Learning Technology

Anonymous forums in Moodle

February 15th, 2019

We are occasionally asked about how staff can set up anonymous forums in Moodle.

At the time of writing there is no official anonymous forum in Moodle. The Moodle space is designed to be, like the classroom, a safe learning community where students feel OK to speak, and there are ways to build that type of community online should you wish to know more.  To some extent it is better to train students to be confident to ask questions – and even to facilitate each other in asking questions.  This will substantially support their learning. And after all, they will not be anonymous in the workplace.  One route to this is:

  • Put the answers to emailed questions on a forum so they have to look there, they don’t get an email back
  • Facilitate students putting their questions in the forum / or in an FAQ
  • Make the instructions clear, design the activity carefully to promote participation, and encourage posting whenever possible
  • Answer only in the forum/FAQ

Having said that – and there is evidence to support the use of both anonymous and named forums – there are still occasions where anonymous responses are useful.

In Moodle you can set up a Database activity in which, while staff can see who has posed questions, you can exclude the student name for view by other students. You can also use the FAQ (done via the Glossary tool) where students can add Questions and you can edit and add answers which all can see.  If you would like to try any of these please let us know and we can point you at some examples.

Example of a Database resource used for anonymous questions

Anonymous Database

Example of a Glossary resource used for anonymous FAQ

You can also use Office365 to set up forms on which students can submit anonymous feedback, but this would need to be transcribed in some way and put into Moodle manually.

One genuinely anonymous activity in Moodle is Feedback, however neither the questions nor the answers can be made visible to other students. It’s a questionnaire which can compile responses for you, and which can be set up to be completely anonymous even to users with the highest level of permissions in Moodle. To share the answers you would need to copy and paste them into a visible activity or resource.

Anonymous Feedback

The Learning Technology Team have also looked at various Moodle plugins which allow anonymous forums or questions: however, such plugins are often not appropriate in our Moodle installation – it’s one of the largest in the world, which brings its own issues. For example, many of the advertised solutions use one single Anonymous account for all anonymous posts. In a University the size of ours (we currently have 66,200 active users), the number of people using it would soon crash a single account!

We are still looking at possibilities and hope to have more options in due course.

There are alternative external third-party tools of various kinds which are a replacement for forums and/or allow students to post anonymously.  It rarely encourages participation, if students are reluctant, to send them to an outside third party site where they have to create yet another account.  Usually, even if integrations are offered with the VLE (Moodle), then they don’t offer much more than existing forums, except for the anonymous possibility.  It should be borne in mind that:

  • posts on external websites are not kept on University systems for later review and record-keeping
  • such websites and services can disappear at any time (we are speaking from bitter experience!)
  • they may not be usable on our China campus or in other countries from where our global community of students access our resources
  • it is your responsibility to ensure that the systems are GDPR-compliant and secure.

Whatever you do, it is certainly the case that just setting up a space will not necessarily encourage students to participate. If you build it they won’t just come. They need to be guided and motivated to do so. And that’s where we can help, for example, see our Online Facilitation and Designing for Engagement course, itself online over two weeks (https://training.nottingham.ac.uk/Guests/GuestCourse.aspx?CourseRef=ONLINETEACH&dates= ).

Working online more comfortably #3: More accessible ways to use Turnitin Feedback Studio

February 5th, 2019

The Turnitin HelpDesk passed onto me a good tip for those who prefer or need a larger font when creating or reading Bubble comments and general feedback in Feedback Studio.

First open Notepad and paste into it the following code:

<font size=”+2″>Test</font>

Keep Notepad open

When marking, each time you create a new bubble comment. copy and paste that code into it. Then delete the word Test and type whatever you wish. The text will stay large as you type. If you need it even larger, use “+3″ or more.

The same trick works in the Text Comments box.

Hopefully this might help some of those who find it a strain on their eyes to do online marking.

All posts in this series:

Word counts and Turnitin

January 22nd, 2019

We are often asked about Turnitin Word counts. Turnitin states that they use a word counting algorithm very similar to that of Microsoft Word but not identical.   Turnitin does not count the words in text boxes, footnotes, and end-notes since these are not included by default.  For example, if the whole paper (e.g., a form) is in a text box, it may be rejected because the word count is too low. The counts in Word and PDF versions of the same document may result in slightly different word counts.

The main point of the word count within Turnitin as its primary function is not to make sure a document is within an assignment target but as a tool to indicate where words are “hidden” from the software.

However it is neither Word nor Turnitin word counts which are important: what counts is the method the School approves for word counting. They may include end-notes but not references, for example. They may exclude text in tables – but they may not.

Particularly where there are penalties for going over the maximum word count, it needs to be made clear what is included and excluded in the word count.

In Turnitin there isn’t a way to get a quick report of word counts without opening submissions. Check word counts as you mark, or  open an assignment and then use the arrows within Feedback Studio to quickly move between papers. The word count shows at the bottom of each screen so you can flick through. (You will rarely start at 1 so note where you started so you can go backwards and forwards.)

Turnitin word count

Further information

UCL on Word Count (with an example of the potential differences)

Info from University of Brighton  (again with illustration)



Working online more comfortably #2: What can you do if you’re struggling to read text on the screen?

January 18th, 2019

Sally Hanford writes: We spend an increasing amount of time looking at screens and there is an expectation that processes that were previously carried out on paper will be transferred online in the future.  Many people struggle to read text on screen for prolonged periods of time for various reasons and this can become a serious issue.

Even if this is not a problem for you at the moment, at some point in the future you may find yourself needing to adjust how you work or the technology you use as a result of issues arising from prolonged periods spent reading from a computer screen.

This blog post suggests adjustments that you can make to ensure that the time you spend looking at a screen is more comfortable for you.

In the first instance, take a look at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) webpage ‘Working safely with Display Screen Equipment‘ and if you are an employee of the University of Nottingham and have not done so already, complete the DSE checklist and the Safety office training.

Take regular breaks
Try to break up long periods at the computer with different tasks as much as you can. Try to take a couple of minutes break every 30 minutes and at least 15 minutes break every 1.5 hours

Your screen
A larger screen and/or multiple screens can help. Importantly, screens must to be set up and adjusted correctly. If you’re unsure if yours is, contact your local IT support team for advice.

Your environment
Glare from lights or from a window can be problematic. Be aware of your environment and experiment with changes that might help you feel more comfortable looking at the screen.

For prolonged use of your laptop, use a docking station. Using a separate screen, keyboard and mouse will generally help.

Browser adjustments
On the web (including the moodle website), you can increase or reduce the text size by using your browser’s zoom function. Our accessibility page details how to do this.

If the colours that are used make text difficult to read, you can change these settings in your web browser too. The Web Accessibility Initiative provides detailed instructions for each browser.  (See our previous post in this series for the Chrome options:  Working online more comfortably #1: Accessibility options in Chrome)

Operating system tools
In Windows there are ‘Ease of Access‘  options that enable narration (the text on screen is read out to you), magnifier (an on-screen magnifying glass), high contrast setting and on-screen keyboard. There are similar tools in Mac OS.

Software features
In MS Office (Word, Outlook and OneNote) you can use the immersive reader. With Immersive Reader you can choose to hear the text read out loud. It also includes tools for changing the spacing of lines and words to make them easier to read and to highlight parts of speech and syllables. Line Focus lets you narrow the focus of your attention by highlighting sets of one, three, or five lines.


If you are marking on screen using Turnitin, there is a zoom option (bottom right) when you are marking and providing feedback so that you can increase the text size of the submitted document.

Quickmarks let you create pre-set comments that you can simply drag onto the submitted document to annotate it which reduces the number of times you have to type the same thing.  The feedback tool also lets you easily make in line comments, highlight text and provide audio feedback without having to download the submitted work. There is also an iPad/iPhone app for marking offline, providing greater flexibility for working location.

Moodle Assignment
If you are marking on screen using moodle assignment, after downloading the student submissions, if you wish you can use a device with a pen (for example the MS Surface) to annotate directly onto the document.   Or you can annotate with Track Changes in Word, or a PDF annotation program, and use whatever tools make this easier for you.

By using Moodle Assignment, after you have finished marking you can upload the documents you’ve been working on, as feedback. You can do this individually or in bulk.

This is also likely to be useful to you if you’re marking non-text based coursework (for example submitted work that includes mathematical notation or diagrams).

Sally Hanford

All posts in this series:

Working online more comfortably #1: Accessibility options in Chrome

January 15th, 2019

Accessibility can be an issue for both students and staff using Moodle. If you are spending hours studying or marking online, then you want it to be as comfortable as possible.

If you’re using the Chrome browser then you can add Accessibility extensions to the browser that you’re using to allow you to customise it to suit you.

While using Chrome, visit the Chrome web store accessibility collection

For example, to use the High Contrast extension select Add to Chrome next to High Contrast then Add extension

You have the choice within the High Contrast extension of a number of options e.g., Yellow on black or Inverted colour and you can disable it if you don’t need it.

Hopefully that will make working online more comfortable.

Other options for accessibility are available for other browsers.

All posts in this series:

Moodle messaging

January 4th, 2019

If you see this red flag next to your name at the top right of your Moodle page it means you have a message that you haven’t read. In Moodle, users can send messages to one another – like a sort of text message or Whatsapp – but people often ignore the notifications when one is received.

You usually get an email when a new message is posted. And you may be reading the content in the email. However, it’s still a good idea to glance at it in Moodle, just to check off that you’ve seen it.

Sending a message
If you’re sending a message to students, note that there is little context in this message (unlike in Announcements emails). It’s more like a text message or other messaging app.

So if you’re alerting students to something related to your course, make sure you include enough information, and sign off with your name.

It’s really important to keep an eye on your notifications, as there could be advice on assignments, urgent news from a module, or personal queries from students and staff.

More on Moodle messaging:

Moodle & Rogo cutover makes for a Happy Christmas…

December 21st, 2018

Following the recent updates, Moodle/Rogo are now back in place. We have now cutover from SATURN to Campus Solutions data. This means:

  • New Campus Solutions module codes are now in the main titles of modules in Moodle with the old SATURN codes in brackets at the end of the title. This is only for 18-19 modules – nothing earlier has been changed.  For example:
    • Past Futures: Britain and the West After 1945 (HIST4058 UNUK) (AUT1 18-19) (V145RV)
  • We are manually working through the titles of parent modules and this is almost complete.
  • Rogo codes have also been updated.
  • Student IDs have been updated so are now in Campus format not SATURN format. We have updated any conditional resources for 18-19 based on Student ID.

A Happy Christmas from us, or compliments of whatever season you celebrate, to all our readers.

How to delete a QuickMark from a set (Turnitin Feedback Studio)

December 4th, 2018

Sometimes you can end up with a number of QuickMarks in the set you normally use that have become too cumbersome and you want to slim them down.

The first thing I would do is to create your own QuickMark set, rather than using the pre-created ones. You can duplicate the original set and then edit it for yourself. Later you can share it with other markers if you wish.

To delete a QuickMark from a set:

1. Open the set, from within a submission.

2. Click the cogwheel

Select the QuickMark you want to remove (in the example below, ‘Inappropriate choice’) and click the – sign to remove from set.

New dates for Key Moodle Basics Training

September 21st, 2018

New dates have been arranged for Key Moodle Basics training courses – all on University Park this time

Friday 28th September     1-3 pm

Wednesday 17th October     2-4 pm

Wednesday 14th November     2-4 pm

Please book here

Eight ways that two monitors make your life easier

September 18th, 2018

More and more University staff are acquiring two display screens. If you can get an extra one, the bigger the better, and you can use them to save time and increase your productivity in a number of ways, especially when marking online. Here are 8 of them:

  1. Have your module’s Moodle page open in a window on one monitor, and the marking page, eg Feedback Studio, in the other.
  2. It’s easy to refer to Help files or videos and keep them open while following the steps in another window..
  3. Have your marking page open in one window and Word in the other, either for a personal rubric or notes or a spreadsheet.
  4. Open the assignment in Word if you prefer to read in that, and make general comments in the other window, rather than using annotation.
  5. If you use a rubric in Feedback Studio: you can pop out the rubric to see it in its entirety which is useful for marking.
  6. Useful for second marking: e.g., you can have a webinar window open (or Skype) and view the papers at the same time as you discuss them.
  7. When updating your module for the coming academic year – you can have last year’s and this year’s open in separate windows: tip, have the old one on the left and the new one the right so you always remember to update the correct one!
  8. Have Word or Xerte Toolkits open at the same time as Moodle
  • to create resources
  • to create a Module Handbook