11 Reasons to switch to Google Docs

Update (20/01/10) : There are now 11 reasons to switch! Time to say goodbye to your USB Memory stick.

Until recently I’ve always been a die hard Microsoft Office fan, proudly keeping all my documents in the My documents folder at home also having a similar folder structure at work, with copy of my important documents on my USB Memory Stick. I wanted a better way to manage this so I signed up to Google Docs, uploaded all my docs and I was away.

Here are 11 reasons why everyone should make the switch to Google Docs.

1. Google is cool – yes we all know it, Google is pretty damn cool, everything they develop is wicked, well almost everything *cough* Orkut *cough*.

2. Accessible Anywhere – It’s all on the magical cloud, fire up a device with a web browser and you’re never too far from your docs.

3. Auto Save – Google Docs Auto saves, no I’m not talking about a dodgy temp file, it’s a proper auto save with the ability to see the full revision history.

4. Free, no licensing? free? Yes totally free compared to Microsoft office (£114.27 – Microsoft Office Professional 2007 – eBuyer.com http://www.ebuyer.com/product/124761) Google Docs can’t provide all the features and functionality of Microsoft Office but its pretty damn close.

5. Searchable by content – Windows has always been pretty good at finding your documents and files but its rubbish at searching within your documents. Google is a search engine, its core business is to search – and they’re pretty good at it.

6. Collaboration – The collaboration features in docs is a good enough reason for most people to switch, no need to email copies of documents to people anymore, make them come to you! (See Video below).

7. Support for new office formats (docx & pptx) - it’s always annoying when someone sends you a document that you can’t open because you have the wrong version of office. This has been totally eliminated as docs support a vast range of formats.

8. iPhone support – Docs works on the iPhone, well kind of. You can view but currently can’t edit word documents. You can edit spreadsheets.

9. Google Mail Integration – it’s always fun when you receive a PDF document and realise you don’t have a viewer on your computer. With Google Mail you can open attachments with your Google Docs.

10. Offline support with Google Gears – But I don’t have internet? Google Gears is what you need; it provides the user with the ability to work locally without the need for an Internet Connection. As soon as you’re back online it automatically syncs your docs. Awesome.

11. Upload any file - Say goodbye to your USB Memory stick, Google have done it again and now allow users to upload any file type up to 1gb, which can be shared as easy any other document. Superb!

These are just 11 of my favourite features of Google Docs, for a more in-depth reasons check out the video below.

Google Docs - Rocks! http://docs.google.com

Moodle Help – Why every Moodle should have it

Let me start with a bit of stats. Our Moodle install has been live for about a year and a half, we currently have over 10,000 active students and over 1200 active staff.

When we launched our Moodle site we had no idea on the sheer amount of usage we would encounter (average 30,000 logins per week) and as more and more users logged on we found ourselves answering the same questions over and over again, thus arrived Moodle Help.

Moodle Help is a no nonsense, simple, graphic heavy, in plain English Moodle course that is open to all Moodle users that is specific to our Moodle install. I have also taken inspiration from Facebook Help and Google help in the design process.

Moodle help has been live since September 2009 and is currently one of our most accessed areas on Moodle with over 2000 page views.

Using surveys and feedback from staff and students we have gathered a collection of commonly asked questions and problems users face on our Moodle site and we have tried to deal with them head on within the Moodle Help Section. One of the most common questions that I have been asked is, what is Moodle? and what can I do with it?

On Moodle Help we have targeted the Students as users rather than Staff who will be populating the courses as we always try and give staff personal support on populating courses (where possible!). Although this hasn’t stopped staff having a quick read!

I’ve made Moodle Help into a guest area course so you can have a nosey. Please bear in mind that a lot of the topics are specific to our Moodle Install and I’m more than happy to provide a backup of this course if you would like one.

Click here to view

Youtube now supports Full HD (1080p)

Youtube now provides support for 1080p videos, for those of you who don’t know what 1080p full HD is it means it’s very very clear!

It also means that if you can afford to buy a full HD video camera you’ll be spending ages uploading that file to Youtube.

To show off full HD in Youtube, The Muppets have covered the classic song by Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (below)

We just need faster internet now.

Top 5 Moodle Resources and Blocks we can’t live without

Here are a list of my top 5 Moodle Blocks, resources and activities. These are now so integrated into our Moodle that we couldn’t be without them!

1. Online Users (Block)

This is a core Moodle block relating to the users who are currently online, well within the last 5 minutes. The good thing about this block is that if you add it onto your course you’ll only see the online users for that course.

2. Related Areas Block

If your Moodle site is anything like ours where we have hundreds of Child and Meta courses then this block is for you. Once you add this block to your course it will show you all the courses that are linked to that course. Timesaver!
Get it from here

3. Book Module

The Book module is great for creating a ‘book’ like resource within Moodle. It’s also a great substitute for WebPages where it keeps everything in one tidy book.

Within the chapters of the books you can do everything you can do on a webpage, embed images, video, audio etc. etc.
Get it from here

4. Lightbox Gallery (Photo Gallery)

The Lightbox gallery is an awesome way to create ‘Lightbox’ (ajax) style photo galleries within Moodle.

It’s ridiculously simple to use, just upload your photos and create a new lightbox gallery in your resources and you’re away. The end result is pretty damn good.

We did have to rename the resource to Photo Gallery as not many people know what a Lightbox is.
Get it from here

5. Questionnaire Module

The Questionnaire module is a great way for users to fill our forms and send feedback.

Click here for my previous post ‘Why I love the Questionnaire Module’.
Get it from here

Children In Need Moodle Theme

On Monday I launched the Children In Need theme to our Moodle to highlight and advertise that Children in Need activities will be going on all week here at Leeds City College

I’ve spent about a week modifying the current theme and trying not to go mad with Pudsey. The end result is quite a present surprise.

Firstly I have added a random header script, which loads another header on refresh, There are 4 in total.
Next I changed the colour of the drop downs to yellow to match with the background of the theme.

On course pages I’ve updated the images that appear above our blocks to include Pudsey.

Since we launched Leeds City College Moodle we have always had a Variety of MyMoodle headers, and with Children in Need there is no exception. Again I’ve added a random image script which loads a different header on refresh from the selection below.

With the intention that we would like people to donate, I’ve linked the MyMoodle header to the donate page on the BBC Children in Need Site (http://bbc.co.uk/pudsey) to try and help get as many people donating to a worthwhile and worthy course.

The Nintendo Wii turns 3

I can’t believe it! it seems like only yesterday when I was so excited on my birthday just to have got a Nintendo Wii with shortages let alone managing to get 2 (which I later sold on Ebay)

3 years on and I’m not nearly playing it as much as Id like to, actually the only game I’ve completed is Super Paper Mario with a little help of some walkthroughs on youtube.

With the Launch of the BBC iPlayer on the Wii and the new Super Mario Bros. Wii I might even start to use it more rather than it just collecting dust.

I just wish it could play DVDs at the very least if not have full DIVX from USB support which it is more than capable of doing – come on Miyamoto, pull your finger out!

The Prisioner 2009

I've just finished watching the new series of The Prisoner, now I’ve never actually seen the original series and I only know that it’s about a guy who’s trapped in a village and if he tries to leave, big white balls stop him (seriously it’s big white balls).

Anyway this series started fantastic, by the first 10 minutes I was addicted. I always know if I like a show by the fact that I’m checking the characters on IMDB to see what else they've been in!

Without giving too much away, it’s Weird, Trippy and a bit of a head fuck but worth a watch as there are only 6 episodes.

6 Episodes? For an American series, what’s that all about?

Channel 4 3D Week

So you went to Sainsburys and got your free 3D Glasses? All excited to watch the Queen and Derren Brown programmes on Channel 4.

And realised it’s all a gimmick, well tell a lie, the Derren Brown was actually quite good in HD for about 10 minutes or so until I started to get a headache.

I can’t wait for IMAX style 3D to be shown on TV, I remember children in need did a 3D special a few years back with Take That singing, that was pretty good and it wasn’t even using the Red and Blue Glasses.

I’m not sure what else Channel 4 3D week has to offer but I know I won’t be watching.

New Blog Website

I’ve finally got round to setting up my blog, I’ve been meaning to do this for a while but only just round to it.

I’ve been blogging for a while but it’s never been in 1 central place, (usually Google Reader or Ning) so i'm hoping that will solve my problems.

Also feel free to leave feedback.

Moodle Twitter integration

Moodle Twitter integration

I wanted a way to dynamically integrate the users Twitter accounts with Moodle. In order to do this we needed to know the users Twitter ID, so we set up a User Profile Field called Twitter ID where Moodle Users can enter their ID on their Moodle Profile Page Next we looked at the Twitter Widgets (http://twitter.com/goodies/widgets) and found one that would work well with our Moodle. We then modified the code of the widget to include the users twitter id within PHP making the Widget show the last tweet of that user. once we had the widget working we included that file into the top of the students profile page which looks like this :-

you will also notice that we added an icon of the Twitter logo to show people that it's a tweet from that user. For the icing on the cake, we've also added Social Icons next to the users name in Moodle, we did this with an if else statement which checks to see if the user has entered a Twitter ID and that is a link to their Twitter Page, if the user hasn't entered a Twitter id it shows nothing.

Moodle FLV Player update with Subtitles

As Moodle uses the JW FLV Media player as its default flv player the company behind JW Player have released a new version which now has support for Subtitles and Audio Description.

I have spend time updating our current player into this version. (JW FLV Media Player 4.5) After a lot of mods, hacks and tweaks I’ve finally managed to do this. As shown below.
As default the subtitles won’t automatically load but the user does have the option to turn it on by clicking on the CC Button.

The Subtitles are kept within an .xml file in which has the same filename as the .flv file.

Click here to view our Moodle Induction Video

Moodle Photo Gallery

Moodle Photo Gallery

To publish photos on Moodle, I wanted a far more interesting and exciting way to display photos rather than the traditional method of uploading a single file at a time.

We currently have the Moodle Lightbox module where teachers can upload photos to their own course area, this shows the photos in a nice fancy ajax window.

This is great for basic photos but I wanted something far more advanced and interactive. After a few days of research I came across a website (by mistake!)


they have free to use customisable flash image viewers, and I must admit, the final output is pretty damn amazing!

The website had designed 5 different photo browsers which can be used manually by adding photos or by using Google Picasa to generate your web albums.

Tilt Viewer also has capability for displaying photos from flickr.

My favourite would have to be the Simple Viewer (http://www.airtightinteractive.com/photos/)

feel free to visit my Moodle and have a look at how i've implemented the photo viewers - http://moodle.leedscitycollege.ac.uk.ac.uk/mod/resource/view.php?id=24132 what are you waiting for, get yourself Google Picasa and download the picture viewers today!

Google Picasa - http://picasa.google.co.uk/ Picture Viewers - http://www.airtightinteractive.com/photos/ Moodle Lightbox Module - http://moodle.org/mod/data/view.php?d=13&rid=1021

Thanks Sukhwant Lota

Why I Love the Moodle Questionnaire module

Why I love the Moodle Questionnaire module

The Moodle questionnaire module is a life saver at Leeds City College, we use it regularly for all surveys, end of years surveys, feedback from students etc. It really is that good.

Within the surveys, it's also very easy to embed images and videos within the survey so it's possible for teachers to get students to watch a video then comment on it.

The results are shown in 2 easy to read formats, View All Responses, which works our averages for all results and shows them in a nice clean and easy to read format - as shown below

the second format is View by Response, this is good for viewing individual responses to your survey. 

Moodle User Ajax Search

Does anyone else find the Moodle user search really annoying?

The filter always remembers your last search, and for us it seems to take ages to clear filter then search again.

To get around this I've created a new ajax user search, this searches the mdl_user table directly and shows the results in real time.

this is a much more efficient search for the users, saves so much time.

I've also added small links next to the users name to quickly and easily do thinks with the user account such as, view today's logs, log in as them etc.

Moodle TV

I'm working on a Moodle area called, Moodle TV.

With Moodle TV I aim to have all short college videos which have been recorded in house converted and uploaded to the Moodle TV area. all videos will include embed tags so teachers are able to embed the video into their own course.

This came about with the need of teaching staff watching to be able to share video resources across courses.

As a college we are also researching into ways of recording TV material using technologies such as Net Recorder+ and flash streaming servers.

Moodle Course Structure - How we overcome Units

Moodle Course Structure - How we overcome Units 

Here are Leeds City College (http://moodle.leedscitycollege.ac.uk) we have just under 1000 users and we have up to 2500 unique logins per day. As for courses, we have 2790 and trying to manage this has become a full time task for our team. When a new student logs onto our Moodle, they are then automatically created an account using LDAP authentication. Next we have a link to our course database which checks which courses the student is currently studying, then returns a list of their courses to the MyMoodle page which looks something similar to this. 

one of the main problems we had when we launched Moodle was that teaching staff wanted their own course area on Moodle, but they also wanted a separate section for each unit. Now bearing in mind that some courses have up to 20 units we had to come up with an idea for this to work practically for the teachers and the students. Looking into Moodle Child and Meta courses, I decided to set up each unit as a separate course within Moodle with an "front page" of the course with links to all the separate units as shown below.

With Child & Meta courses, when a student enrols onto the child course (front page), they are automatically enrolled onto the Meta courses (units).

The next problem we had was that in the MyMoodle page teachers and students would now see anything up to 21 courses! In order for this to work, we would need a way to hide certain courses from the MyMoodle page. we managed to do this by hacking the core of Moodle and we now have the option to Hide and show courses from the MyMoodle page.