Topic outline

  • General

    Countdown to Christmas with Catalyst

    one gift a day for your Open Source learning platform
    • How to turn your Moodle course into an Advent calendar

      Advent calendar - Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
      For those who missed it last year, this year's first Advent calendar entry is Lenka's entry from last year, explaining how she made this advent calendar in Moodle and how you can do so too!

      Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

      When I was looking for the right medium for this year's countdown to Christmas endeavour, using a Moodle course did not immediately come to mind. Then I got this (what I thought at the time) genius idea, only to find out it is not actually a new idea at all, and Mary has suggested it back in 2014 in this forum post.

      I did switch from the Grid course format plugin to its more modern cousin Tiles, but other than that, all of Mary's original advice still stands:
      • Create a new course with 25 course sections with images with numbers (I used the public domain images from
      • Restrict access to each section by date, from December 1 to December 25 (this allows you to prepare your content before publishing)
      • Add some introduction to the summary of the General section and the "gifts" in the summaries  the 25 sections below

      And if you want to make your Advent calendar publicly available:
      • Enable guest access enrolment method for the course
      • Turn on Auto-login guests in User policies
    • A gift for your Moodle for December the 1st brought to you by Lenka from Catalyst IT Europe.Lenka Kolesarova

    • Using templates in Mahara

      Mahara as an ePortfolio tool allows learners to create and publish their pages from scratch, as well as from a template. Templates help in a number of ways as they provide a starting point or framework from which the learners can progress.

      Templates in Mahara can be used in a number of ways:

      1. Site templates:
        Templates that 'just appear' in a users' Portfolios and collections page that are there for them to use throughout their studies, such as a CV or Personal Development logbook. You can get to these by going to Admin > Configure site > Pages and collections. When creating a page make sure that the access settings are configured to show 'Copy to new accounts' as Yes:

      2. Group templates:
        Templates created by lecturers to be pushed out to a group of specific users. Remember you can put placeholder blocks onto a page and let your learners decide what content type they'd like to present:

      Don't forget you can also make a template copyable too! This can be shared via Secret URL by email or via your VLE/LMS.

      There are a number of other template features that be useful such as the locking of blocks to stop learners accidentally deleting them, and the ability to add blocks such as the journal which can then be copied across when a learner first logs in.

      Mahara 20.10 has recently been released, and with it comes some real cool functionality. You can read more on my recent blog post:

    • A small gift for your Mahara for December the 2nd brought to you by Sam Taylor from Catalyst IT Europe.

    • New Certificate modules

      The Moodle Workplace team have recently released two of their plugins for the community use in core Moodle installations. These two plugins help to manage and issue certificates for learners.

      The Course Certificate plugin itself, allows you to choose from different certificate templates which will automatically display user data such as full name, course, etc.
      Users will be able to download a PDF copy of the certificate themselves by accessing this activity, and there are options to send a PDF copy to them by email automatically. If the template used on this activity contains a QR code, users will be able to scan it to validate their certificates.

      The Certificate manager plugin has to be installed, it provides the API and UI for designing the certificate templates at the system and course category levels.

      This plugin allows users to create certificate templates on the system and course category levels. Certificate templates can have user fields such as user name, profile picture, etc, and also additional dynamic fields that are added by the issuer (through API).
      The built-in interface allows users to issue certificates manually and browse the issued certificates and a verification code/link/QR code can be added to the certificate template.

      Certificates can be verified by unauthenticated users, even on sites with forced login and no guest access.

    • Moodle Certificate plugins released by the Moodle Workplace teamMoodle Certificate plugins released by the Moodle Workplace team

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 3rd, brought to you by Richard Oelmann from Catalyst IT Europe.Richard Oelmann, Senior Solutions Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Keyboard Shortcuts for Moodle

      This contribution to our Advent Calendar comes from the wider Moodle community and is linked, with permission, to a recent blog post by Dr Robert O'Toole of University of Warwick.

      Dr O'Toole found himself creating more and more Moodle based web pages and wishing for simpler navigation, particularly for his common tasks and workflows. His blog post shows how he resolved this issue using browser bookmarklets to create keyboard shortcuts to his common tasks, similar to Windows macros.

      Currently, Dr O'Toole's blog refers specifically to Safari bookmarklets, but we'd love to hear from anyone who has done similar for other browsers, or with Windows macros and the like.

    • Dr Robert O'Toole's blog

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 4th, brought to you by Richard Oelmann from Catalyst IT Europe. Courtesy of Dr Robert O'Toole, University of Warwick.
      Richard Oelmann, Senior Solutions Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Use User Tours to enhance your learners' experience

    • What are User Tours?

      User Tours are visual and positional step by step guides, which can be added by administrators in Moodle or Totara.example of tour screenshot

      They can be created for the main site pages (home/dashboard) or specific courses. 

      When to use User Tours?

      User tours are a useful way of presenting additional information on-screen; whether it is to show new users around the interface, to introduce new plugins or features, to guide staff around added activities and resources to a templated course, to walk the learner through the information on a on specific screen, or to produce a simple introductory dialogue box. 

      How do User Tours work? 

      A User Tour is presented to the learner as a pop-up dialogue box, the first time they enter the specific page. Each pop-up dialogue box explains the main element(s) on the page that the user needs to interact with or simply displays text for the user to read.   These pop-up boxes only appear on the first visit to the course, unless the learner (or an administrator) resets the User Tour.

      User Tours can be applied to a single course, a category or a whole site.

      How do I make a Tour?

      They can be created in  Site administration >  Appearance > User tours, or templates can be downloaded from  .

      The Moodle Doc page for User Tours is:

      Tip: if a tour design you imported doesn’t match your layout, the Tour will automatically skip the elements that aren’t in your Course.

      TIpTours can also be used for multilingual content if required, using the multi-lang filters.

      Tip: Catalyst IT Europe can provide training  to your team on designing User Tours, or, if you’re one of our clients, we can design User Tours for you, using your SLA hours. 

    • Example 1:
      Simple onboarding introduction that appear on the learner’s first visit to the Dashboard

      gif animation showing how the User tour looks in dashboard for student

    • Example 2:

      Activity-related instructions: how to submit an assignment in Moodle

      gif animation showing how the User tour looks in assignment submission for student

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 5th, brought to you by Aurelie Soulier from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Aurelie Soulier , eLearning  Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Universitas 21

      Catalyst Europe works with Universitas 21 to deliver a flexible, central platform for collaboration.

      Universitas 21 screen shot

    • Background

      Universitas 21 is a global network of research-intensive universities that empowers students, researchers and staff to share excellence, collaborate across borders and exchange knowledge. It focuses on supporting students, undergraduates and educational innovation.

      The member-focused network also prides itself on promoting the value of internationalisation and multinational collaboration through its programs, activities and initiatives.

    • The Challenge: Dwindling member engagement

      Responsible for organising collaborative research awards, the Researcher Engagement team noticed a reduction in the number of applications from member universities.

      Investigating the cause of dwindling applications, they discovered that a lack of interaction between members was harming engagement.

      To continue the company’s mission of uniting researchers and nurturing collaboration, they needed a central platform and portal for members to meet and collaborate virtually. The platform would need to:

      • Act as a repository for information and data
      • Encourage collaboration on different projects
      • Enable communication between members
      • And allow members to host meetings

    • The Solution: A flexible, central collaboration platform

      Looking for a flexible LMS that would meet their needs, the team chose Catalyst IT and Totara Learn and praised the open-source e-learning solution providers "responsiveness and creativity".

      Catalyst consultants are highly responsive, understand the needs and goals of our network, and consistently provide creative thinking to apply to our Totara platform. — Connie Wan, Researcher Engagement Manager at Universitas 21

      With Totara Learn’s adaptable features, and it being familiar to users involved in academic research because it is based on Moodle, the Researcher Engagement team knew it would be ideal for their needs.

      Working with Catalyst IT, the team developed a multi-purpose learning platform called “U21 Community”.

      "We choose Totara Learn because the system is adaptable and we have the support to shape it to our specific needs.
      — Connie Wan, Researcher Engagement Manager at Universitas 21
    • The Results: Increased adaptability and member engagement

      The “U21 community” platform enables the Researcher Engagement team to nurture collaboration, knowledge sharing and interaction between its members.

      The platform helps increase engagement, empower subject matter experts and gives multiple members from different disciplines - ranging from senior management directors to VPs of research and other committees - control over their content.

      With Totara and Catalyst, it’s great that there’s always a solution! I say I need it to do ‘xyz’ and then Crystal (our contact at Catalyst) will reply with ‘no problem, we can adapt Totara Learn to do just that’. — Connie Wan, Researcher EngagementManager at Universitas 21

      Currently, the Researcher Engagement team is adapting face-to-face programs into virtual events, starting with a large workshop for its early career researchers. The event, which is launching this month, will include a meet and greet, calls and presentations on different topics, and have a dedicated database for users.

      Amongst other features (like Totara Learn’s customisable dashboard and user profile customisation), the Universitas 21 team loved the following Totara Learn features for measuring engagement and managing users:

      • Hierarchies
      • HR import
      • Search user function
      • Reporting
      • Activities

      Moving into 2021, the Universitas 21 team is placing an emphasis on virtual annual programs throughout the year. After setting up the events (called seminars in Totara Learn) the team plans to review the programme in March/April.

      They are also planning on rolling out touch base surveys for different users at different levels. These surveys will gather feedback from content managers uploading content and members who attend workshops.

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 6th, brought to you by Laura Hill from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Laura Hill, Catalyst IT Europe

    • Training Sandbox

      Have you ever needed to run a training session with a live course, or provide staff with a sandbox area for them to try things out on?

      Have you ever wished you could reset that course back to its pristine state?

      Well, of course you always could, backup and restore has always allowed you to do that. BUT what if you have a staff of several hundred, all with their own sandbox space, or a single sandbox space that you want or need to leave available over a prolonged period of time? It may not always be practical to make use of manual backup and restore tools.

      That's where the Sandbox plugin comes in.

      Create your course, back it up and upload the backup into the Sandbox settings page (named per the shortname of the target course) and set the frequency of restores on the scheduled task list.

      That's it.

      Your course will revert to its pristine state stored in the backup file according to whatever schedule you may have set. There are options to include/exclude users, so if those are included in the backup file, whether as demo users, or exemplar teacher/students used in a training course, then they will be part of the restoration of the sandbox.

      The plugin looks at all the backups it has had loaded, matches the backup filename against the short courses on your site, and restores those that match. There's no need to add any settings on an individual course, just provide the backup of that course in the plugin settings.

    • Sandbox image  Sandbox image 2

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 7th, brought to you by Richard Oelmann from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Richard Oelmann, Senior Solutions Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Moodle ToolGuide and Selector v3

      In November this year, Catalyst held a personal projects day for all their staff - a 'Catathon'. One of the projects was to rebuild the Moodle toolguide and selector that Richard had made in 2015 and update it for Moodle3.
      The toolguide is based on the fantastic work originally done by Joyce Seitzinger (@catspyjamas) and adapted by Gavin Henrick (@ghenrick) and the original digital adaptation by Richard Oelmann and sits alongside a tool selector, based on original concepts by Alison Ruth. It is released under a CC-NC-By-SA licence, so feel free to use and adapt - but please always credit the original authors.




          This is directly based on the original ToolGuide, produced by Joyce Setizinger and Gavin Henrick's subsequent work for Moodle2. It has been updated for Moodle 3 and includes filters to allow additional plugins (and Catalyst's own out-of-the-box additions) to be highlighted or excluded.

          As with the original, you can look across the columns to what you want to achieve and down the rows to find the tools.

          The grid then gives you a summary of the tool, while clicking on the tool title will take you to a page where more detail can be added (eg. previous iterations for USW included links to University help pages).

          Although colour based for visual impact, each tile has a corresponding icon so that colour is not the only factor in identifying the options.

          The grid is now built from an xml text file and so is much easier to update and add your own plugin set to than previous versions which needed to be built directly in the code.

      Tool Selector

          Based on original work and concepts by Alison Ruth and developed from my Moodle2 version.

          As with the ToolGuide, this is also backed by an xml data file, though the structure also requires some javascript fiddling if it is being edited.

          The Tool Selector enables the tutor to step through what they are trying to achieve, to provide suggestions of suitable tools. The Selector also provides an image of the decision tree backing the selector's branching format and also the (now file used to create the image so that this too can be edited as required.


          The site is built on Boostrap 4 and includes the full range of available Bootswatch templates for BS4. These are selectable from the drop down menu.

          Buttons are also provided to switch from coloured tile backgrounds to outlines only, and also between dark and light text, acknowledging that not all bootswatches are suitable for the default set up. Unfortunately, while the theme choice is persistent across the pages, the outline/text options are not (yet). This is also intended to aid accessibility, though further suggestions for improvements around accessibility are welcomed.


          While a large tabular grid layout like the guide, or a branching structure like the selector, does not lend itself easily to smaller screens, the site has been made responsive as far as possible.

          To reduce scrolling, the content of each tile has been mode into a pop-up tool-top style content on smaller screens.

    • Tool selector map

      Moodle toolguide  Moodle toolguide - alternative theme  Moodle tool selector

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 8th, brought to you by Richard Oelmann from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Richard Oelmann, Senior Solutions Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Load testing at Catalyst

      Performance and load testing are one of the fundamental disciplines when it comes to ensuring quality, functionality and peace of mind in advance of releasing a finalised software product.

      Apache Jmeter is Catalyst’s tool of choice when it comes to analysing the behaviour of web dynamic applications, but there are many other applications which can help reach your load testing goals.

      APDEX table and graph to illustrate load testing results
    • Why are these testing practices required? 

      To begin with, they will not only provide confidence in the system, its reliability and performance, but this way we will be able to successfully identify bottlenecks and any potential performance issues that may arise in the future. Knowing this information enables us to prepare and form strategies to avoid any unwanted situations.

      Which type of testing do I require?...You might ask yourself

      Depending on your goal, Catalyst can accommodate your needs. From executing our standard test script bundle targeting essential Moodle components, to creating a special set of scripts for more complex scenarios and functionalities. Our AWS virtual machines allow us to simulate very high user load and transactions per minute, giving us the ability to further evolve our load tests into hard hitting Spike Testing and Endurance Testing.

      If you are worried about how your site might handle traffic during your yearly peak dates, load testing ahead of time can help provide peace of mind and assurance that your web application will not crumble when put against usage that is higher than usual. You will be able to spot weak links in your infrastructure and architecture in advance and prepare proactively for the next projected peak time.

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 9th, brought to you by David Dinu from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      David Dinu, Catalyst IT Europe

    • The CatWebseries

      Image is a stock photo of a computer with pens and a plantThroughout this semester eLearning Consultants Sam and Aurelie have been working with the Moodle community to put on 3 webinars focusing on the needs of our teachers and learners:

        • September: Supporting socially distanced learning with Moodle
        • Socially-distanced classrooms or online ‘face-to-face’ sessions are a new challenge for Moodle practitioners . We will highlight the benefits and drawbacks of using various Moodle tools and a range of technology in this new blended context

        • October: Moving from Remote delivery to Online learning
        • You've survived the emergency of the first lockdown, now take a look at what comes next. How do we shift from mostly synchronous to asynchronous learning, guest presented by Andrew Field, eLearning Manager for Cambridge Assessment International Education

        • November: Promoting digital wellbeing through learning design
        • This webinar was the start of a very important discussion about digital wellbeing and how learning design could enhance it. Many thanks to everyone who took part, and to those who agreed to share their ideas with us via online interviews this month.

      The recordings and accompanying resources can be found on our Events and Webinars course below:

    • What would you like us to explore in next semester's webinars? Please let us know via the form below:

    • A small learning design/CPD gift  for December 10th brought to you by Sam Taylor from Catalyst IT Europe.

    • So you're moving to the Cloud - now what?

      Earlier this year, the MoodleMoot for UK and Ireland moved entirely online. In the same way, many of you will have had to do the same, or to have expanded your online provisions for reasons we are all well aware of! At that Moot, Aurelie and Richard presented about the considerations for that move - not just the move itself but what you need to consider following the move...

      The presentation covered:

      • Scaling and tuning your site
      • Incident Response and Fault Finding
      • Patching and Upgrades
      • Continuous Enhancement
      • and that most important factor which underpins everything - Staff Support and Pedagogy

      You can see the video of the presentation below, and download the pdf of the slides as well. (CC-BY-NC-SA)

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 11th, brought to you by Aurelie Soulier  and Richard Oelmann, from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Richard Oelmann, Solutions Consultant, Catalyst Europe Aurelie Soulier , eLearning  Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Empower your students through H5P

      Just a bit of background first, if you want to know more about H5P:

    • Why should I ask my students to build their own H5P activities?

      1. Students get to take ownership of their content
      2. They can add the content to their portfolio to demonstrate graduate attibutes
      3. They create activities or assessment questions that you may be able to reuse: it’s a way to understand what type of learning activities they enjoy, too.
      4. Students have fun creating content!

      By doing so, you are changing the learning activity design from one (teacher) to many (students) towards many (students) to many (students), therefore enriching their learning experience.

      How do I set it up?

      1. You build a sub-course (or separate course)

        The sub-course acts as an activity design lab

      2. You give students permissions to create H5P content and add/access content bank from H5P in this subcourse.

      3. You give instructions for the activity in the ‘main’ course page.

      4. The students create H5P activities as directed , in the sub-course which are stored int he content bank.

      5. In the ‘main course’ the students  post the link to their activity into a Glossary or Database or, with ‘embed’ permissions, to a forum.

      Example of setup

      example of setup for activity design to get students to create their own H5P

      Possible peer-review / grading criteria

      • Clarity if content produced
      • Content accuracy
      • Alignment with LO (on topic)
      • Graphic/activity relevance
      • Layout of activity / presentation
      • Accessibility + credits and references (if applicable)
      • Enhances the knowledge/skills of users undertaking the activity
      • Originality / human touch /humour (bonus points?)


      • There are other strategies to setup H5P for students are presented by Lance Roe, from Idaho State University in this document: 

      Roe, L. (2020). H5P Strategies - student driven content creation. Retrieved 8 December 2020, from

      • This Moodle doc page provides further details on using the H5P content bank : 

      Content bank - MoodleDocs. (2020). Retrieved 8 December 2020, from

      • To help support students creating an H5P activity, with on-screen guidance, set up a User Tour!

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 12th, brought to you by Aurelie Soulier from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Aurelie Soulier , eLearning  Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Multiblock

      With the vast array of functionality available in Moodle blocks, it can be very tempting to use them to support the main course materials for students. But too much of a good thing can sometimes be overwhelming, and too many blocks can lead to the infamous 'scroll of death'.

      We present the "Multiblock" plugin, a plugin that allows you to group blocks together to present them in a way that is more intuitive and accessible.

    • A typical course, with a generous amount of blocks:

      A core view of a course with a number of blocks on it, showing the length of scroll that can occur.

      The same course, using a multiblock to present as an accordion:

      A view of a course with a multiblock demonstrating collapsing several conventional blocks together into an accordion.

    • Multiblock presents a variety of layout options for your blocks - meaning that you can use different styles in different ways; accordion for a sidebar, while making use of the side-by-side views available for the main dashboard, giving you considerable creative freedom in what information you can make available in easy-to-get-at ways.

      More examples and screenshots are available from the plugin database entry page.

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 13th, brought to you by Peter Spicer from Catalyst IT Europe.Peter Spicer, Senior Developer / Practice Lead, Catalyst IT Europe

    • Engage your colleagues with virtual workspaces and resource creation tools

      Totara 13 has finally arrived and with it comes Engage - a Learning Experience Platform with a suite of features to facilitate informal learning, team working, and cross-organisation sharing of self-made resources. 

      What can you do with Totara Engage?
      Any user can create a resource that is shareable across the platform to:
        • Report on a recent event they've attended
        • Summarise a course or training programme they've just completed
        • Share Tips and tricks they've picked up from experience
        • Promote a video or article they've found online and wanted to share to a specific audience
        • Build a Knowledge base for a team/department to use to troubleshoot problems
        • Create playlists of content to save and share with others

    • A small knowledge sharing gift  for December 14th brought to you by Sam Taylor from Catalyst IT Europe.

    • Behat testing at Catalyst

      Performing repetitive tasks in order to test a final product is definitely not one of the most exciting activities and therefore, can be quite tedious and prone to error. When it comes to testing the functionality of your site, we look at automation as the best way to increase the performance, efficiency and coverage of software testing while saving valuable time and money. 

      Behat is Catalyst’s choice when it comes to automation testing, a tool which makes behaviour-driven development (BDD) possible. The syntax, called Gherkin, is probably the most appealing part of Behat as a solution. It allows us to write and assemble human-readable test suites and stories which describe the behaviour of your application and can be presented and understood by anyone, whether they are a programmer, a project manager or a client. Additionally, any new functionality or plugins you attach can be automated further through Behat’s ability to add new testing steps derived from code written by developers.

      What parts of your web application should you aim for when using Behat? 

      Tests in Behat, called scenarios are written in feature files (with a .feature extension) and should target anything from high risk functionality and business critical tests to repetitive functionality and time-consuming/complicated tasks.

      We can therefore see a multitude of possible applications and benefits to including automation and Behat in our development workflow. You will be able to repeatedly run your tests as many times as you want without the hassle of manually clicking around the website and with the confidence that Behat will let you know immediately if anything goes wrong.

    • example of Behat script

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 15th, brought to you by David Dinu from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      David Dinu, Catalyst IT Europe

    • Broadcasting your web conference to larger audiences

      Back in this summer, we were faced with planning our regular Mahara day without the usual meet-ups we all enjoy. But the determination was there (spurred on by several well known members of the community) to make it happen anyway. And so began the planning for an online Mahara UK/IE conference day.

      The original plan was to host the conference through BigBlueButton, but with numbers of participants growing rapidly, we decided that we would need a back-up plan. A way to broadcast the presentations should we reach capacity for BBB - We didn't, BBB coped fine with the 90+ users we had on the day, but the provision was put in place anyway and several people did make use of it.

      The principle often holds for teaching sessions outside conferences like ours. Often the requirement is for synchronous interactions that a web conference tool like BBB/Zoom/Teams provides.  Sometimes the requirement is more 'broadcast' focused, maybe with a side channel for text chat and questions, but without the need for mutual web cameras, microphones and high bandwidth interactions. And sometimes you want features that not all web conference tools provide - multiple picture in picture, multiple sound sources, easy switching between sources - and you want or need to do it live rather than post-edited.

      Our solution in the summer was to continue using BigBlueButton as our primary conference tool, but we also streamed the sessions onto YouTube using an app called OBS Studio. This allowed the capture of a BBB screen from a browser, the inputs from audio and both live streaming and recording of the resultant video.

      One hint learned during that conference - if you are broadcasting to larger numbers, don't expect the presenter/lecturer to monitor those side channel chats, whether directly in BBB or in a streamed channel like YouTube. Presenting is a full focus task, and so is monitoring those side channel discussions, whether they need to be responded to in those chats, or raised with the presenter.

      OBS and YouTube as a broadcasting combination, on the other hand was reasonably start/stop and ignore in the middle, once it had been set up in advance. More complicated broadcasts, switching between sources etc, would obviously require someone's attention on that too - again, not the presenter/lecturer!

      Doing online teaching well is no less resource intensive than teaching in person - and can be more so to do it well, so try to make sure you have the support you need to do what you want to do, and make the experience a positive one, both for you as the lecturer and for your students.

    • Big Blue Button conference presentation    

      OBS Studio streaming    

      YouTube Create Streaming Studio

    • A small gift for your remote learning and teaching for December the 16th, brought to you by Richard Oelmann from Catalyst IT Europe.
      Richard Oelmann, Senior Solutions Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Accessibility improvements in Moodle and Mahara

      "Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can: perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web;   contribute to the WebMoodle and Mahara are consistently improving the accessibility of their platforms." ((WAI), 2019)

      Maraha 20.10

      In this latest release, Mahara have increased the base font size. They have made the viewing area of a page wider, removing information overload and maintain responsiveness.

      Mahara also corrected the heading levels so they now follow stricter rules. In the visual editor, you now only have three headings available (level 5 and above) that comply with the heading level structure more closely  to allow screen readers to be working correctly.

      Previous versions accessible features

      • Keyboard-accessible controls and elements, including access to dropdown menus in the main navigation.
      • Descriptive alt text for images and for graphical links.
      • Properly labelled graphical links and controls such as buttons and checkboxes.
      • Use of focus management: in certain pages, focus is moved to the next logical section after the user has activated a specific button or link. This enables users of assistive technology to quickly determine their location in the page and their next step.
      • Text descriptions for screen reader users (extual indicator informing screen reader users about the currently selected tab).   

      You can find out more on the Accessibility page on the Mahara wiki:

      Moodle 3.10

      Moodle's goal is to be fully accessible and usable for all users regardless of ability.

      The Moodle interface is presented as a HTML application developed to comply with the WCAG AA standard for accessibility, either through native HTML controls with correct accessible text descriptions, or through advanced HTML controls that have been developed to comply with the WCAG 2.0 AA.

      Example of controls to support accessibility features:

      • Use CSS for range of use of colours, font size and types
      • Alternative text for images
      • Navigate pages using only a keyboard
      • Interface promotes use of descriptive links
      • Accessibility Checker in the Atto text editor. This scans your content and alerts you to a range of accessibility issues that may be found within the text.

      You can read more about Moodle’s accesibility compliance:

      You can review Moodle’s latest accessibility accreditation certificate on WebKeyIT:

      Accessible content

      With both Moodle and Mahara, the developers can only test built-in pages and the basic structure of courses and portfolio pages. It is up to the users to ensure the content they upload is accessible.

      Other references

    • A small gift for your Moodle and Mahara for December the 17th, brought to you by Aurelie Soulier  from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Aurelie Soulier , eLearning  Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Concordia University Online Exams : E-assessment Solution

      To assist Concordia shift from traditional paper based exams to an online assessment platform, Catalyst delivered an exam delivery platform called, COLE – Concordia OnLine Exams whilst maintain a high level of educational delivery standards.
      (read the full article on Catalyst website:


      As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in Canada and lockdown began in March, Concordia University made the decision to move to online delivery of high stakes exams. This project went from initial discussions to being ready for initial exam delivery in eight weeks..

      Concordia needed a solution to ensure the continuation of high stakes assessment delivery and to finish the academic year on time. A digital assessment solution was a considerable challenge to overcome during the pandemic. Concordia, like other top tier institutions, was still delivering a lot of in-person paper-based exams.

      Concordia needed a reliable and secure online assessment solution, along with a Tier 1 hotline support system during exams.

      Concordia also required assistance with the process of transforming and ingesting the upcoming exams into a digital format to fit the platform.

      Thought process graphic


      Concordia University (CU) is a comprehensive university located in Montreal, the largest city in Québec, Canada. Concordia University is committed to innovation and excellence in education, research, creative activity and community partnerships.

      CU offers 300 undergraduate programmes, 195 graduate programmes, diplomas and certificates, and 40 postgraduate programmes. Its Faculty of Fine Arts is one of the largest in Canada.

      CU supports its 45,000 students and over 2,000 full and part time staff through online learning via its Moodle LMS. As well as maintaining a high level of educational delivery standards, the shift from traditional in-person paper based exams to an online assessment platform was a massive organisational change to manage on an aggressive timeline.


      The Concordia exam delivery platform was launched as COLE – Concordia OnLine Exams.

      COLE prioritises student success with ease of navigation, a user-friendly dashboard and a high level of student exam support services. COLE is the latest addition to the university’s suite online education tools.

      Faculty Benefits

      Using automated grading workflows has many advantages - examinations can be generated faster and more frequently if required. Tutors are able to give much more immediate feedback on examinations and are not required to decipher individual handwriting styles. As not all of the COLE grading is automated, the academic staff are spending their marking time more efficiently.

      Grades are automatically recorded, easier for faculty members working as a team to interact, analyse the student data, and add insights and assessment.

      Institutions are now able to deliver high stakes exams to global candidates as they are not restricted to running an exam in a dedicated physical test location.

      Already being familiar with online learning makes the transition of online assessment a natural progression for students.

      It is also very easy to adapt online assessments to cater for students of all needs. Extra time is can be allocated for students with special considerations/requirements.

      “We’re impressed with its user-friendly design that addresses the needs of students and faculty.”

      Sandra Gabriele, vice-provost of innovation in teaching and learning.

      “In our commitment to providing a secure exam site, COLE has undergone extensive security testing. Any issues that were identified during the testing phase have been resolved. We are ensuring the software stays up to date in order to maintain ongoing security.”

      Students and faculty can easily access the exam site using the same username and password they use to log in to other University systems. Practice tests are available so students and staff can familiarise themselves with the exam process prior to live high-stakes exams.

      COLE features an intuitive user experience. This includes a split-screen function to keep questions in view while answering, an “Unsure” flag for easy review of questions before submission, and autosave of text answers every 15 seconds. There is also a live timer, an equation editor, and a summary page that allows students to review the exam.

      For faculty, COLE eases the role of the teaching corps with options to save time and ease pressure. These feature the division and distribution of grading of work across teaching assistants and professors and an auto-grade function for multiple-choice questions. The majority of final, summative and midterm exams for the summer and winter 2020 terms have and will be administered through COLE. By Oct 2020, 25,000 high stakes exam sittings have been delivered through the COLE, with 30-40 exams taking place each week during busy periods.

      “Faculty have risen to the challenge in quickly transitioning courses and assessments online. We are deeply grateful for their dedication to our students. Their determination and commitment are what make Concordia a special place to work and learn.”

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 18th, brought to you by Laura Hill from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Laura Hill, Catalyst IT Europe

    • Update and convert your H5P activities

      Following on from our earlier Advent Calendar entry making use of H5P, today brings you another Moodle HQ released tool for all those who have been using H5P for some time.

      Many of us have activities in our Moodle sites imported or created using the H5P plugin tool that was commonly used upto Moodle 3.8. With the inclusion of H5P in Moodle core, there is a benefit to bringing those activities into the core tool and the content bank.

      This new plugin gives you both an admin UI and a command line tool to convert your existing H5P plugin activities to core content bank resources. It will scan for non migrated H5P activities and will create any new activities as needed. 

    • H5P migration tool user interface   H5P Migration - command line

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 19th, brought to you by Richard Oelmann from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Richard Oelmann, Senior Solutions Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Top tips on good learning design for improved digital wellbeing

      If you attended our webinar or watched the recording (see day 10) then you would have seen our thoughts we've had on digital wellbeing and how the community has been encouraging it.

      We are in the process of creating a number of resources to support lecturers with designing activities, but wanted to share some tips and ideas to help get you started:

        • Podcast a lesson to listen to on a walk
          Once a week, provide one of your sessions as an audio-only resource, or perhaps encourage a fellow academic to discuss the subject with you and record it. This was students can listen to it through their mobile devices while out on a walk. If you want to provide a transcript (which we absolutely advise) you can use GoogleDocs to 'type with your voice'

        • Sketch your thoughts
          When responding to a task you can ask your students to respond by drawing/sketching/mindmapping their thoughts on paper. This can then be scanned and uploaded to the Moodle Assignment tool. According to Laura Busche "Cognitive psychologists have been studying the impact of sketching on brain functioning for years, and with good reason: Putting ideas to paper is a powerful way to extend one’s memory.". Hand Sketches – Things You Didn’t Know Your Doodles Could Accomplish

        • Set wellbeing reminders throughout your course
          Using labels, you can set restriction and completion rules so they can pop up and set intervals. For example, you can set a reminder to pop up after completing a quiz to go and get a glass of water from the kitchen, or go outside for 5 mins for fresh air

        •  Make groupwork matter
          Some feedback we received was that groupwork was very much appreciated by students, however to be fully effective there needs to be some further considerations:
          • Allow the groups to work together for longer. This gives learners a change to build a proper relationship with their peers
          • Make groupwork task-orientated. Give them a problem to solve, and enough time to discuss strategies and solutions
          • Give them tools to facilitate this too! Put them in Moodle groups and let them have their own group chat in the Moodle messaging system, forum, wiki etc

        • Identify live vs asynchronous learning opportunities
          You've survived having to move your lectures to Zoom/BigBlueButton/Teams etc, now it's time to think about how to perhaps flip the balance so learning can take place prior to your live sessions, so that the time could be better spent on answer questions, going deeper into the subject matter. this makes learning more flexible, especially in times when illness is a very real prospect, having to study and work at home with other members of your household present, or maybe having to share a computer with siblings/parents.  If you haven't already looked into flipped learning, now is the time!

        • Structuring content for reduced cognitive load
          Some really great learning design advice would be to adhere to the following:
          • Make your structure clear in your Moodle course using topic headings 
          • Identify how long each activity will probably take
          • Chunk up content so that students can schedule time for them. For example, videos should be 5-7 mins
          • Use a mix of passive and active engagement (with breathing space in between!)
          • Give students chances to respond - leaning is a multi-way-way conversation between teachers, students and their peers.

      Further reading:

      Just also wanted to share this from Enhancing Digital Teaching & Learning in Irish Universities teamwhich I think is a fantastic resource:

      See more
    • A small knowledge sharing gift  for December 20th brought to you by Sam Taylor from Catalyst IT Europe.

    • Autism Swim achieve a different global stroke with Catalyst and Totara Learning


      Autism Swim (AS) supports around 1200 learners across 15 countries worldwide. The learners are from a range of different aquatic disciplines, including occupational therapists, swimming teachers and surfing teachers.

      Autism Swim is an award-winning international charity with a mission to change the hugely under-reported drowning statistics for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and to make aquatics inclusive. By certifying aquatic professionals around the world as Autism Swim Approved, they mitigate the risks associated with drowning for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). They aim to have a significant impact on lowering the alarming statistics. For children with ASD, any aquatic based recreation will enrich their health, well-being and quality of daily life.

      Children with autism are often naturally inquisitive and nearly half of all children with autism wander into dangerous water situations. There are many reasons why they find joining in normal lessons difficult and challenging. For those children living close to the coast, swimming is an important part of their country's outdoor culture. It is important for many parents to help their children embrace aquatic recreation, and enjoy the restorative and calming values of water, whilst balancing their responsibility of care and assessing risk.


      When Autism Swim made the decision to digitise their content in October 2018, it was paramount that there were specific certification requirements each learner had to undertake. This included training modules and the distribution of monthly resources, in addition to three-monthly quizzes.

      The goal was to develop an easy to navigate and engaging learning experience which encompassed all certification elements, catered to different learning styles, and would ‘drip feed’ new content on a regular basis; keeping in mind that many of their learners had very little, or no online learning experience.


      Catalyst helped AS customise their Totara LMS platform to meet certification requirements and specific customer needs. Catalyst advised AS that in order to reach maximum engagement from learners, the dashboard needed to be streamlined. The feedback on this change was very positive.

      Autism Swim applied HR import and manual method to create accounts on the LMS platform. Learners receive an automated email when their account is created. They log-in to review a customised dashboard, where they access the currently available course modules.

      AS takes advantage of Totara’s dynamic audiences to enroll learners onto their respective courses (audiences use course completion data, positional and organisational framework for assignment submission).

      There are two types of courses on the platform, Training Modules and Resources and Quizzes (the structure is repeated yearly). Training modules include a set of SCORM package activities, when all are completed the learner can print out the completion certificate and advance to the resources and quizzes course. In the Resources & Quizzes course we use Catalyst’s re-engagement plugin to release content monthly (after a delay of x weeks and therefore releasing content every month). The content comprises of a set of different resources (PDFs, images, videos) which users interact with. Learners have three monthly mandatory quizzes to complete.

      To assess knowledge retention AS uses a set of quiz activities (either embedded within the SCORM modules, or as an individual Quiz activity within a course). An 80% correct answer result is required to successfully complete a quiz.

      Totara also delivers certificates for trainers based on the level they achieve.

      Catalyst and AS also collaborated to built a custom report, helping to track users who do not yet satisfy all of the certification criteria. These reports pull data from different sources, and allow users and AS team members the best view of where people are at in their certification journey.

      AS is using scheduled course completion reports, which are sent to relevant stakeholders (generally leaders or managers of the organisations that sign up with them).

      'Being open source, the Totara platform has great community support resource. We interact regularly with the different forums online. Catalyst’s support has been rapid and responsive during the continuous version upgrade process of our LMS. We have reliable on-going LMS support giving assurance and peace of mind, as all security and functionality improvements are added quickly to our instance'. Marko Kovacevic, LMS Manager, Autism Swim


      AS always wanted to expand and grow and now more than ever, they can do this on a global scale with the power of online learning toolsets. Catalyst and the Totara LMS platform has ensured a truly scalable solution. Within a few months of launching, Autism Swim expanded into Malaysia and are now operating in 15 countries. AS learners can access consistent content anywhere, anytime.   

      The online learning programme has many measurable benefits. It has removed time and logistic constraints imposed by traditional classroom training. AS no longer faces the challenges of instructor availability, and trying to manage inflexible schedules. It has significantly increased the accessibility of their certification courses. A centralised LMS training programme is a powerful analytical tool. It means they can create and modify courses for all their learners globally. In addition, they can collate and analyse data from their users to improve or modify courses.

      AS now has the capability to cater to different learning styles, and due to the nature of the organisation, the amount of impact they have worldwide.

      Autism Swim is now delivering courses for 1,200 learners, teaching groups of 12 participants each week – that’s over 14,000 children learning to enjoy the water safely, giving peace of mind to thousands of families and an improved quality of life for all.

      'Autism Swim is the only certification body in the world specific to autism and aquatics, and our Totara platform has been the catalyst to our expansion over the last 2-3 years. We are beyond grateful to Georgina and the Catalyst crew for creating such a solid and scalable solution to our needs'.

      Erika Gleeson, Founder/CEO of Autism Swim
      Autism Swim

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 21st, brought to you by Laura Hill from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Laura Hill, Catalyst IT Europe

    • All I want for Christmas is the cloud

      We understand how complex and challenging forming a cloud strategy can be, and often the number one consideration will be cost. Moving from a traditional hosting setup to a variable and pay-as-you-go costing model presents significant challenges and can often feel like a large and unquantifiable question to answer. That’s where the AWS calculator and the Total Cost of Ownership approach can help. You can find the AWS calculator at the link below and this can be configured to shed some light on on this most pressing of questions.

      We also recognise that without context or prior benchmarking and experience it is impossible to build a realistic calculation. We can help, with a short chat and some consideration of basic traffic statistics for your site, Catalyst are able to deliver you a fully costed AWS cloud estimate. You can get in touch with us via our contact us page (at location) to build your estimate now.

    • AWS Calculator   AWS Calculator

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 22nd, brought to you by Joey Murison from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Joey Murison, Catalyst-EU General Manager

    • Moodle Overflow

      Have you ever needed a straightforward Q&A forum, one which doesn't restrict the thread by time, but allows users to promote responses based on how useful they are?

      Well, Moodle Overflow may be your answer.

      It provides a question and answer format similar to Stack Overflow. Replies are shown in a non-chronological order, where they are promoted according to the number of vote points they are given. Those vote points can be awarded by other users upvoting the response, by the original questioner marking the response as helpful, or by the course teacher marking it as a solution. Those voting points also accumulate for the users themselves, to build a reputation score, similar to that used in Stack Overflow, which can be displayed alongside the user's name in the forum.

      This plugin has uses in the classroom, enabling a co-created resource which can be moderated (solutions marked correct) by the tutor, and also for support teams, creating a user self-help question and answer bank.

      Moodle overflow example screenshot

      The one caveat for this plugin is the apparent current lack of mobile support, which is noted in the comments section of the plugins database entry.

      This plugin is developed by Learnweb – University of Münster and can be downloaded from the Moodle Plugins database

    • A small gift for your Moodle for December the 23rd, brought to you by Richard Oelmann from Catalyst IT Europe. 
      Richard Oelmann, Senior Solutions Consultant, Catalyst Europe

    • Learn more about the Moodle Educator Certificate (MEC)

      The Moodle Educator Certification Program is a training and certification program developed by Moodle HQ and delivered by certified Catalyst IT Europe Facilitators. It is designed to improve online and blended teaching with Moodle, using the European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators (DigCompEdu) as inspiration for its content.

      Image source:

      What is covered:

      Aimed at educators and learning technologists, the program consists of the following 6 courses:

        • Professional engagement - How do you stay relevant and interact with peers?

        • Digital resources - How do you source, create and share resources?

        • Teaching and Learning  - How do you ensure your learners understand the subject matter?

        • Assessment - How do you assess and feedback to your learners?

        • Empowering learners - How do you engage and motivate your learners?

        • Facilitating learners’ digital competence - How do you encourage your learners to hone their digital skills?

      The assessed tasks are really good opportunities to reflect on your current and past practice and think about what changes you can make in the future to increase your competency. They ask questions such as: How could you help others in each scenario? and When have you encountered this scenario and how did you proceed?

      If you think you'd like to become a certified Moodle then follow the link below for information on when our next cohort starts, prices and how to register.

    • A small introduction to a great programme for December 24th brought to you by our very own MEC Facilitator Sam Taylor from Catalyst IT Europe.

    • Photo by Євгенія Височина on Unsplash

      A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all and thank you for being part of our Christmas Advent Calendar, trying to bring a little bit of joy, every day. We wish you a great start to 2021 and hope to hear from you soon.
      We enjoyed spreading our seasonal cheer so much we want to giveaway something for you in 2021.

      Choose one of three prizes to enter below by the 11th January 2021, 10:00 to be in with a chance to win either:

      • FREE ½ day’s consultation with one of our e-learning and analytics experts

      • FREE 1 day’s load testing consulting exercise

      • ½ PRICE MEC place

    • URL icon
      Enter your details here before the 8th January! URL
      Available until 11 January 2021, 12:00 PM
    • Winners will be drawn on 11th January 2021 and contacted by 15th January 2021.

      Get in touch in 2021 for discussions on how it can improve your learning, teaching and assessment practice: