Backing Up Moodle Course Materials

Last week we posted a note describing how to export grade book data from Moodle to Excel. Today I’m going a slightly different direction – backing up any or all of the resources and activities in your Moodle course. The backup file you’ll wind up with can be restored into another course on any Moodle server. Please note that the Teacher role doesn’t have enough access to include student data in your backup file. Click on an image if you’d like to view it a bit larger:

Moodle course backup step 1
Find the “Backup” link under Course Administration.
Moodle course backup step 2
Click “Next”.
Moodle course backup step 3
Select any or all of the resources and activities in your course, then click “Next”.
Moodle course backup step 4
Click “Perform Backup”.
Moodle course backup step 5
Click “Continue”.
Moodle course backup step 6
Click “Download” to save a copy of your backup file to your computer’s hard drive.


Backing up Moodle grades

What would happen if our campus internet connection went down for a few days? Or if the Moodle server crashed? One of the scariest consequences would be the loss of student grade data. Thankfully it is very easy to export a Moodle grade book, turning it into an Excel spreadsheet. Click on an image if you’d like to view it a bit larger:

Moodle grade export step 1
From the Grader Report (the standard view for Teachers), choose the Export tab.
Moodle grade export step 2
Click the link to choose “Excel Spreadsheet”, then click Submit.
Moodle grade export step 3
Finally, click the Download button. Now you’ve got a copy of grade data that can be saved or printed!



Are We Training Our Students to be Robots?

I recently came across this excellent article by danah boyd which highlights the tensions surrounding technology in education:

From crayons to compasses, we’ve learned to incorporate all sorts of different tools into our lives and educational practices. Why, then, do computing and networked devices consistently stump us? Why do we imagine technology to be our educational savior, but also the demon undermining learning through distraction? Why are we so unable to see it as a tool whose value is most notably discovered situated in its context?

You can find more of danah’s work on her personal website.

Password Confessions

According to most sources, incomprehensible passwords that look like the result of a cat walking on the keyboard are the most secure. These passwords, because they do not contain allusions to the language of their human users (“no dictionary words!”), seem impersonal but do the best security work. I’ve recently started using a password manager because the number of passwords I’m asked to manage is too much. I can’t remember any of them, and it feels like I’m handing over part of my life to a computer. Nevertheless, info security is important so I concede.

I wondered if this is why some people are reluctant to change their passwords. Like a personalized desktop wallpaper, font settings, and other customizations to our digital environments, our passwords allow a little humanity into our otherwise cold, impersonal digital existence.

I thought about the first password I ever generated on my own. In the late 1990s, when an AOL trial disc came in the mail almost every day, I entered a username that would tell the world who I was in 10 characters. But the password–that was just for me. A secret code to unlock the cyber version of my life. Imbued with such gravity, “bnl11237” represented everything that was important to 15 year old me. “bnl” stood for Barenaked Ladies, my favorite music group (as true today as it was then!), and “11237” is the zip code for Brooklyn, NY, home to my favorite character in Newsies, a film that consumed all of my free time. Laugh if you will, but what does your password say about you? Do you use the name of your favorite vacation spot? The number of children you have? The name of an old car or street you used to live on?

Another of my former passwords  relates to a family anecdote. When she was young, my mother’s aunt refused to wear glasses, so she memorized the optometrist’s eye chart to make it seem like she could see all the letters. Every time I type it, I’m reminded of my family, and the mix of numbers and letters just happens to make a great password base.

Ian Urbina wrote about the secret life of passwords for a heart-wrenching, thought-provoking New York Times piece. When you change your password from something personal, it may feel like you’re betraying that part of your life. I know I felt that way when I gave up “bnl11237.” If you’re not ready to give up on the personal password yet, try to make your existing password more secure by replacing letters with uppercase letters, numbers, or symbols. You can also use a sentence that means something to you to create what looks like a random selection of letters. Here’s an example:

Meaningful to me: “My two year old son [his name] loves trains and trucks”

Password Translation: m2yosDlt&t!

Changing your passwords can be a tedious chore, but you don’t have to give up on what makes your life meaningful. Strong passwords can be special too!

Expanding and Contracting in Moodle’s grader report

Most teachers who use Moodle course pages are familiar with the grader report. It is the default view for teachers who click “Grades” in the administration block. There is one thing that can be a confusing, though – the expand/contract icons are a bit weird. If you see a minus sign (-) the category is expanded fully. You can see the details as well as the totals column. If you see a plus sign (+) you’ll see just the totals, with individual details hidden. Then there is a third toggle  similar to greater/less than symbols (<>). This one shows you the individual detail but hides the totals for that particular category. I’ve illustrated all three options below:



I’m not really sure why Moodle felt the need to use an expand/contract interface that adds a third toggle. It might be useful but when there is already a well understood convention that uses + and – users are going to be confused.

Top 5 Icons of Web 2.0

20th century technology (via Rick Lindquist)
20th century technology (via Rick Lindquist)

When was the last time you used a floppy disk to save your work? For most people, the answer would be in the ballpark of “at least 20 years ago!” Floppy disks eventually gave way to storage devices like portable external hard drives, USB flash drives, memory cards. Now, the popularity of cloud computing makes saving work to devices seem like a quaint habit relegated to 20th century history. Yet, in every training session I have ever held, I do not need to explain what to click to save work. We all recognize the “Save” icon.

Semioticians argue that it doesn’t matter what sign we attribute to something as long as we all agree on what it refers to. That’s why it doesn’t really matter that very few people have used a floppy disk in the past 20 years–applications keep using it because it has been accepted as a universal sign for “Save.”

There are certain icons whose repeated use in the applications we know and love mean that when we learn new apps, we can be reasonably guess the icon carries out the same function. The floppy-disk-Save-icon in Microsoft Word does the same thing in Excel as it does in Adobe Reader. However, with the capabilities built in to cloud-based apps and services, learning a new set of signs takes some getting used to. Many people know that clicking a paperclip icon allows you to attach a document, and a garbage can icon means “Trash” or delete. Some Web 2.0 icons (especially those without reference to an actual object) require a little more getting used to, but the good news is that a little recognition can help you learn new apps quickly since you know what to look for.

Here are 5 common icons used across internet-based services. Learn them and go confidently in the direction of the cloud!

Pencil-as-edit icon

Pencil icon as seen on Facebook.

In many web-based apps or cloud-based services, changes to editable regions can be made directly on a page. Examples include Facebook profiles and Moodle pages.

Mechanics-as-settings icon



Mac users may recognize the gear icon as a way to access Settings, and this icon is also used by countless apps (including Google!) as a way to access info or settings. A related alternative to the gear is a toolset (usually a hammer and screwdriver). But if it helps, icons that invoke work or industry usually have something to do with settings.

Triangle-as-menu-expansion icon

How many menus are hidden on this page?
How many menus are hidden on this page?

If Google is notorious for anything, it’s hiding menus and options. Often, these menus can be accessed by clicking on an arrow icon. Depending on which way the arrow faces, it means you can access a hidden menu by clicking to expand (pointing left) or collapse an open menu (pointing down).

Three-dots-as-menu-expansion icon

Three dots after “Open”

You may be used to seeing three dots as part of menu text. Three dots means that when you click there, another menu or dialog box will prompt you for more information.

If you see an icon with three vertical dots, it functions the same way–something else is going to happen. This is another hallmark of a Google product



Down-arrow-as-download icon

Going down(load)
Going down(load)

If you see this icon next to something you don’t want on your computer, don’t click it! The down arrow, sometimes with a horizontal line underneath and sometimes not, prompts a file download. Most of the time (like when you’re using Google Drive), downloading a file is okay. But make sure you know what you’re downloading before you click!





Book Review: Pogue’s Basics

Pogue’s Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) for Simplifying the Technology in Your Life
By David Pogue
Buy: $19.99 print, $9.99 e-book (via Amazon)
Borrow: not widely available via i-Share, but Bloomington Public Library holds a copy

Did you know that the spacebar allows you to scroll one page at a time in any web browser? I didn’t know that until I read popular technology journalist David Pogue’s new book Pogue’s Basics. As an avid keyboard shortcut user I probably should have known the spacebar trick, but my ignorance takes a step in the direction of proving Pogue’s main thesis: we all have a lot to learn about technology because the average user does not receive explicit instruction on how to use their machines, software, and devices. Learning a new technology takes time. Since the average shelf life of the latest version or model is limited, it’s just not worth it to read the manual. Pogue then argues that the rapid pace of technological change requires new features and options so that consumers will buy into  21st century techy folk wisdom like “new every two.” Keeping users clueless about their technology is the best way to profit so tech companies have no interest in teaching you how to use their products effectively.

This *tiny* icon at the top of a vertical scroll bar splits the screen.
Click and drag to split a screen.

Pogue has collected some of the most useful shortcuts, tricks, and concepts that can help the average “non-technician” function in an increasingly digital world. The book begins with a short introduction and a vocabulary list (did you know Apple made up the word iOS?), and then breaks down his Basics into four parts: “Your Gadgets,” “The Computer,” “The Internet,” and “Social Networks.” Although Pogue has written focused user manuals in the past, this book is about short explanations of tech solutions you can incorporate into your daily life right away. In fact, I just practiced splitting the screen in Word and Excel.

As my own anecdotal evidence shows, even seasoned techies could learn at least one trick from Pogue’s book. It’s easy to flip through and is clearly organized. But the book’s ease of use is its real genius—it’s a print book about digital environments. People who need help using their devices may not know how to find the same information he presents through digital search techniques (e.g. CTRL/cmd+F), but feel very comfortable finding information in analog devices like books (table of contents, index, etc.). Though it may seem counterintuitive, this presentation allows readers/users to bridge what they already know about technology into new ways of reading and interpreting information.

Despite my praise for Pogue’s Basics, I hesitate recommending the print version for purchase. Here, Pogue falls on his own pixelated sword. He admits in the introduction that software versions he discusses may already be outdated, and then offers several different tips on how to access free tech support and learning opportunities online. There’s nothing in Pogue’s Basics that couldn’t be found with a Google search, and the ever-changing nature of technology means that it will eventually languish on your bookshelf alongside a Windows 95 user’s manual. Still, I recommend checking out Pogue’s Basics for the easy confidence that comes with mastering even a tiny corner of your digital domain. You can be a hero the next time someone’s phone takes a water bath (hint: head to the kitchen).


new leaf

So I’m trying something new. I’m archiving all mail that isn’t starred. INBOX ZERO here I come!

One silly tech note. In Gmail you can use the selector box to select “All”. But it defaults to all currently displayed messages. A tiny yellow bar comes up with an option to select ALL your conversations. However I discovered this yellow prompt does not come up if you have opted to use Priority Inbox! I had to switch to Classic Inbox temporarily to get these archived in bulk.

So yeah, I’ll let you know how it goes.

[Edit: The Inbox Zero gambit has proven to be impractical. I still periodically archive everything, maybe monthly, but on a day-to-day basis I have failed in my efforts.]