that we offer here at Webducate.  Please get in touch for more information.


Drawtivity presentation at OpenEd 2010

ust left Barecelona following an intense and enjoyable few days at OpenEd 2010 where I presented the Drawtivity project. Thanks to those who attended my presentation. Here are my slides:

It was great to meet up with some old friends, learn more about the current thinking in the open education movement and finally meet Scott Leslie having been in touch and influenced by Scott several years ago now.


Use of Dragster in teaching veterinary anatomy

I would like to highlight a piece of research undertaken by Octavio Lopez Albors and colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College which involved collaborations with the Veterinary Faculty in Murcia (Spain) and the Minimally Invasive Surgery Centre in Caceres (Spain). This looked at using Webducate Dragster as a tool to improve the teaching of the important subject of anatomy to veterinary students where the activities were created and shared between these international partners. Below is the presentation made at the XXVIIIth Congress of the European Association of Veterinary Anatomists describing this project.


Geek Dad – Enough ABC apps already

Geek Dad on Wired asks app developers to move beyond applications to teach basic literacy arguing that these are all very similar, often not well thought through and do not make use of the unique characteristics of the iphone and ipad.

This is indeed a useful and valid point, but it seem to me to miss the fact that there are a huge number of free flash based educational “apps” already available on the web that users of these devices cannot currently access. So app developers have an opportunity here to recreate some of these as apps and make a bit of money in the short term from those users who will pay to access otherwise free resources on their preferred device. Those app developers that really get to grips with the unique educational opportunities offered by these devices will have in my opinion a more valid reason to build a business model around selling educational apps.

Personally I feel like waiting for the non-apple tablets to appear which are likely to run flash before I throw my hat into this particular ring and I would advise any purchaser of mobile devices who has learning and education in mind to do the same.


Drawtivity authoring system now available for beta testing

I am very pleased to announce that the Drawtivity authoring system is now available for beta testing.  This means you can now create yourself an account and start creating and using your own Drawtivity activities.  I am looking for feedback on any and all aspects of the authoring process so please do have a go and let me know how it goes and how it could be improved!

To start go to the Drawtivity system home page and create a free authoring account.

Below is a short (5 minute) overview of the authoring process to help you get started.

Embedding Dragster 3 drag and drop activities into Adobe Captivate 5

Dragster 3 offers a great way to add drag and drop activities to e-learning resources created with Adobe Captivate. The process of embedding a Dragster 3 activity in Captivate involves a number of steps described below:

  1. Publish your Dragster 3 activity using the Embed activity publish option and extract the zipped files (more details on the Embed activity publish option).
  2. Create a new blank Captivate project. In this case I am choosing to use a project size that will fit a Dragster 3 landscape activity (1024 x 576).cap1
  3. Select the Captivate slide where you wish to add the Dragster activity. Use the Insert > Animation menu option.cap2
  4. Browse to and select the published Dragster 3 activity SWF file.cap3
  5. You may see a warning at this point about the version of actionscript. I have found that this warning can be ignored, so click Yes.cap4
  6. The outline of the Dragster activity will now appear on the slide. You will need to change two Captivate properties for this inserted activity in the right hand properties panel. Make sure the activity is selected on the slide, then expand the Timing box in the properties panel. Edit the display for a specific time and allocate the appropriate number of seconds.cap5
  7. Now expand the Transition box and select No transition. You have now finished inserting the Dragster activity.cap6
  8. Save your Captivate project. Once you have completed the other aspects of your resource, you are now ready to publish the project.
  9. Select the menu option File > Publish to display the Publish dialog. You can leave most of the publish settings in their default values, apart from one preference. Click the Preferences… button to reveal the preferences dialog.cap7
  10. On the preferences dialog on the Project > Publish settings page, Externalize resources list check the Animations option and click OK.
  11. Now publish the Captivate project. Once complete select No to Do you wish to view the output. There is one more step for you to complete before you can test your resource.cap8
  12. Open your published Captivate project files folder and the published Dragster activity files folder. Copy the SWF file and folder from the published Dragster activity into the published Captivate project files folder. Select Yes to replace the dragster SWF file already in this folder.cap9
  13. Now you can test your Captivate resource by opening the appropriate HTM file with your browser. An example Captivate resource created by following these steps is shown below (View this example Captivate).


Free Articulate Skin – Reflection

One of the exciting skinning ideas that came to me during the Second European Articulate User Conference was the concept of a simple skin for Presentation Zen type slide shows where each slide displays an evocative image overlayed with short a concise statement. Such as skin would need to avoid detracting from the presentation itself, so it should be small, simple and unobtrusive. I also thought it would be interesting to explore the potential for incorporating a reflection of each slide as part of the skin to add to the overall affect.

After some trial and error efforts I am now excited to present the Webducate Reflection skin and make this availableFREE as an artpkg file for others to use.

View a presentation using the Reflection skin

View an example presentation using the Reflection skin.

Download the FREE Reflection skin artpkg.

NB - The slide reflection only displays if there is something on the powerpoint slide to reflect… so if you have a blank white slide with text you need to draw a white rectangle covering the whole slide to act as a background. This will then appear as a reflection for this slide.

More information on the Articulate skin related services provided by Webducate.


Articulate Custom Skins presentation – 2nd European Articulate Users Conference

Yesterday we had another fun and inspiring day at the Second European Articulate Users conference. Congratulations to Dragos and the team from SDDU at the University of Leeds for organising this great event.  I now have a whole heap of new ideas spinning around in my head for new Articulate Presenter custom skins which given time will get to see the light of day soon…  In the meantime here are the slides from my very brief presentation introducing these skins that I gave yesterday.  Hope these are useful and see you there next year!

Dragster – Using the embed activity publish option with Wimba Create, eXe and CourseLab

In March 2010 a new publish option was provided for Dragster 3 activities called the Embed activity option. The format of the activity files published via this option have been specifically designed to facilitate the integration of the published Dragster 3 activity into e-learning resources created with other common authoring software. The steps by which an embed activity can be integrated into an Articulate Presenter presentation have been described in a previous blog post. This post will review how this publish option can be used to quickly and easily add Dragster 3 activities to resources created using other authoring software such as Wimba Create, Exe and CourseLab.

To publish a Dragster 3 activity using the Embed activity option click on the Embed activity link on the publish dragster activity page as shown below:

Embed download link

Extract the downloaded zip file to view the files making up an activity published in this format. These consist of a SWF file and a folder containing all other related activity files that have the same name (see below). These file and folder names are important and should not be changed.

Embed files

In general terms the steps involved in adding a Dragster 3 activity published in this format to your e-learning resource or course are:

  1. To embed the activity into your e-learning resource you should use the normal options available for inserting a flash movie according to the software involved (see below for specific details).
  2. If you have multiple Dragster activities, insert each related activity SWF file at the appropriate point in the resource.
  3. Publish the resource.
  4. Copy all the embedded Dragster activity folders into the published resource files (usually at the root level).
  5. View the resource.

Wimba Create (Coursegenie)

  1. At the appropriate point in your MS Word document select the Interaction > Media options in the Wimba Create menu.
  2. In the related pop-up:
    • select the Flash option
    • for File browse to the published Dragster 3 activity SWF file
    • define the Display as Width 600 and Height 660 for portrait activities Width 900 and Height 490 for landscape activities.
    • Check the Autostart option (leave the Loop option unchecked).
    • the accessibility tab allows the entry of a long textual description of the activity and for the addition of a link to download a flash player.
    • click OK to embed the activity.
  3. Repeat the previous steps to insert other activity files at appropriate points.
  4. Publish the course files using the Generate Course menu option.
  5. Copy all the Dragster activity SWF files into the Wimba Create published media folder.
  6. Copy all the published Dragster activity folders into the root folder of the published Wimba Create course.
  7. View the Wimba Create course by opening its index.html file in your browser.

eXe – e-learing XHTML editor

  1. Open the eXe editor and at the appropriate point in your content, select the Flash with text iDevice.
  2. Using the Select Flash Object button browse to your unzipped dragster activity folder and select the SWF file.
  3. You will need to size the activity appropriately in the eXe iDevice using the dimensions below :Dragster 3 – Portrait 600 by 660 – Landscape 900 by 490

    Dragster 2 – 700 by 560

    Tip – you can scale the embedded activity by using smaller dimensions while keeping the height and width in the same proportions (e.g. Dragster 3 Landscape at a scale of 80% – 720 by 392).

  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 to insert multiple Dragster activities.
  5. Export your finished eXe resource (e.g. File > Export > Web site > Self-contained folder).
  6. Copy all the published Dragster activity folders into the same folder as the other eXe exported files (if eXe exported a zip file, you will need to extract this zip file before copying these files).
  7. To view the finished eXe resource open the index.html file within the eXe exported folder.


  1. On the appropriate CourseLab slide use the menus to select Insert > Object and expand the Media section and drag a Flash object on to the slide.
  2. Resize this flash object to make it as large as possible.
  3. Right click on the Flash object and select properties.
  4. For the file option, select the SWF file for your published Dragster activity.
  5. Repeat steps 1 to 4 to add multiple Dragster activities to your CourseLab course.
  6. Publish your completed Courselab course on to your PC and extract the published zip file.
  7. Copy the published Dragster activity folders into the folder called 1 (you should see a file called start.html within this folder). Now test the course by opening start.html inside the folder called 1.
  8. Re-zip the course for upload in your VLE.