I understand that Moodle can't be all things to all people and people use it differently. I'm all for flexibility in what you can do, but shouldn't the default installation be able to work for the majority of users? I'd even suggest a poll/choices (in the tracker or on the site) where people could include suggestions and others would vote so you could be sure how the majority of the users currently use the program. (Assuming it could be done easily within the existing programming)
In other words, if a set of choices on one default screen will work for 90% of the current users, why not let the 10% of the users who need additional features click another "Advanced Settings" button instead of having 90% of the users work through choices they don't need?
Let me give you one example in the quiz module. I think the quiz in 1.9 is extremely improved and I applaud Tim Hunt and the OU for the excellent work. This is the same as it's always been but a teacher must select a grade for the correct answer from the dropdown menu. In most quiz programs I've seen, there's just a checkbox you can check for the correct answer.
Now I know that the quiz in Moodle is much more powerful, but I have to believe that the majority of multiple choice questions have one answer that should be valued at 100%. I know that others may use a different scheme and have answers they grade as partially correct, but I'm guessing (don't know because I guess nobody has ever studied it) the majority of teachers do what I do and select 100% on one correct answer. The problem is that "None" is the default and the "None" is between the positive and negative choices so a user must scroll to the top to get to the 100% choice. (See screenshot)
If I am correct in my assumptions, (A big if I know) the none should mabye be the first choice in the list followed by the 100% so no scrolling would be required for the majority of users. I realize this may be considered as me being nitpicking, but I think with just a few of these "usability improvements" it would make Moodle much more "user friendly" and adoption would become eaiser. I'm a fan of Moodle and hope I'll be using it until I retire, but just like with courses we create, I believe there's always room for improvement and suggestions.
My two cents,
I'll go one step further and ask why a teacher should even have a drop-down for grades. Another annoyance faculty have pointed out is the fact that they are forced to select assignment grades from a discrete scale in a drop-down. Why not have an input field so a teacher could make an assignment worth 36.52, 101, or 234.86 points if they wanted?
In the example above, why not make it an input field and allow faculty to type in any value they want. So long as it adds up to 100%, why not allow them to make one of the response worth 55%?
Doing this would increase the power and simplicity at the same time. Of course, one would need to ask for feedback and then actually listen to people who are using this in the "real-world" to know these type things. Saying "post it to tracker and then vote on it" simply doesn't cut it...the average teacher, even those using Moodle, doesn't use these forums and doesn't even know the tracker exists...and wouldn't know how to use it if they did.
If the moodle gurus really want to know what the average teacher/user thinks about Moodle and where the opportunity for real user improvement exist, then they're going to have to make an effort to go to them...they're not coming here.
First, I will agree with Anthony that as an "average teacher" (yes, I now happen to consult for a partner as a voice for said "average teachers," but for the first two years I was just a teacher with basic needs) I have seen tremendous response to our voices--when we have the courage to use them, anyway. The flexibility in 1.9 to be able to easily integrate the gradebook with whatever gradebook programs we may be enslaved to (okay, so I'm obviously not a huge fan of my particular gradebook program) at our institutions is one request that came from average teachers expressing their needs.
I do agree with you about the frustration of not being able to have a .5 grade for a while, but I believe that, too, has been addressed in 1.9. I am still using 1.8, so I can't say for sure in practice, though.
Re: Saying "post it to tracker and then vote on it" simply doesn't cut it...the average teacher, even those using Moodle, doesn't use these forums and doesn't even know the tracker exists...and wouldn't know how to use it if they did.
Okay, okay. Guilty as charged. I do actually know how to use the tracker, but I must admit I haven't tapped into its power as much as I should. Still, I have found the forums to be very powerful.
Re: they aren't coming here
Not entirely accurate. I do think that more admins populate the forums and the feature requests, but since they are speaking on behalf of their constituents, I still feel our teachers are being heard.
Regarding usability in general: I think the issue is larger than just Moodle. We are at a point in the technology-meets-education cycle where we are just now capable of turning it around so that it's education meeting technology. But technology itself is still outstripping our ability to keep up with the implications of all of the things that are now possible. Maybe ability is the wrong word. We have the ability, but what we don't have is the time to reflect on best practices because we are constantly facing the need to integrate knowledge of dozens of software/hardware combinations every year. And time for reflection is key.
Non-Moodle case in point: Two or so weeks ago I spent approximately six hours creating a jeopardy review game for my Promethean board. It was based on a template that someone else made so that I didn't even have to know the really time-intensive ways to hide, move, and make answers appear and/or disappear. All I had to do was fill in the questions. It also had this neat ability to utilize what are called Activotes (hand-held clicker devices that allow for immediate feedback from everyone in the class--if you know them, I'm not trying to be condescending as I just learned about them myself this year). But somewhere near the end of my trial run with setting it up, I figured out that I'd been so hypnotized by that "shiny thing" effect--that "technology as a little bit of magic" effect--that I'd sacrificed good teaching. Since the game allowed for multiple choice answers, I was the one doing the thinking, not the students. In the end, I decided not to go with the clicker votes so that students would have to generate their own answers and make their own connections.
I know this seems like a total tangent, but here's the thing: Both my Moodle courses and my Promethean software lessons take some extensive front-end work to learn and to use effectively. I'm willing to put in that time, but as an "average teacher," my overall duties for the general school day often require me to choose between the two. And this is where we sit today as teachers: we have to choose which program is going to command our attention based on which program we think will maximize learning opportunities for our students. Currently, in my opinion, Promethean alone is still just a fancier "sage on the stage." I know that once I master the curve for both and figure out how to integrate them more effectively, I'll be able to have the best of both worlds. But for now, it is a competition for time and resources. In this respect, I agree with you, Steve: Developers do need to understand this competition (but I think they do based on the fact that they are willing to help us figure out how to make Moodle work with the tools we have).
Lastly, the fact that best practices is even a concept that comes up again and again as having value here is an amazing testament, to me anyway, of the commitment Moodlers have to learning, not to just putting out the niftiest toy possible. And your voice is integral to this conversation as you have demonstrated time and again that you are passionate about learning, too. I have appreciated the passion, and I am happy to "see" you around again.
Non of the average teachers I know are on a Moodle partner's payroll and have badges under their names on these forums...ma'am
I would say you are very much "above average" in regards to this discussion
No disrespect intended...I believe you provide valuable input to these forums, but the average teacher I'm thinking about isn't nearly as "involved" in technology as you...or I. And to assume that "admins" represent their needs does not mesh with my experience.
None taken. I was hoping the constant use of quotes would imply the point that Nicolas made more explicit: Wanting to meet the needs of the "average" teacher supposes a small variance between teachers in general (i.e. 90% of teachers have nearly the same needs, skills and experience). I'm quite certain that this is not the case. There is massive variance between teachers, which makes the archetypal "average teacher" a far less-than-useful notion.
We are a demanding lot, we "average teachers."
But at the same time, I do consider myself average in that I don't know php, barely know any but basic HTML tags, and I still have been able to maneuver my way around courses.
Re: admins speaking for their users--I suppose I did have my rose-colored glasses on last night when I wrote that, but it is true enough of the time for me to continue "reserving judgments" as a "matter of infinite hope." (Sorry, my kids are in the middle of their Gatsby presentations this week.)
Wanting to meet the needs of the "average" teacher supposes a small variance between teachers in general (i.e. 90% of teachers have nearly the same needs, skills and experience). I'm quite certain that this is not the case. There is massive variance between teachers, which makes the archetypal "average teacher" a far less-than-useful notion.
Besides, polling (especially online polling) does not sample the teacher population. Those who vote are most likely to have advanced computer skills and to be very experienced with the Internet. They cannot represent all the others, who, in my estimation, represent the majority of teachers.
Finally, the population we really want to learn about are the teachers who decide that Moodle isn't for them, and they are very unlikely to let us know why through the tracker votes or even in these forums...
Finally, the population we really want to learn about are the teachers who decide that Moodle isn't for them, and they are very unlikely to let us know why through the tracker votes or even in these forums...
Wow...a statement that demonstrates a little understanding...but you may want to hear from "before" they make that decision. Keep up the good work.
I guess we’ll have to “agree to disagree” because I believe the vast majority of tasks teachers need to accomplish on a daily/weekly basis in Moodle require very similar steps regardless of the differences in individual setup.
To my point, here a list of things I think the majority of current teachers using Moodle could agree on. Granted, this group doesn’t represent all teachers, but if the early adopters and tech savvy teachers have trouble/issues navigating, there’s very little hope in getting the “less than tech savvy” to adopt Moodle later on. I would argue the simpler the initial interface, the more likely you’d get more people to at least start using certain aspects of Moodle. “IMO sophisticated software does not require a complex interface”. (Google is a good example)
Maybe some of the things on my list can already be accomplished with workarounds or in 1.9, but here are 10 quick things that popped into my mind.
Disclaimer: I have no idea how easy/difficult these things might be from a programming perspective. I’m strictly talking about usability as I believe I’m “typical” in terms of what I’m trying to accomplish with Moodle since I create courses and am the "teacher".
10 Ways to Improve Moodle Functionality
- Have a “Save” button at the top and the bottom of every page when editing is on because scrolling to the bottom is sometimes very unnecessary.
- The default profile entry of two phone numbers (both named “Phone”) is less than ideal when they need to contact a student by phone. I know you can now add fields in 1.9, but it would seem to make more sense to have a default setting that would distinguish the list. (home, cell, etc.)
- Very few teachers use the “Survey” in the default installation.
- Feedback module should be included in a standard installation as it’s easy to use and very beneficial. (I think this is already on the road-map for 2.0)
- Feedback module could be even better when identity is logged by linking back to a users profile page.
- Hot Potatoes module in Moodle is outstanding and if there is a problem reported it gets fixed very quickly. (Gordon is outstanding)
- Hot Potatoes is a good example of a clean/easy to use interface when creating a simple multiple choice quiz. You can toggle to advanced settings if you need them. (The downside is that when importing HotPot into Moodle quiz, you don’t get a question title but a number- Questions #1, Questions #2, etc.)
- In messages, it would be great if the teacher had an option of adding all the students in their class automatically to “My Contacts”.
- For classes that are not delivered during a set time period, it’s been very difficult to keep track of each student’s progress. (New gradebook/reporting should help)
- Something similar to the new admin bookmarks would also be beneficial for students/teachers to bookmark pages.
- The fewer clicks it takes to accomplish a task, the better. (Bonus we can all agree on)
To your point about polling, I agree, but would argue it's better than not polling at all.
Just as a sidenote, I don't spend any time in the tracker, but someone liked a request I had and created a bug/patch in the tracker. I felt like I should vote for it, but didn't realize you had to register separately for the tracker from Moodle.org to have access. Maybe it was just a temporary glitch, but I don't know how many "teachers" hang out/register in the tracker which is why I would think a course on "Usability" with polling would reach the biggest group of "average" users. (As best you can right now given the limitations you've already mentioned)
Thanks you VERY much for this post! This is the kind of feedback and effort that helps Moodle adjust its development course. Your suggestions are all worthwhile, and you should really enter them into the tracker as Bug/Task/Improvement issues, regardless of whether they are programatically feasible or not, and even whether or not they will end up being implemented or not. Just remember that the tracker is the best place to post your ideas if you want them to come to life, and the forum is the best place for discussion about them.
Regarding my post on polling, it was just about polling. I don't think it's true that polling an unrepresentative population is better than no polling at all. I think it could be worse, depending on
1. What we know about the sampled population
2. How we interpret the results
In the worst of cases, it could result in development decisions that satisfy only a very tech-savvy and tiny proportion of Moodle users. This has probably already happened in a few areas, though not as a result of polling, but of general feedback in the forums and issue tracker. (The tracker requires a separate registration at the moment.)
However, your idea of a Usability course on Moodle.org is good, although it's difficult to gather quantitative data from forums.
However, what annoys, and surprises, me is the following scenario, that has played out several times in the quiz forum:
1. I think I have identified an overcomplicated feature in the quiz that cannot possibly be of any educational benefit,
2. I post in the quiz forum saying "surely we can remove this"
3. There are howls of protest.
4. Then someone comes up with a situation where that feature does serve a valuable educational goal, and there is really no substitute, and so convinces me not to remove the feature.
As I say, very infuriating, but really rather interesting. Martin often says that Moodle is not really a development community building a better Moodle, but a social-constructionist learning community, learning, through peer interaction what a better Moodle should be like. He is absolutely right.
So I agree that the quiz interface sucks, and I would like to spend time improving it (indeed I have made a number of minor improvements) but it is hard. Also, it is very hard to get your bosses to agree to you spending months on a system, making it work the same, but better. They are always asking for new features.
The next point I want to make is that when arguing bout complexity/flexibility in software, you really need to separate out what features are available in the underlying infrastructure, and then how that is explained in the user interface. It is essential that the core Moodle code is as general-purpose and flexible as possible. It is good that we have a totally configurable roles system, so all access everywhere in Moodle can be controlled in the same way. It is good that we now have a gradebook that has all the flexibility of a spreadsheet. It is good that we have plugin-able question types, so that you can use any sort of question you like in the quiz.
However, at the User Interface end, it is essential that most of this underlying flexibility is hidden at first. If you have not already heard of it, the key concept here is Progressive disclosure, which Jakob Nielsen explains better than I could: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/progressive-disclosure.html)
But as an example, think about a word processor. You run it, and you can just start typing. And there are a few simple buttons like 'bold'.
Then you are writing an important document, so you want to make sure your formatting is consistent, at which point you can choose to start learning about and using styles to apply the formatting.
When you want to start working collaboratively, you can turn on track changes. Actually, you don't enable the track changes functionality. It has been there all along, you really just reveal the track changes toolbar to make the UI for that functionality visible.
You want to mail-merge, there is a whole lot of UI waiting for you that you had previously ignored.
And so on.
However, currently the Moodle interface is not great. And (as I have said in previous forum posts) what we really need is the Firefox experience for Moodle. In the bad old days, the Mozilla project produced a great web browser, wrapped in a a rather baroque interface that very nearly ended up including everything and the kitchen sink (see this spoof bug report https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=122411), so it was only used by a minority of geeks.
Then a few developers who really cared about usability started a sub-project to strip as much as possible out of the interface to make it as friendly as possible to new users. The result was Firefox, which is great. It is much more efficient for everyone to use, even die-hard geeks, and if you are a power user, you can download all sorts of easy-to-install extensions to add on to the slick, efficient default interface.
Similarly, Moodle needs lots of powerful flexible infrastructure at its core, but it also needs a better interface around it.
And we are already on the right lines. We already have a plugin architecture rather than having everything hard-coded into core. We have good internationalisation and preferences and database abstraction libraries. We did not complicate Moodle by building in an ePortfolio, instead we made it work with a choice of Mahara or MyStuff or ... instead (and we will make the integration better in Moodle 2.0).
However, we also have to struggle against the fact we are a web application, where every click on a link or form submission takes a second or two. So making someone work through a multi-page wizard to do a task an a clearly explained way is going to be quite infuriating. (Whereas the current 'put all the settings in one big form' interface is terrifying ) Ajax can help a bit there, but it is not a panacea.
So, there is much to be done, but it is all in the interface layer. We have not been wasting our time with the changes in Moodle core over the last 2 years, they are all steps in the right direction. As a community, we can fix the interface, but it is going to be hard, and it will take time.
I'm a big fan of the influence OU has had on Moodle since 2006. Once that "Hesitant" in Don's terms finally understands roles, capabilities and outcomes and how granular this is, there should be an ah-ha heard around the world. When all the work that has gone into the quiz engine is similarly understood I think another giant wowser will be heard. However, the final echo of these sounds I believe will come from K-12 teachers. They don't seem to thrive on learning new things () the way university and college instructors and many corporate trainers do. Don's post is spot-on in describing this IMO.
+1 for Tim's suggestion that we make "interface layer" the mantra for Moodle 2.0. I don't believe we have to abandon adding new features, but how features in general are enabled should be given some consideration. I'd like to see a Moodle that gives administrator more setup choices in terms of how complex or simple their installation should be, for the environment it is being used in (e.g. what grade book to use (if any), whether the roles feature is enabled etc.).
Lots of teachers just want to make quizzes and don't want to be troubled with the question bank. If we cater to them, we create an interface that hides the question bank. Unfortunately, you can't hide it, as this failed experiment in quiz UI redesign amply illustrates.
The solution is (1) training and documentation that emphasize the underlying model, rather than interfaces, and (2) interfaces that present the underlying model as directly as possible. Virtually all the quiz how-to's that I have seen focus to a ridiculous extent on the quiz creation and sweep the question bank under the rug.
The same is true of roles and capabilities and other complex areas of Moodle. You don't succeed by hiding the underlying model, but rather by exposing it, both in the UI and in training and documentation.
The same is true of roles and capabilities and other complex areas of Moodle. You don't succeed by hiding the underlying model, but rather by exposing it...
I think you made some good points up to this statement...then your logic fell apart I think there is a lot of success to be had in hiding the underlying model from the "average user".
Admins and super-users (i.e., users who can override roles) are in a separate class from "average users," and I was thinking of them when I spoke about exposing the underlying roles model through improved interfaces. I think we can do a lot to make the interfaces more transparent so that admins and super-users can have a direct view into the system. With our current interfaces, roles are too much of a black box.
Admins and super-users (i.e., users who can override roles) are in a separate class from "average users,"
Ideally that's true, but in practice that is not true...i.e. previous discussions that point out basic things teachers can no longer do without getting into roles.
And it is very interesting that you link to what you describe as a 'failed experiment in quiz UI redesign', because Olli recently got in touch with me again about that, and we had quite a good discussion, which may lead to him taking his ideas further, and I now am happy with that. Having communicated with him a bit, I now think he is someone I can work with. If we are going to fix usability in Moodle, we are going to need more people like Olli who won't shut up and go away about usability, but instead try to come up with practical suggestions for making things better.
John, you are right in that one of the prerequisites for a usable UI is that the user's mental model for the system matches what is really going on.
However, your argument breaks down on two points. First, user's do not arrive at Moodle with an empty mind. They already have a preconceived notion of what you need to do to make a quiz. Second, there is no need to force users to learn the whole truth all at once. When feasible, they should be able to start off with a simple mental model that lets them get the job done, and which will not be misleading and have to be unlearned when they want to go further. (In the same way that you teach people Newtonian mechanics before you try to teach them general relativity - did you ever read The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen? They have a great concept 'lies-to-children' - helpful, if not strictly accurate, oversimplifications.)
In terms of quizzes, the simplest mental model for creating a quiz, which is where most people are at when they approach Moodle, is:
1. Add a quiz to the course - that is create a new quiz.
2. Add questions to the quiz - that is create some new questions.
3. Test it and tweak things until it all works.
Why shouldn't the Interface be that simple for first time users? Of course, even if the interface looked like that, the questions would still be being filed in the question bank, in a category with a sensible default name.
Later, the teacher might ask "that question I created in Test One, how can I use it again in a revision quiz?". Then you can explain to them that actually, all questions in Moodle, as well as being used in quizzes, are stored in a question bank. As well as making a quiz by adding new questions, here is how you add existing questions from the question bank to your quiz; and here is how you move things around in the question bank, to keep them organised so you can find them again more easily.
Even for experience users, who understand about the question bank. A lot of the time when they are creating a quiz, they are creating questions specifically for the current quiz. So, when you create a question from the quiz editing page, why shouldn't be be added directly to this quiz, as well as to the question bank? If you just want to create questions, do it on the question bank screen.
(Of course, to be a complete solution, we need an interface that takes into account quizzes with random questions, but that can be done, as shown in Olli's mock-ups.)
Thanks for the references. They're interesting.
Lies to children should be good first approximations to the truth. Otherwise, sustaining the lies will be more expensive in the long run than simply telling the truth up front.
The real long-term cost of the "just want to make a quiz" interface is that it fosters the the cottage industry approach to test-making.
What I like about the current quiz interface is that it doesn't cater to one use case at the expense of another. Olli claimed that he knew what the average teacher wanted: Just to make a quiz and be done with it. Personally, I was interested in building a large, high-quality question bank. For me, question bank organization, category import, and searchability were important, and quizzes were merely a by-product of the question bank.
I say: Quiz should continue to support both use cases equally, and let's raise the consciousness of the "just want to make a quiz" teachers through better documentation.
Interesting conversation. For what it is worth... When teachers tell me they "just want to make a quiz," I show them Hot Potatoes. That seems to make them happy. They are happy, shiny Moodlers.
But most of the teachers I work with get the hang of the quiz mod pretty quickly: add questions, set up quiz, add questions to quiz. It's the details that take some time. The most frequent question, by the way, is, "How do I get rid of all these submit buttons?"
Thank you to everyone for thrashing these things out. What a great community!
I am so glad I stumbled upon this conversation, even though its late. I have been so tangled up in trying to take everything possible into account with the new quiz creating prototype that I have not allowed myself much time to follow the forums. I want to invite everybody here to join the discussion about the new UI - I really really need the voices of various kinds of "average users" - I am getting some of them through interviews in Finland locally, but that is probably not enough. I know the discussion may get seemingly overdetailed or technical there, but I am all in for facilitating everybody's voices to get heard rather before than after the implementation of the prototype. Just tell me what you see, and what you think. If need be, start a new thread.
I am especially interested about what you think is the "natural" order to do things (i.e. the process flow) while creating content into a quiz. Would you like to just type in questions first without thinking about the technicalities, or is it essential to decide all the details of one question before moving on to entering another? This depends, it seems, also on the question types you use.
It is great that this kind of discussion is taking place. And I agree totally about there not existing one single kind of an 'average teacher', but I believe the middle ground can be found. I also agree more and more with John about the fact that the underlying data structures really need to be presented as clearly and directly as possible. This even needs to be a great focus of my work; It does not at all contradict with the fact that also a simple, quick UI is required, as is apparent from what Leslie says above (quoted below). In contrast: when teachers who want to move on from just quickly creating quizzes (which we need to support), there needs to be a clear learning path that the UI itself supports, for doing so. That is: if the UI consistently presents the underlying data structures, they can be ingnored by teachers as long as teachers want to do so. When they want to learn, they can deduce a lot of the structure just by looking at the new UI.
This is why I hesitate integrating the UI I am developing with the current tab structure of Quiz: even if teachers may be capable quickly and superficially of creating quizzes, it may still be disastrous that the UI suggests a different model than what is reality. If the teacher tries to do something with the categories without understanding the question bank, they may not get what they expect.
"I know this seems like a total tangent, but here's the thing: Both my Moodle courses and my Promethean software lessons take some extensive front-end work to learn and to use effectively. I'm willing to put in that time, but as an "average teacher," my overall duties for the general school day often require me to choose between the two. And this is where we sit today as teachers: we have to choose which program is going to command our attention based on which program we think will maximize learning opportunities for our students. "
Well, maybe the "reporter" would like to chime in here and explain why he thinks clicking a drop-down and scrolling through a long list of pre-defined numbers is better than an input box that allows you to type in any number you want...I'd be interested in hearing that logic.
Something I've used is just tabbing into the score field and hit 1 on number pad on keyboard to go to the 100%. Or for a -100% you can hold the ' - ' key until it scrolls to -100%. To go back to the 'None' field just hit 'N'.