Integrating Student Data Into Moodle

moodleMoodle is the Learning Management System (LMS) used by St Andrew’s College at all year levels and is renowned for being very customisable due to it’s Open Source code base. Recently, we partnered with Catalyst NZ, experts in Open Source Software (OSS), on an integration project to extract data from the College’s MS-SQL based Student Management System (SMS) called Synergetic and display this to students directly in Moodle.

The project started with a request from the Deputy Rector, Mr Roland Burrows, for students to be able to see their Fortnightly Notes scores directly. This form of reporting is new in 2015 and the rationale behind these Fortnightly Notes is explained by Mr Burrows:

They provide the opportunity for teachers to regularly report to parents on the contribution that their son/daughter is making to his/her own learning through their attitude and effort

Parents can log into the Parent Portal to see a PDF summary of these scores that looks something like this:

A redacted example of a student's Fortnightly Notes score

A redacted example of a student’s Fortnightly Notes score

As the name implies, the Parent Portal is not available to students directly, so choosing Moodle was an obvious choice to display this data to students. Whilst considering the possible layout options of this data, we decided against replicating the table view that parents see above and instead decided to present a line graph to students that would visually reflect their attitude and effort in each subject across the entire year. Additionally, displaying Student Attendance information on a per-class basis, along with NCEA results-to-date would add real value for students at St Andrew’s so these features were added to the scope of the project.

CONFIGURATION:

To achieve these outcomes, we needed to partner with Catalyst for the Moodle configuration, and they proceeded to write a custom plugin that would extract data from the MS-SQL database powering Synergetic, import it into Moodle’s mySQL database and then present it to the students. To achieve this, three custom SQL views were created that collated only the information to be displayed in Moodle: NCEA summaries, Attendance percentages and Fortnightly Notes scores. A sample of this data can be seen in this gallery:

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New navigation options under Site Pages

New navigation options under Site Pages

Lastly, the Moodle theme used on the St Andrew’s College Moodle site was modified to include new navigation for students to access this information. Extensive testing was then completed on our development Moodle site to iron out bugs and ensure that the information was being displayed correctly.

DISPLAYING THE DATA:

It was decided to graph a student’s Fortnightly Notes score and Attendance information at the top of each course page in Moodle, so they could immediately see their effort and attendance on a per-class basis. This can be seen in the following animated GIF image as the graphs are generated in real time:

Gif1

An animated image showing the Fortnightly Notes line graph and Attendance pie chart being generated on a student’s course page

However, to also replicate the Parent Portal summary view, a student could see the scores for all classes on a new page added under the “Site Pages” navigation menu:

Summary

Summary view of Fortnightly Notes scores and Class Attendance

For students working towards NCEA they can now see their recorded grades directly in their Moodle account:

A Yr11 Student's NCEA resutls

A Yr11 Student’s NCEA results

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Working on this project was exciting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was our initial attempt to extract meaningful student data from our SMS and display it elsewhere. Secondly, we believe that providing this information to students visually, and displaying it to them every single time they log into their Moodle course pages, will encourage them with their effort and attitude in class. Lastly, it represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is possible to present to students in Moodle.

In many ways, this was a proof of concept: could we extract data and present it meaningfully to students in one of our primary learning platforms? Thanks to the customisation options within Moodle, we were able to achieve this and with other recent testing of Microsoft’s new Business Intelligence platform called PowerBI, we anticipate being able to add even more visual information to students in this way (for those interested, the animated graphs are powered by the open source rGraph tool).

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