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.



moodlemoot 2018

I’ve just returned from the Ireland and UK Moodle Moot held in Glasgow, Scotland. moodle is our virtual learning environment and as I’ve explained in previous posts we are keen to make better and more effective use of it. This means moving from its use as a repository of learning materials to an engaging learning tool that effectively facilitates student interaction and allows delivery of our blended learning courses. Moodle does seem to be up for the job. As a well-established open source tool it has a large community of developers and users all working towards it’s goal: “to give the world the most effective platform for learning”.

Martin Dougiamas opens the moot

Martin Dougiamas opens the moot

Martin Dougiamas, moodle founder and CEO delivered the opening plenary (and facilitated quite a lot of the sessions). He covered how moodle is focused on supporting the Sustainable development Goals, a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. Goal 4 covers Quality Education. Martin explained how moodle has been at an inflection point (the increased uptake of other VLEs may be a contributing factor here) leading the team to talk to investors. They have finally opted to partner with Education for the many, an investment company owned by the Decathlon sports store who have invested 6 million dollars in the company.

This further investment is allowing Moodle to work on two key areas:

  • The Learn moodle project – building a curriculum to aid users (teachers, lecturers etc.) in learning to teach online delivered in mulltilingual courses with certifications and accreditation. Learn moodle will be aligned under DigCompEdu, a European commission digital competencies framework.
  • The moodlenet project – building an online community around moodle that will replace the moodle.org forums and will be the place in which to share all moodle resources, ideas and developed tools. Moodlenet will sit between tech and pedagogy and will unite developers and users.
The venue for moodlemoot: Technology and Innovation Centre, Strathclyde University

The venue for moodlemoot: Technology and Innovation Centre, Strathclyde University

The moot covered many important areas but the key takeaways for me were:

GDPR – Moodle 3.5 out in May 2018 will bring new security features for GDPR compliance. In the meantime there are two plugins that will help with ensuring that the VLE and its users offer clarity on how user data is used. At RAU we are in the process of upgrading Moodle and will have these plugins working soon. However creating more online content brings more GDPR considerations such as video rights, discussion forum content etc.

Plugins – so many to choose from and many interesting ideas to help us deliver our blended learning courses. The ones I hope we will look at soon are: BigBlueButton (for communication with remote users), Intelliboard (for analytics), H5P (see below) and Lifecycle (to organise courses).

H5P is where it is at! – H5P allows you to create, share and reuse interactive HTML5 content in your browser. Although its intergration with Moodle isn’t perfect (for example you can’t link it to moodle quizzes so some data can be lost) it is a very powerful interactive tool for video, quizzes etc.

Look and Feel – Moodle can look incredibly slick if you have the know how: themes, CSS and the rest. We also need to investigate user tours, tags, global search and quite a lot of other things. A version upgrade will help here.

Good practice – Moodlers like to share and there are a lot of course sites that we can look at (e.g. Orange county) and demo sites we can explore (thanks to DCU here). The 3E framework for moodle is a good place to start. Learn moodle is a FutureLearn MOOC that runs every 6 months – next one starts in June.

Accessibility – moodle is accessible by default (the Atto editor brought in a few years ago has an inbuilt accessibility checker) but we could be better. This may mean better support for those creating content, creating subtitles on videos or making more use of timing overrides for special needs students.


All in all it was a great conference. Some really interesting sessions on gamification, blended learning, learning analytics and accessibility. I also met lots of moodlers who were very keen to help us with specific issues – now or in the future – I’m definitely going to take them up on that offer!


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?! 😉