Dissertation supervision using Moodle (Gateway) Database

For our distance learning programmes (Catalyst), we have designed a database to allow the students and supervisors to track their progress for their Dissertation or Applied project. Using this system, they can upload meeting records, draft (sections of) their dissertation for feedback, monthly progress logs, notes and comments. The supervisors will be able to comment on each record or edit the record to add feedback in uploaded files.

The reason for this database is to keep all records regarding students’ Dissertations or Applied projects in one place. This database has been added to the same area as the Dissertation & Applied project guides and the portal for submitting their final Dissertation. Having this system means that supervisors and students don’t have to search through their email for records. In addition, if a supervisor goes off on long-term leave or resigns, a newly assigned supervisor will have access to all the information they need.

At the moment, supervisors do not get notified from the database when a student uploads something; students are asked to ping a quick email to their supervisor to let them know to have a look. In the future, we may look into whether Event monitoring may be an option to assist with this.

Some basic CSS and HTML table styling has been used in the Templates to organise and improve the look of the database records.

We have tried to keep the database as simple as possible. Let me run you through the system:



Above the database records, the students will be able to find instructions for how to use it, as well as download templates for any forms they may need to fill out and upload. In addition, we have added the supervisors’ email addresses to enable the students to plan meetings with them.

Supervision database image1

To access different areas, there are tabs at the top of the database:

Supervision database image5

  • “View list” means showing all records’ basic information in a list
  • “View single” means showing one full record at a time
  • “Search” can be used to find certain records with extended search options
  • “Add entry” is where students can add a new entry to their records.

Let’s run through each option:


List view and basic search

The main overview for the database is a list of records. Students will only be able to see their own records, which is achieved by requiring approval by a “Teacher” role and removing the “Approve” button. Records are sorted in order of “Time added” / “Descending”, meaning that the last added record will always be listed first. Supervisors can see all records from all students in the same order.

At the top, there is a basic search function, so supervisors can add their name to the search to list all their students or add a specific student’s name to the search function to find all records for one student. This search function can also be used to search for particular types of entries (i.e. meeting record forms, dissertation uploads etc.) or to search for a particular word in a comment.

The list view has an incomplete record view, showing only the student’s name, the supervisor’s name, the entry type and when it was last added or modified. There is a link to show the full entry.

Using the “Edit” cog on the right, students and supervisors can edit the corresponding record to update information or to add feedback within a form.

Using the selection box, they can delete an entry if they have uploaded incorrect information. To prevent mistakes, we removed the standard “Delete” button and made it a multi-step process of selecting a record, then clicking “Delete selected” at the bottom of the page. A confirmation box will also appear before a record is permanently deleted.

Supervision database image2


Single view

In the single view of a record, students and supervisors can find the full details of a record. They will see the basic information as displayed in the list view, as well as the full record including the uploaded file, notes and any comments as added by the student and/or the supervisor(s).

Supervision database image3



Using the search tab, students and supervisors can use extended options to search for records:

Supervision database image6


Add entry view

In the “Add entry” view, students can add new records. This has been designed as a simple form to fill in. The students are asked to:

  • Select their supervisor from a drop-down menu
  • Select their entry type from a drop-down menu:
    Supervision database image7
  • Upload a file; students can upload files such as meeting record forms, monthly progress logs as well as (parts of) their dissertation for feedback. As a standard in the Moodle Database system, only one file can be uploaded at a time, which is why the students are told to create a separate record for each file.
  • Add any comments or notes in a text box.
  • Click either “Save and view” or “Save and add another”, based on their needs.

Once the form has been saved, their completed details will be instantly saved to the “List view” and “Single view”, where it can be edited and commented on.

Supervision database image4

This concludes our tour of the Supervision database. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with RAU Learning Technologist Chantal Schipper.



Reviewing our VLE

When I was at university in the mid 90s there wasn’t a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). I seem to remember file stores and floppy disks galore but no central repository of learning resources.We just carried everything around with us – and bad luck if you lost anything!

The actual term VLE was first coined in the late 90s (by whom I cannot tell?) but in the US the descriptor Learning Management Systems (LMS) has always been more prevalent. Wikipedia offers an indepth history of VLEs for those interested.

Today VLEs are a given at Higher Education institutions. The 2016 UCISA TEL survey found that 100% institutions who participated had some form of VLE with the split being roughly 50:50 between open-source Moodle and Blackboard, other platforms barely got a mention. The 2017-18 survey is now underway and we are likely to see a new generation of VLEs, like Canvas, making headway. At RAU we have had a Moodle system for over 7 years – we call our VLE Gateway. On the whole we are happy with what we have, but as is often the case we feel we could be doing more to engage students, encourage academics and support our digital delivery.

Enter the new Jisc VLE review service. It’s not well advertised yet but as part of a provider’s subscription Jisc will review their learning environment for them. The VLE review will help us to “understand how our platform is being used, what areas could be flagged as best practice, in addition to highlighting barriers and challenges that are preventing your staff and students from getting the best of your VLE. The process will review: Curriculum delivery, Communication & Collaboration, Content management, Student Administration, and Technical. This approach helps identify and put in place the process, tools and digital capabilities necessary to meet learners’ needs. Furthermore, It’s a useful tool to build a business case for changes in IT infrastructure, staff development activity and create an ongoing mechanism for dialogue between departments“. [Jisc’s words]

The Jisc team have been allocated user accounts and will be spending time in our VLE looking at it from a student and staff perspective. They are also coming on site in mid-March and will be running focus groups and interviews with students, staff and those involved in the technical delivery of Gateway.

A course module in Gateway

A course module in Gateway

The plan is not to change our VLE – though many providers are doing that. The aforementioned 2016 UCISA survey found that over half of the institutions which responded had conducted evaluation reviews over the last two years. The plan is to make what we have more user friendly, more engaging and just…better! Easy right?! 😉

TEL Pages on Gateway

We are in the process of developing some Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) pages on Gateway – the RAU’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). These pages will hopefully be the first port of call for teaching staff wanting to embed technology in their learning and teaching.

TEL-picThe TEL pages on Gateway

Currently the pages include the following tabs:

  • What is TEL? – An explanation of what TEL is and some key concepts.
  • Technology Tools – A list of over 30 tools that can be used by teaching staff inside and outside the classroom.
  • Support – Information on where you can get support from and which RAU staff can help.
  • Lesson Ideas – Includes a lesson bank of ideas based on activity by RAU staff. This is a growing resource that will be developed over time.
  • Conferences – Interesting events and conferences that could offer ideas for learning and teaching staff.
  • Inspiration – A selection of great resources to get people inspires – all shared in Padlet.
  • Pedagogy – Information on pedagogy and TEL.

If you are interested in contributing some content to the pages do let us know. Note that you will need to have an RAU account to access the pages on Gateway.

TEL-inspirationTEL inspiration on Padlet