Moodle Competencies for evidence of learning

bernadette-parry-headshotBernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TVC training, advanced Moodle training and support services. A self-confessed Moodle ‘geek’, Bernadette loves to discover new ways to navigate and make the most of Moodle. Currently she is excited about the inclusion of competencies and learning plans in Moodle 3.1, and ways that this function can be applied to the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector.

Moodle competencies

For those of you who don’t know already, Moodle 3.1 comes bundled up with competencies and learning plans. This is perfect for the VET sector, where there is such an emphasis on demonstrating skills rather than simply knowledge. If you haven’t started using this feature, now is the time to get started.

What are competencies?

Competencies track what your students have demonstrated that they know or they can do. Instead of simply seeing which courses a student has completed, you can also see which competencies the student demonstrated whilst doing the courses. This is a powerful feature, especially when training students to work in practical fields such as trades.

How do we set up competencies?

Competencies can be set up in Moodle in three, easy steps:

  1. Make sure you already have the scale you require, such as ‘Not Yet Competent’, ‘Competent’. This can be set up by going to Administration> Site administration> Grades> Scales, see Scales.
  2. Set up a framework for a set of competencies – this needs to be done by an administrator in your site. I would suggest that you use a separate framework for each Unit of Competence, and add the year, eg ‘BSB20115 – Cert II in Business 2017’ to the name in case you want to update the framework in the future. This will also help your course creators to find the competencies they need to use. Instructions are available in the manually set up a competency framework video.
  3. Add competencies to this framework. Once again, I’d suggest adding the year to the name, eg ‘BSBWOR204 2017’.

This is a tedious process, and it is suggested that you use the Import competency framework plugin to do this. Instructions to use this plugin are available in the video importing the competency framework. This plugin will be in core Moodle 3.2!

Using competencies

Once the Competencies are set up, you can use them in courses.

  1. Add the appropriate competencies to the course
  2. Apply the appropriate competencies to the activities.

This step will ensure that you can track the competencies that your students have demonstrated by completing courses or activities. Information about doing this is in the applying competencies video.

Further information

Of course assessing competency is a little more complicated than that. Your VET students will need to demonstrate that they can do something more than once, over a time period and so on. To manage this, you may like to restrict access to an activity until the required skill is demonstrated in another activity, then award competency. For example, by completing activities A, B and C, a student demonstrates that they are competent in a competency. The student can’t complete activity C until activities A and B are successfully completed. The student is graded as competent once activity C is successfully completed. Or you may award competency manually. In any case, taking the time to set up competencies correctly, will save you time and effort when tracking whether or not your students are capable of doing what you, and their future employers, need them to be able to do.

Once you have competencies set up, you may like to look at implementing learning plans. More on that in a future blog post, but not until I get back from my imminent holiday to India! See Moodle docs for further information, read my colleague’s blog that introduces competency frameworks, and let me know if you have any queries.

Gathering feedback from your Moodle courses

bernadette-parry-headshotBernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TVC training, advanced Moodle training and support desk services. Recently she has received several queries about using Survey Monkey from Moodle Courses. This is of course doable, but here Bernadette tells us ten reasons for using the Feedback survey instead.

Ten reasons for using the Feedback survey in Moodle:

If you have never thought to use the Feedback survey in Moodle, here are my top ten reasons to give it a go:

  1. Course name, teacher names, etc are automatically added to the report. Why not make life easier for yourself, and prevent potential errors associated with manual data entry?
  2. There are fewer options for creating questions and collecting responses. While at first this might seem like a disadvantage, it actually makes the tool  simpler and easier to use.
  3. The Feedback can be anonymous. If the Feedback is anonymous, the participants see ‘Mode: Anonymous’ on the screen – so they are reassured of anonymity.
  4. Even if the Feedback is anonymous, you can still see which participants have not submitted in your activity completion report. This is particularly useful if the Feedback is compulsory.
  5. You can list Feedback activities on your Moodle landing page. This means that  learners can submit the Feedback without logging in.
  6. Logs will record student usage of the Feedback survey. Another way to measure learner engagement.feedback_01
  7. All teachers of a course can receive email alerts when a Feedback form is submitted. Staying within Moodle makes the form look more like an integral part of the course. Better branding, a more professional look and feel, and students more likely to complete the survey.
  8. Staying within Moodle keeps all tracking of student learning together. This not only helps out at auditing time, it makes results easier to find.
  9. If you already have Moodle, there is no extra expense! Why add another layer of cost and software when Moodle has everything you need?
  10. In the future, a new survey module will incorporate Survey, Questionnaire (which is currently a plugin) and Feedback – with the best elements of each. It’ll be even better!

Important things to note

  • ‘Survey’ is another Moodle activity, however with Survey, you can’t create your own questions like you can with Feedback.
  • If you don’t see the Feedback activity in your course, then it may be disabled. Ask your Administrator to ‘turn it on’!
  • Feedback results can be used for continuous improvement of your courses. Use it to gather student Feedback – and teacher Feedback – on how the course went, and how it could be improved.
  • To best analyse your responses, don’t forget to use question type ‘dropdownlist (rated)’. See the Moodle website for more information on the most useful questions to use.
  • See the results! In the screenshot below, four learners have anonymously completed a Feedback survey, ‘Learner Questionnaire’. The results can also be downloaded to an Excel file. Use this analysis to improve your courses.feedback_02

Keen to learn more?

For further information about the Feedback survey activity please visit the Moodle website.

But most importantly, try it! Let me know if you need any help.

Free audio troubleshooting checklist

Bronwyn Lapham

Bronwyn Lapham works within E-standards for Training, an activity eWorks manages for the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training. This project includes the annual research, development, review and ratification of the E‑standards for Training – the technical standards for the vocational education and training (VET) sector. As promised in the recently published blog post: Web conferencing audio issues? Get sorted!, Bronwyn now shares the perfect way to avoid web conferencing panic attacks – an easy audio troubleshooting checklist.

Now where did we leave it last time?

Okay, so we have already looked at:

  • The causes of audio issues in web conferences and webinars
  • The use of computer built-in audio alone
  • Best practice when it comes to headsets and microphones
  • Making sure that your speakers are set up properly
  • Consideration of your internet bandwidth
  • Screen sharing and making sure you have the right software in order to do this
  • Flash Players and associated plug-ins.

That’s all fine and well, but how will you go thinking through these factors in a time of stress, when your audio isn’t working at the start of a webinar for example? This troubleshooting checklist will help to get your audio sorted and you enjoying your web conference. We talk about BigBlueButton here, but the fundamentals are the same for most web conference applications.

Tick if OK Issue to Test

1. You have a decent-quality headset with speakers and microphone built in.

At the very least make sure all presenters and other listeners are wearing a set of headphones. Even cheap earbud/iPod headphones are better than nothing. It’s particularly important for the person speaking (whether presenter or attendee) otherwise, when using built-in mic and speakers, their voice going into the microphone is sent back to them via their speaker, then the microphone picks it up again and retransmits, creating a loop, which you hear as an echo. The software doesn’t know which is the important sound “stream”, and attempts to transmit it all.

You can use a conference speakerphone if your users are in one room watching the session on a large single screen. Make sure presenters are speaking close to their microphones.

2. All participants mute their microphones when not speaking.

If you are having audio issues with participants and their local hardware/equipment, one option is to mute everyone (except the presenter, of course!) and ask for questions and answers to be typed via the chat window.

Attendees can use the “Raise Hand” feature to get attention. They could then be un-muted to ask a question or make a comment.

3. Your Internet speed is adequate.

BBB users can check their speed at the time they have the audio issues using http://www.speedtest.net. Download speed should be 1.0Mbps or greater and their upload speed should be 0.5Mbps or greater. If you are using a webcam, you’ll need greater bandwidth – around 1.0Mbps upload as a minimum. (Speedtest step-by-step instructions below)

4. You don’t have ‘competition’ for Internet access.

Is anyone else on the network/at your house doing anything that uses lots of bandwidth (eg: downloading video from iTunes, YouTube, online gaming, VOIP based telephone calls)? Also make sure you only have the minimum number of browser tabs or windows open.

5. Your network is reliable.

Check network reliability by following the ping and tracert/traceroute instructions below.

6. The microphone on the headset is the one that BBB is actually using.

BBB uses the speakers and microphone selected in your operating system settings. To check what these are:

  • On Windows: Start menu > Control panel > Hardware and sound > Sound
  • On Mac: Apple menu > System preferences > Sound

Make sure the microphone’s record volume is set to high in the computer’s ‘sound’ settings. It is very easy to find speaker volumes on most computers but can be harder to find microphone input volumes.

If you need to change those settings, you may need to exit the BBB session and re-enter to for the software to pick up on the change.

To check that both you and BBB agree which headset and mic are being used from within a session:

  • Right mouse button click inside the BBB window during a conference.
  • Choose ‘Settings’ from the menu that appears.
  • Click in the microphone icon along the bottom of the Settings pop up window.
  • Make sure the microphone listed is your headset microphone.

Slide the record volume slider to 80% (NB if you choose 100% it may cause distortion and audio quality issues).

Tick the ‘Reduce Echo’ box.

7. You have the latest Flash Player version on your computer.

To check:

In a browser go to:   http://helpx.adobe.com/flash-player/kb/find-version-flash-player.html

Check your version shown against the current version listed. If they don’t match, follow the “download” and “update” instructions on the same page.

8. You have installed the latest version of Java.

If you can enter the room but you are unable to screen share it’s possibly Java related. Update or install Java – https://java.com/en/

9. You don’t have pop-ups blocked

If screen sharing won’t start check for any pop-up blockers (particularly Firefox where it is small, unobtrusive and at the top of the browser). Java won’t start until you’ve seen and clicked the acceptance message.

Test your connection

You can check the quality of your Internet access by “pinging”. Pinging sends small amounts of data (packets) to the server to measure response times to your computer (in milliseconds).

You can also check the route over which your data gets transmitted. The route taken is dependent upon your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and can highlight why you might be getting slow responses. An Internet outage somewhere might mean that your data has to be routed via somewhere out of the ordinary, or your ISP might be routing it in a way cheaper for them, but also slower for you.

The third test is the speed of actual data upload and download. The website speedtest.net will measure the amount of time it takes to upload and download 100Mb of data and report back to you.

Windows: ping and trace data route

The following tests are specific to BigBlueButton running on eWorks’ TVC. You would change the server to suit your specific situation.

Click on the ‘Start’ button.

Type cmd in the “Search programs and files” input field and select cmd.exe when it is located.

Ping – In the console window that appears, type ping bbb.trainingvc.com and press Enter. (Your window will have slightly different information unique to you.)

You will see any problems with loss of data described as packet loss, and round trip average speed ideally needs to be less than 50ms.

Route taken – In the same console window, type tracert trainingvc.com and press Enter.

This will show you the path that the data is taking to get to the BBB server (you may be surprised!) Somewhere between 10 and 15 ‘hops’ is pretty standard. Of course the more hops and the greater the distance between hops, the longer the data will take to get to and from you and your users, and consequently the more chance of your sound degrading.

This information can be very helpful when troubleshooting. To share this data with support:

  • right-click in the Console window and choose “Select all” from the menu.
  • Press Enter to copy the info to your clipboard. (Ctrl-C doesn’t work here).
  • Paste the info into Notepad or another text editor so you can then forward it on.

Mac: ping and trace data route

Launch Network Utility. (Use Spotlight to search for it.)

Ping – Select the Ping tab. Enter bbb.trainingvc.com in the network address input field and select the Ping button. You will see any problems with loss of data here (described as packet loss). Ping average speed ideally needs to be less than 50ms. If you want to share this information with support:

  • click into the information pane where the ping data is
  • Command-A to select All
  • Command-C to copy it, then
  • paste into a TextEdit or similar text editor window as a location to save it.

Route taken – Next, choose the Traceroute tab. Type trainingvc.com into the network address input field, then select the Trace button. As with the ping data, if you want to share this information with Support:

  • click into the information pane where the traceroute data is
  • Command-A to select All
  • Command-C to copy it to the clipboard then
  • paste into a TextEdit or similar text editor window as a location to save it.

Speedtest.net – Windows and Mac

In a browser window, navigate to http://www.speedtest.net/ and select Begin Test.

The software will select the appropriate server, and download 100Mb then upload 100Mb to get an average bandwidth measurement in both directions. It will also provide an average ping round trip.

(This reading is unusual in that upload speed is generally a good deal slower than download.)

The early bird and all that

Of course the best thing to do is log on early for a web conference or webinar, so that you have time to troubleshoot when there isn’t so much pressure. But even if you find yourself in a bit of a panic, this checklist should make life easier.

Good luck!

And of course let us know if you’re still stuck, or if you need a hand delivering or accessing online training in general.

Web conferencing audio issues? Get sorted!

We’ve all been there. You sign in to a webinar or web conference that you are either attending or (even worse!) presenting, only to find that the audio isn’t working. Your heart starts to race and you try to fix it, randomly checking your PC and control panels all the time knowing that you’re too flustered to think. Our advice? Don’t panic! Audio issues can have many causes, but they are generally easy to fix. And next time, after reading this blog post, you will know where to look to find the problem.


Credit: Voices, by Fe Ilya

What causes audio issues in web conferences?

With any webinar software, your microphone, speakers, and Internet bandwidth are all important and will affect the quality of the session. Screen sharing, the use of webcams and the inclusion of video will also have significant impact, particularly when bandwidth is poor. Symptoms of degradation include audio dropping out, speech and other audio sounding as though coming from a tunnel, or even under water.

Things to consider

1. Using computer built-in audio alone

Quality headsets give good separation of sound input (microphone) and output (speakers). This is particularly important for the person speaking, whether presenter or attendee. Otherwise, when using built-in mic and speakers, their voice going into the microphone is sent back to them via their speaker, then the microphone picks it up again and retransmits, creating a loop – which you hear as an echo. The software doesn’t know which is the important sound “stream”, and attempts to transmit it all.

2. Best practice

For best results, people intending to speak should use good-quality headsets with a microphone near their mouth. In order from worst-case to best-case scenario, the microphone/speaker combination for presenters or attendees with unmuted microphones would be:

  • mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop using built-in microphone and speakers. (This will generally give unacceptable audio quality and is not recommended.)
  • earbud-type headset with inline microphone
  • normal headset with boom microphone, or conference-type speakerphone.

A small speakerphone should be adequate for around six to eight people seated closely around it. If you were to use two of these in the same room, you would probably encounter the mic/speaker loop described above. We suggest researching online using the keywords ‘conference’ and ‘speakerphone’ to find one suitable for your situation.

3. Speakers

Let’s use BigBlueButton (BBB) as an example here. BigBlueButton (BBB) is an open-source virtual classroom package. It’s a good option, because it’s a web conferencing system plugin available for several learning management systems. BBB will use whatever your computer thinks is the main device for microphone and speakers (at the time of starting up BBB). That is, BBB uses the speakers and microphone defined in the operating system control panel. To check:

  • On Windows, go to Start menu > Control Panel > Sound
  • On Mac, go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Sound

In both instances make sure the correct speakers and microphone are selected. Should you need to change the selections, you will need to exit and re-enter the BBB session.

4. Internet speed

Internet bandwidth has an important effect on the quality of your session.

For anyone screen sharing or speaking, Internet upload speed should be at least 0.5 Mbps (megabits per second), and download speed should be at least 1.0 Mbps; you can test this at speedtest.net. The results from this test will vary depending on what else is going on with your Internet connection at the time. Are other people on your network using a lot of bandwidth? Do you have other bandwidth intensive processes happening? For example, is someone downloading a movie to watch later? Do you have several tabs open, each with a YouTube video?

5. Java

If you are going to screen share in your session, then you should have the latest version of Java installed on your computer. Update or install Java from the website.

6. Flash

You should have the latest Flash Player plug-in enabled in your browser. Update or install the Flash Player at Adobe’s website.

More specific connection issues?

For specific connection how-tos and troubleshooting, plus advice about BigBlueButton, the eWorks Team is here to help. And for a free audio quality troubleshooting checklist (coming soon) subscribe to eLink.