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In this article by Alex Buchner, you would learn how to customize the front page of your Moodle site. Before taking an insight into this, let's first take a general overview of Moodle's look and feel elements.
Look and Feel: An Overview
Moodle can be fully customized in terms of layout and branding. It has to be stressed that certain aspects of changing the look and feel require some design skills. While you as an administrator will be able to make most of the relevant adjustments, it might be necessary to get a professional designer involved, especially when it comes to styling.
The two relevant components for customization are the Moodle front page and Moodle themes, though this article will focus only on Moodle front page. Before going into further details, let's try to understand which part is responsible for which element of the look and feel of your site.
Have a look at the screenshot that would follow. It shows the front page of Moodle site after you are logged in as an administrator. It is not obvious which parts are driven by the Moodle theme and by the front page settings. The next table sheds some light on this:
|Logged-in information (location and font)||-||x||-|
|Language Drop Down||-||-||x|
|Site Administration block (position)||x||-||-|
|Available Courses block (position)||x||-||-|
|Available Courses block (content)||-||-||x|
|Course categories and Calendar block (position)||x||-||-|
|Course categories and Calendar block (icons, fonts, colors)||-||x||-|
While this list is by no means complete, it hopefully gives you an idea that the look and feel of your Moodle site is driven by a number of different elemen
In short, the settings (mostly front page settings as well as a few related parameters) dictate what content users will see before and after they log on. The theme is responsible for the design scheme or branding, that is, the header and footer as well as colors, fonts, icons, and so on used throughout the site.
Now let's move towards the core part of this article.
Customizing Your Front Page
The appearance of Moodle's front page changes after a user has logged in. The content and layout of the page before and after login can be customized to represent the identity of your organization.
Look at the following screenshot. It is the same site that the preceding screenshot was taken from, but before a user has logged in. In this particular example, a Login block is shown on the left and the Course categories are displayed in the center, as opposed to the list of available courses.
Front Page Settings
To customize the front page, you either have to be logged in as Moodle administrator, or have front-page-related permissions in the Front Page context. From the Site Administration block, select Front Page | Front Page Settings. The screen showing all available parameters will be loaded displaying your current settings that are changeable.
|Full site name||This is the name that appears in the browser's title bar. It is usually the full name of your organization, or the name of the dedicated course, or qualification the site is used for.|
|Short name for site||This is the name that appears as the first item in the breadcrumb trail.|
|Front Page Description||This description of the site will be displayed on the front page via the Site Description block. It can, therefore, only be displayed in the left or right column, never in the center of the front page. The description text is also picked up by the Google search engine spider, if allowed.|
Moodle can display up to four elements in the center column of the front page when not logged in.
The order of the elements is the same as the one chosen in the pull-down menus.
|Front page items when logged in||Same as "Front Page", but used when logged in.|
|Include a topic section||If ticked, an additional topic section (just like the topic blocks in the center column of a topics-format course) appears on top of the front page's center column. It can contain any mix of resources or activities available in Moodle. It is very often used to provide information about the site.|
|News items to show||Number of news items that are displayed.|
|Courses per page||This is a threshold setting that is used when displaying courses within categories. If there are more courses in a category than specified, page navigation will be displayed at the top of the page. Also, when a combo list is used, course names are only displayed if the number is less than the specified threshold. For all other categories, only the number of courses is shown after the category name.|
|Allow visible courses within hidden categories||By default, courses in hidden categories are not shown unless the said setting is applied.|
|Default frontpage role||If logged-in users should be allowed to participate in front page activities, a default front page role should be set. The default is None.|
Arranging Front Page Blocks
To configure the left and right column areas with blocks, you have to turn on editing (using the Blocks editing on button). The menu includes blocks that are not available in courses such as Course/Site description and Main menu.
Blocks are added to the front page in exactly the same way as in courses. To change their position, use the standard arrows.
The Main Menu block allows you to add any installed Moodle resource or activity inside the block. For example, using labels and links to (internal or external) websites, you are able to create a menu-like structure on your front page.
If the Include a topic section parameter has been selected in the Front Page settings, you have to edit the part and add any installed Moodle activity or resource. This topic section is usually used by organizations to add a welcome message to visitors, often accompanied by a picture or other multimedia content.
Login From a Different Website
The purpose of the Login block is for users to authenticate themselves by entering their username and password. It is possible to log into Moodle from a different website, maybe your organization's homepage, effectively avoiding the Login block. To implement this, you will have to add some HTML code on that page as shown:
<form class="loginform" name="login" method="post" action="http://www.
<input size="10" name="username" />
<input size="10" name="password" type="password" />
<input name="Submit" value="Login" type="submit" />
The form will pass the username and password to your Moodle system. You will have to replace www.mysite.com with your URL. This address has to be entered in the Alternate Login URL field at Users | Authentication | Manage authentication in the Site Administration block.
Other Front Page Items
The Moodle front page is treated as a standalone component in Moodle, and therefore has a top-level menu with a number of features that can all be accessed via the Front Page item in the Site Administration menu.
Having now looked in detail at the front page settings, let's turn to examining the other available options.
Front Page Roles
The front page has its own context in which roles can be assigned to users. This allows a separate user to develop and maintain the front page without having access to any other elements in Moodle. Since the front page is treated as a course, a Teacher role is usually sufficient for this.
Front Page Backup and Restore
The front page has its own backup and restore facilities to back up and restore all elements of the front page including any content. The mechanism of performing backup and restore is the same as for course backups.
Front page backups are stored in the backupdata folder in the Site Files area, and can be accessed by anybody who is aware of the URL. It is therefore best to move the created ZIP files to a more secure location.
Front Page Questions
Since the Moodle front page is treated in the same way as a course, it also has its own question bank, which is used to store any questions used on front-page quizzes. For more information on quizzes and the question bank, go to the MoodleDocs at http://docs.moodle.org/en/Quiz .
The files areas of all courses are separate from each other, that is, files in Moodle belong to a course and can only be accessed by users who have been granted appropriate rights. The difference between Site files and the files area of any other course is that files in Site files can be accessed without logging in.
Files placed in this location are meant for the front page, but can be accessed from anywhere in the system. In fact, if the location is known, files can be even be accessed from outside Moodle.
Make sure that in the Site files area, you only place files that are acceptable to be seen by users who are not authenticated on your Moodle system.
Typical files to be placed in this area are any images you want to show on the front page (such as the logo of your organization) or any document that you want to be accessed (for example, the curriculum). However, it is also used for other files that are required to be accessible without access to a course, such as the Site Policy Agreement, which has to be accepted before starting Moodle. To access these publicly available Site files elsewhere (for example, as a resource within other courses), you have to copy the link location that has the format: http://mysite.com/file.php/1/file.doc.
Allow Personalization via My Moodle
By default, the same front page is displayed for all users on your Moodle system. To relax this restriction and to allow users to personalize their own front page, you have to activate the My Moodle feature via the Force users to use My Moodle setting in Appearance | My Moodle in the Site Administration block.
Once enabled, Moodle creates a /my directory for each user (except administrators) at their first login, which is displayed instead of the main Moodle front page. It is a very flexible feature that is similar to a customizable dashboard, but requires some more disk space on your server. Once logged in, users will have the ability to edit their page by adding blocks to their My Moodle area. The center of the page will be populated by the main front page, for instance displaying a list of courses, that users cannot modify.
Making Blocks Sticky
There might be some blocks that you wish to "stick", that is, display on each My Moodle page, making them effectively compulsory blocks. For example, you might want to pin the Calendar block on the top right corner of each user's My Moodle page. To do this, go to Modules | Blocks | Sticky blocks in the Site Administration block and select My Moodle from the pull-down menu.
You can now add any item from the pull-down menu in the Blocks block. If the block is single instance (that is, only one occurrence is allowed per page), the block will not be available for the user to choose from. If the user has already selected a particular block, a duplicate will appear on their site, which can be edited and deleted.
To prevent users from editing their My Moodle pages, change the moodle/my: manageblocks capability in the Authenticated user role from Allow to Not set.
The sticky block feature is also available for course pages. A course creator has the ability to add and position blocks inside a course unless they have been made sticky. Select the Course page item from the same menu to configure the sticky blocks for courses, as shown in the preceding screenshot.
After providing a general overview of look and feel elements in Moodle, the article covered front page customization.
As mentioned earlier, the front page in Moodle is a course. This has advantages (you can do everything you can do in a course and a little bit more), but it also has certain limitations (you can only do what you can do in a course and might feel limited by this). However, some organizations are now using the Moodle front page as their homepage.
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About the Author :
Alex Büchner is the co-founder and technical lead of the leading Moodle, Totara and Mahara partner, Synergy Learning. He has been involved in system and database administration for more than two decades and has been administering virtual learning environments of all shapes and sizes since their advent on the educational landscape.
Alex holds a PhD in Computer Science and an MSc in Software Engineering. He has authored over 50 international publications, including two books, and is a frequent speaker on Moodle, Totara and Mahara, and related open-source technologies. His first book on Moodle Administration by Packt Publishing has become the de facto standard on the topic.
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