Moodle Settings & Site Setup

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Summary: There is no magic formula for setting up a Moodle course website that will be 100% accessible for 100% of students. However, you can maximize accessibility and usability in your course site overall.

 

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Believe it or not the  most significant set of decisions you’ll need to make are the Course Settings (Administration > Course Settings). The options you choose here will have significant impact on your students’ experience of your course website. This article discusses ways to configure your Moodle site for maximum accessibility and usability.

Course summary

A course summary is a short description of a course that is displayed on the course listings page and optionally in a course summary block, While it is optional, and will cause no major issues if not created, a course summary can be potentially useful to students in locating your course among many course sites on their Moodle home page.

Course formats

There’s a separate article about Moodle course formats.

Number of sections

You should make sure to only have the number of sections that you plan to use in your course. The default number is 16.

For example, if you’re teaching an 8-week summer course and will use one section per week, change this number to 8. If you leave unused sections on your course page, ensure that you select the option “hidden sections are completely invisible," so that students are not distracted or confused, thinking they are missing some information. 

Course layout

The Topics and Weekly formats allow you the additional option of deciding whether you would like to display all the sections on one page or show one section per page (resulting in the student having to navigate to subsequent sections using the arrow keys or buttons on the page). 

Showing all sections on one page results in a longer scroll, sometimes called the “scroll of death” (which doesn’t have to be the case; see the reMoodle framework and related design strategies). This setting allows students to scan the entire page to find the section they’re looking for, and allows them to do a page search (control + F or command + F) for key terms.

Showing one section per page gives the Moodle home page a more compact look but inhibits students’ ability to perform a page search and can result in inconsistent navigation between sections. For these reasons, we recommend showing all sections on one page for most use cases when using Topics or Weekly formats.

Appearance

The options in the Appearance section have little bearing on the accessibility of your Moodle site, though you can improve the usability of your course site by making sure students can view their grades and their own activity reports. 

Completion tracking

Completion tracking can be a useful tool to help users visually track their progress through a course. There are two configuration options:

  • manual completion where the student can check the box next to the item when they're done, and
  • auto completion, where Moodle indicates to the student when criteria have been met. 

In a large (n=600) self-report unpublished study, students expressed appreciation for the completion tracking feature, which they said helped them keep track of items on the Moodle page. This functionality poses no accessibility issues. 

Aside from providing "student-checkable" completion check boxes next to content, Moodle also can display the Progress Bar and Course Completion side blocks (which aren’t fully accessible, see below). These blocks are updated when a piece of content is marked as completed and can serve as a compact way for students to track their progress. 

Groups

Please write a paragraph explaining how enabling groups affects accessibility, if at all. Groups don’t cause accessibility problems and in some cases can improve accessibility. For example, limiting visibility of content using the Separate Groups function can make it easier for students to find the content that only pertains to their group (though, conversely, there may be pedagogical reasons you’d want to use Visible Groups). 

Progress bar

The Progress Bar is an HTML block that can be added to your course site via the “Add a block” tool on the main page of your course website. If you use this activity, be sure to choose the option to display icons in the bar, because otherwise the bar will only display progress information in terms of red and green, making the activity inaccessible to people with color blindness. Here is a screenshot of what the progress bar looks like when both the icons are enabled:

This setting follows best practice for color and contrast which advises that color never be the sole means of presenting information on screen. It should be noted that the progress bar is not fully accessible to students that use only a keyboard or a screen reader to navigate, as a mouse is needed to interact with the bar. 

Side blocks

All side blocks contain skip links and are easy to access via keyboard navigation. However, screen readers sometimes do not recognize every link in the sidebar. (screen reader side block issue). Students should not encounter this issue if they are using Firefox.

Additionally, you should order side blocks in their order of importance from top to bottom, as users are more likely to look at side blocks placed near the top of the page. The Navigation side block should remain consistently at the top left of all pages in your Moodle site, as this block is useful for keyboard only and screen reader users and would be more difficult to navigate to for adaptive technology users if placed elsewhere on the page.

Similar to the concept of banner blindness web designers face, many Moodle users tend to ignore content that is placed in side blocks, even if the content is useful and even if it is carefully curated. For this reason, you should avoid placing crucial information in side blocks, as users will expect to see crucial content in the main section of the page.

Labels

The Label tool allows you to place text, images and video on the Moodle course home page. When misused, the Label tool can make your course home page look cluttered and perhaps overwhelming for students, particularly those with hidden disabilities. Therefore, use text in labels judiciously. Format them using appropriate document structure, starting with Heading 3, then Heading 4, and so on. 

Avoid highlighting information, typing words out in all caps, using colored text other than black, or centering and enlarging text as a means of calling attention to important information, as shown in this example screenshot from a course: 

This Moodle home page has too many competing visual alerts, and students will tend to tune them out entirely.

All of these practices compete with each other for attention. They interfere with legibility of the information. Additionally, screen reader users will not be able to recognize the color coding or the highlighting. Instead, practice good information design and communicate important announcements using Quick Mail or the Course Announcements tool.

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