While updating the Moodle theme for version 3.1 in 2017, I began work on a brand new slider block for Moodle because the front page sliders found in most Moodle themes are inefficient and time consuming to operate. Currently, most sliders have to be updated by users with Administration access to Moodle and this role is rarely shared because of its potentially destructive nature.
That means that all communications through the slider are limited to an already busy Moodle Admin creating a potential bottleneck in the speed of communication. Since we use Moodle as an intranet, opening up the slider to a range of academic areas will provide benefits to students who will have more efficient access to information.
The slider block remained in a partially complete state for some time because I connected a table directly to the theme plugin and loaded this full of local and national days of importance. While successful for the first year, time constraints made it cumbersome to update for the second year and I switched to a manual administration process with a view to finish off work on the slider block (being as this is the more efficient solution).
When building a slider plugin, the first complication came from the bootstrap design of Moodle themes which create text overlays on top of slide images and therefore, text cannot appear in a slide. Therefore, the best approach is to pre-create a series of generic images in line with our corporate identity for selection by a member of the College wishing to add a slide who can then simply select an image and add text into a series of fields, combining the two.
This leads to a further complication - how do you store these slide images? It’s not a great idea to have processed images licensed from a credit based service such as iStock, appearing on a web server for all to access. Quite a complicated challenge indeed but as always, I like a challenge and for this solution I had chance to work with William Bentley, a highly skilled programmer. The solution took the form of an image upload area accessible by an Admin member to upload all prepared slide images into Moodle. All images could now be served by Moodle, not pulled from a web directory. Through clever programming, all slides are selectable by College staff members through the slider block.
Access permissions can be assigned to the slider block or a course containing a slider block so it is possible to completely control who can and cannot add slides to Moodle and ensure everyone has sufficient training on effective communication practices. A member of the College with appropriate permissions can use the block to select an image, choose an end date, add text to form the overlays (including hyperlinks) and quickly convey information to students.
One of best features about the plugin is the amount of time it will save in the future because it stores all events in a database table making it easy to re-use content. Carefully crafted tag-lines and descriptions can be repeated in a few clicks of a button. Previously, all of this work had been lost. Additionally, I designed a College event checkbox for prioritising College slides over generic days of importance (used to help promote British Values and Citizenship) and a repeatable button which allows for a slide to be repeated if it falls on the same day each year. William enhanced the design by changing the format of the dates to work in reverse order so that it’s easier to manage expiry points of the slides, automatically moving onto the next after a set date. Between us, we put together an excellent system that will simplify the operation of Moodle, reduce workload and improve College communications to students.
Crucially, it will facilitate the smooth running of Coulsdon College’s VLE since wider members of the College can provide greater control over the content, specific to Coulsdon students and all pre-loaded in advance making light work of administration, changing it from a daily chore to an efficient, automated system.
Pleasingly, the turnaround time for the project has been ridiculously quick because when you have a small team of highly skilled programmers, good concept and a clear design plan (aiding teamwork), you can rocket through work at an incredible pace.
All in all, this is one of my favourite projects this year and ready for launch in September 2019.
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