Moodle Modules for Assessment


Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

Over 60 simple and incredibly effective recipes for harnessing the power of the best Moodle modules to create effective online learning sites

  • Packed with recipes to help you get the most out of Moodle modules
  • Improve education outcomes by situating learning in a real-world context using Moodle
  • Organize your content and customize your courses
  • Reviews of the best Moodle modules—out of the available 600 modules
  • Installation and configuration guides
  • Written in a conversational and easy-to-follow manner
        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on Moodle, see here.)

Assignment alternatives

An assignment is a significant form of assessment, allowing students to demonstrate the understanding they have developed over a period of learning.

Many teachers struggle to break away from traditional essays and reports. As well as the assignment types available in core Moodle, there are some well constructed, contributed assignment types that are sure to lure the most ardent traditionalist away from "red pen on paper".

  • Peer Review Assignment Type
  • NanoGong Assignment Type
  • UploadPDF Assignment Type

Using peer assessment


Peer Review

Module type Assignment type
Author Michael de Raadt
Released 2010
Maintained Actively
Languages English
Compliance Good
Documentation Online documentation, help files
Errors None displayed

Peer assessment can benefit students by causing them to evaluate the work of their peers. Evaluation is a higher order thinking skill, and requiring students to evaluate the work of others can enhance their learning experience. Other benefits are student involvement in the assessment process and the fact that they will receive more than just instructor feedback.

When used in conjunction with communication tools, peer assessment has the potential to encourage a learning community. This is particularly useful when students are studying in the Moodle environment, but physically separated from each other.

The Workshop module—a core Moodle module, was the first contributed Moodle module. It brought peer assessment to Moodle, exemplifying the constructivist nature that has driven Moodle development over the years. However, in recent years, the Workshop module has not been maintained, and is disabled by default in Moodle. The Workshop module is currently being revived for Moodle 2.0 and shows great promise.

Various peer assessment tools (outside Moodle) can reduce the quantity of marking for teachers, by relying on the student feedback as a basis for marking. This can be somewhat controversial when student feedback is the only source of grades. The Peer Review Assignment Type uses peer-feedback moderated by teachers as the basis for marks.

The Peer Review Assignment Type attempts to simplify the peer assessment experience of the Workshop module for both teachers and students. Only one deadline is needed (students can even submit late and still be involved); most students will submit then immediately move on to reviewing, while the assignment is fresh in their minds. The Peer Review Assignment Type manages the relationships between students automatically, so all the teacher has to do is set up the assignment, then moderate reviews after the assignment deadline.

Getting ready

Being an Assignment Type, you need to unzip the peerreview directory into the /moodle/mod/assignment/type/ directory before visiting the Notifications page.

How to do it...

Once installed, a Peer Review assignment can be added from the Add an activity... menu. You will find it nested below Assignments.

As it is an Assignment Type, the Peer Review Assignment Type has the same General settings as other Assignment Types (including a name, description, grade value, and due date). There are four settings specific to this Assignment Type listed in the Peer Review section of the configuration page.

Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

The first setting allows the teacher to decide if submissions will be in the form of a submitted file or text entered online in a WYSIWYG editor. If Submitted document is selected, the maximum file size and file type must be specified. These two settings should be made while keeping in mind that students will be downloading and reviewing each other's documents. Keep the maximum file size as low as practically possible, otherwise file transfer problems may arise. A file type that all students can work with should be selected. So, for instance, if students have a mix of Office 2003, Office 2007, and OpenOffice, using the .doc file type would allow all students be able to open and review submitted documents.

Each student is expected to complete two reviews and this is seen as part of the learning experience. The final setting in this section allows a reward value to be set for each of the reviews the student completes.

With the assignment configuration complete, click on Save and Display and you will be taken to a page where review criteria can be written.

Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

On this page, the criteria descriptions and values can be set. Some help is provided on writing good criteria; this is worth reading.

For each criterion, you can enter a textual description that will appear to the student with the assignment description. This can include HTML tags if formatting is needed. For each criterion, a second alternate description can be provided, which can contain information that you want hidden from students before they submit (such as answers or test data); this is only shown to students as they complete reviews. A value also needs to be set for each criterion.

The values of criteria and the reward students will receive for completing reviews need to add up to the total grade value for the assignment. At the bottom of the Criteria page, there is a JavaScript driven calculator that indicates if values sum correctly.

Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

Once you have entered the criteria, save them and you will be taken to the description of the assignment showing the criteria added at the end. Students will also see a facility to submit a file, or a WYSIWYG editor if online-text is to be entered.

With the Description and the Criteria set, there is nothing to do until students have submitted and the assignment deadline has passed.

If you are running this Assignment Type on a test server and want to see how it works, you will need to set up at least five dummy student accounts and use these to submit assignments and complete reviews.

After students have submitted and completed reviews, they are shown a wealth of information about their submission, reviews they have conducted, and reviews they have received from their peers and teachers. Students have the opportunity to flag reviews they are unhappy with.

Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

When students have submitted and reviewed, it is the teacher's job to resolve conflicts. The Peer Review Assignment Type shows a submission table, like other Assignment Types, but adds information about review relationships and conflicts.

(Move the mouse over the image to enlarge.)

The teacher must add additional "moderation" reviews to override reviews that are conflicting. The tail end of the submissions list must also be reviewed by the teacher if there are not sufficient reviews for the system to suggest a mark.

When conducting moderation reviews, the teacher is provided with information that students do not get to see. The teacher can see which criteria students have checked, and also the comments they have written about the submission currently being moderated. Teachers can see which student conducted each review and how long they spent reviewing. The teacher has access to a textbox, in which they can add and save comments to be re-used later. Multiple markers have access to this same saved comments list.

Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

When all conflicts are resolved, and all status indicators are green, the system is able to suggest marks for all students. These can be released individually or all at once by clicking the button labeled Set all unset calculatable grades at the bottom of the submissions list.

The Peer Review Assignment Type also includes an Analysis page which may be useful when refining an assignment for later re-use, or for teachers conducting research around assessment.

How it works...

The Peer Review Assignment Type achieves a simpler model of peer assessment by altering the way review relationships are allocated. With the Workshop module and other peer assessment systems, a phased approach is taken, with students submitting before one deadline, waiting for relationships to be arranged, then reviewing before another deadline. Such a phased model does not leave room for late submissions, and the delay while students wait for reviews may cause them to lose track of the context of the assignment.

With the Peer Review Assignment Type, there is an initial pooling period where early submitters must wait for more submissions to be made. When the fifth student submits, this triggers an event causing reviews to be allocated among the initial pool. When later students submit they are allocated earlier submissions to review, so these students can go directly from submission to reviewing without delay. This leaves some submissions at the tail end that require teacher moderation, however it also means late submitters can simply join the tail end.

Because of the review allocation method, only a single submission is permitted. Students are warned about this. If a student submits the wrong file, a teacher can replace their submission (and ensure the replacement is moderated).

There's more...

The Peer Review Assignment Type can be used for teaching in a number of ways:

  • As an extension of a regular assignment
  • For a series of streamlined, small scale, focused assignments
  • As a draft stage review before a final submission (submitted as a normal, instructor marked assignment)

Outside regular teaching, the Peer Review Assignment Type could be used for the review of research papers submitted to a conference.

        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on Moodle, see here.)

Recording audio for assignments

Name NanoGong Assignment Type
Module type Assignment type
Author Dan Poltawski
Released 2009
Maintained Only barely
Languages English, Spanish
Compliance Good
Documentation None
Errors None displayed

Have you ever wanted to break away from mundane text assignments? Well now you can allow students to submit spoken assignments instead. There have been a few attempts to allow audio recording in Moodle, but the NanoGong is the first to be truly cross-platform, while still being admirably simple.

Getting ready

Unzip and copy the nanogong directory into the /moodle/mod/assignment/type/ directory then visit the Notifications page.

How to do it...

One downside to NanoGong is that it requires the Java Runtime Environment to be installed on both the teacher's machine and students' machines. Without the JRE, the NanoGong applet will not work. This can be problematic as students who are not administrators of their machines may not have the potential to install the JRE. Even if they can, the JRE is a 15 MB download, which is not huge but is still significant for students on slow, unreliable connections.

If the JRE is not installed, students might not be prompted to install the JRE. Instructions should be explicitly included with assignments on what to expect and what to do if no recorder appears.

Another problem that affects voice recording in general is the need for a microphone. It seems rather obvious, but many students will not have access to a microphone in order to record their voice.

If you are satisfied that these impediments are not significant obstacles, the NanoGong Assignment Type is worth testing. Once installed, the Assignment Type can be added from the Add an activity... menu, below Assignments.

The NanoGong Assignment Type is based on the Upload a single file assignment type, and is configured in the same way. It should therefore be familiar to teachers who have used that Assignment Type before.

Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

Once configured, students have access to the recorder applet. They must download the applet from the server. The .jar file for the applet is only 186 KB, so downloading should not take long. Students will then have to allow the applet to run on their machines. They have the potential to allow the applet for future occasions to skip this approval step.

Students will then see a small recorder at the bottom of the assignment description view page. Instructors can also test the recorder.

Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

Students can record their voice, pausing when necessary. There is a five minute limit on recordings, which is demonstrated by the bar that grows across the bottom of the recorder as the five minutes passes. A reassuring VU meter fluctuates up and down next to the stop button as the user speaks. Students can play back their recording and re-record their message if they wish to. They can keep a copy of their recording by saving it to their machine as a .wav file. When they are ready, clicking the submit button allows students to submit.

The sound files created by the applet are remarkably small, so submitting the file and accessing it again afterwards takes little time. A full five minute recording produces a file around 1 MB in size; this is about 20% of an equivalent MP3 recording at CD quality.

For marking, submissions are shown in an assignments table.

Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

The recordings are shown in the Last modified (Student) column. Each recording is loaded when the page loads. This is convenient if you are marking assignments using the quick grading feature. However, this could take time to load and consume considerable bandwidth if there is a large class and each student has submitted a five minute recording. To avoid loading each submission every time the submissions list is refreshed, hide the column that contains the recorder applet; you will still be able to access the recording from the submission single view window when marking.

How it works...

The NanoGong Assignment Type uses the NanoGong applet created by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. That particular applet uses a speech codec called Speex, which targets the frequencies needed for voice. Unfortunately this means the NanoGong Assignment Type cannot be used for a broader range of frequencies, and therefore is not a good alternative for recording musical instruments, and probably not a good recorder for sung vocal performances.

There's more...

With the potential to record voice submissions for assignments, a number of pedagogical applications open up. Here are some ideas.

  • Foreign language spoken word assignments
  • Poetry reading
  • Simulated political speeches
  • News reading practise
  • Student's favorite joke

Replacing paper submissions

Name Upload PDF
Module type Assignment Type
Author David Smith
Released 2009
Maintained Actively
Languages English
Compliance Good
Documentation readme.txt file, help files
Errors None displayed

Have you ever suggested that a teacher should try electronic submission, only to be rebuffed because of a perceived need to mark paper submissions? Well, with the Upload PDF Assignment Type you can achieve the same results as "red ink on paper", plus there are a few more conveniences that will make marking go by faster. This is all achieved on the server through a web browser, without downloading files to the marker's machine.

Getting ready

Unzip and copy the uploadpdf directory into the /moodle/mod/assignment/type/ directory then visit the Notifications page.

The module also makes use of GhostScript to save PDFs, so you will also need to install GhostScript and direct the module to it. A download link for GhostScript is available on the Moodle Modules and plugins DB entry page for the Upload PDF Assignment Type.

If you are using Windows, be sure to install GhostScript to a location so that its path contains no spaces, for example, C:\gs. Once installed you need to write the path to the GhostScript executable into uploadpdf_config.php located in the module directory. The first line of code appears as...

$CFG->gs_path = 'gs';

...and needs to be changed to include the path to the GhostScript executable, for example:

$CFG->gs_path = 'C:\gs\gs8.71\bin\gswin32c.exe';

How to do it...

Once the module is installed and GhostScript is set up, you can add an assignment by selecting the Upload PDF option from the Add an activity... menu, below Assignments.

The configuration page for an UploadPDF assignment begins with the same General settings as other Assignment Types. This includes a name, description, grade value, and due date.

In the description, you may want to include instructions about converting files to PDF format. OpenOffice offers native support for saving to PDF. An add-on can be installed for Office2007 (and later versions) to "publish" to PDF. GoogleDocs allows files to be saved as PDF. There are online services that can convert documents to PDF, some of which are free (but may involve limitations or complications). For general applications, it is possible to install a PDF printer, which masquerades as a printer, but instead of printing to a physical device, it produces a PDF file which can be saved to disk. A number of PDF printer solutions are freely available and simple to install.

The requirement for students to produce a PDF file is a limitation. Students may be working on machines where they are not the administrator and may not have the privileges to install a PDF printer or an add-on. If that is the case, you may have to provide independent assistance to students to help them convert their submissions to PDF.

Below the General settings there are some specific settings for an Upload PDF assignment.

Moodle 1.9 Top Extensions Cookbook

If your institution has a standard coversheet that needs to be fixed to all submissions, this coversheet can be supplied (in PDF format of course) and will be prefixed to students' submissions.

Controls can be placed on the files students submit. It is likely you will want to restrict submissions to PDF format, unless you want students to submit an accompanying file with their PDF. Students can submit more than one file. Each PDF file they submit is concatenated into a single document as it arrives at the server, so a single document is presented when marking.

Help files are available here to explain each setting.

With the assignment in place, students submit their PDF files in much the same way they would submit using other assignment types. The Upload PDF Assignment Type offers a twostaged submission. First students must submit each individual file. Once all the files are sent to the Moodle server, the student completes and confirms their submission, making it available for marking.

When assignments have been submitted, the teacher can mark from the assignments list.

The module author recommends marking with the Allow quick grading preference turned on. This makes sense as the PDFs are annotated in a separated window, so using grading windows means a lot of open windows. If you are using this Assignment Type it is likely that most of your feedback will be in the PDF itself, so adding a mark and a short overall comment on the assignments list page is probably sufficient.

To annotate a submission, click on the submission.pdf link. This opens a new window with a student's combined submission, visible page by page.

In this window, a teacher can annotate a student's submission. Comments can be started by left-clicking on the document. A comment box will appear and text can be inserted; when editing is complete, click off the comment. If you wish to edit a comment, clicking on the comment will allow you to change the text inside. Right-clicking on a comment will allow you to control background color. It is also possible to save comments to the Comment Quicklist by right-clicking on a comment and selecting Add to Comment Quicklist. This is particularly useful when marking a large number of submissions as it saves retyping repeated comments. To use a comment from the Quicklist, simply right-click where you want the comment to appear and choose the comment from the list.

You can also add lines to the document to indicate where corrections need to be made, or to add emphasis. To draw a line, or more than one, hold the Ctrl key, then click-and-drag the mouse.

Changes are saved as you make them, so if you close the window, your changes will reappear when you come back. You can also click the button labeled Save Draft and Close for the same effect. A teacher can move from page to page, adding comments and lines as they go.

It should be noted that a document including a teacher's annotations will not be made available to the student until you click Generate Response. The "response" is a new document, based on the submitted document, and including the annotations created by a teacher. Once created, a student can download this response document from their view of the assignment.

Back at the submissions list, the teacher can add a general comment and set a mark, then save the marks by clicking Save all my feedback at the bottom of the list.

How it works...

The response document is produced very efficiently. It is not a bitmap capture (like a digital photograph) of the document with annotations. It is effectively the original PDF document with annotations as vector (drawing) objects. All original text and graphics are preserved after the addition of these new objects. These new objects add only a very small amount to the original file size.

There's more...

In general, assignment feedback can be classified as structured or unstructured. The Upload PDF Assignment Type is an ingenious solution to providing unstructured feedback in an online environment, especially as there are no documents that need to be transferred back and forth between the server and the teacher's machine.

The pedagogical applications are wide open:

  • Essays (of course)
  • Reports
  • Poetry
  • Artworks
  • Journal articles
  • ...and effectively anything that can become a PDF


In this article we saw some of the assignment alternatives.

In the next article, Modules for Assessing Students in Moodle, we will take a look at the modules for assessment.

Further resources on this subject:


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