It seems like ages ago that we first heard about Moodlerooms in 2005. Since then, it has served hundreds of colleges, universities, schools, businesses and organizations to support the software that educators use to manage and deliver educational content to students in virtual classrooms.
However, in the past 11 years a lot has changed; not only with the platform itself, but also the way it looks. Moodlerooms has lots of features where students and teachers can share knowledge. In the past, these features were not always presented in a modern way. This is the main reason why Moodlerooms has released their Snap theme for the Moodle community through their github account.
We cannot ignore the fact that now people study in different ways; in a bus, in a train, or any place with any mobile device. Snap was created [in 2015] to be a sleek and modern, image centric, richer Moodle experience that increases engagement through a highly intuitive navigation across all devices. “It was a chance for us and our colleague Stuart Lamour to think about what is important. We started from the beginning, thinking about what the students need and trying to show those things as simple as possible,” says David Scotson one of the Software Engineers of Snap.
“All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”
Stuart Lamour, Guy Thomas, and David Scotson are the brains behind the Snap theme designed for Moodlerooms. However, their working environment is a little different than the conventional: the three of them live in different cities across the United Kingdom. They talk everyday via Skype and have occasional meetings with people in the US and other places. “We get together once or twice a year and quite often we hang out on a Friday night to drink beers on Skype; which is the closest we can get to a pub. Not everything is work, as Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) said in the Shining: all work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy,” adds Guy.
The first idea
It was Stuart who came up with the idea when Moodle 1.9 was still running. He was working for Moodlerooms nine-months before Guy and David, and had a lot of experience with decision making in the fields of what the students need and want. With a special focus on what is really important for their learning process, Stuart brought that knowledge to Snap when Moodlerooms wanted a change. That was a chance to start something from scratch, with a new theme and apply all that previous experience.
Before mobile devices were a big thing, most themes were designed for large desktop screens with 3 columns featuring important items in the middle. When Moodlerooms started aiming for the iPad, as the primary device, they had to rethink a lot of things and set specific options to give general advice on how Snap works in every device or browser, rather than put it in a document that they may or not read.
Going back to the “less is more” principle
More accessible and user friendly, modern looking, and faster… Eliminating items that are not relevant.
This team is always thinking of new features that may seem small but have a big impact and will make it easier for people to complete tasks. Currently, they are working to change the cover images within Moodle, so if you want to change the cover image] from a mountain to a landscape it takes two clicks to complete. “If we can reduce somebody’s journey with fewer clicks then it is worth it,” says David.
The learning process can be blurry when you have information that is not relevant to what teachers want to teach. Snap does not get rid of this information; it puts it off of the main page, so that all the items and activities the students need to complete (quizzes, assignments, etc.) and all the things that an educator would need to mark or create can be concentrated in the main area of the page. Snap was created to make life easier. “We really drastically changed the amount of information that is shown in the screen,” David Scotson says.
Another example is that if you are a student and you open up a course, you can see whether you have received grades or assigned activities. In regular Moodle, you cannot; you have to go into the activities to see what grades you have. In other words, they reduce the clicks.
Nonetheless, people may assume that it is just visual, however, Snap is designed around each course to have its own image so students and teachers can quickly identify which course they are in and what activities they have. Snap delivers an interface that looks modern and easy to use, but quite neutral, and lets people change small things to make it unique. Users can upload a logo, choose one single brand color and upload large cover images.
The response has been positive overall. People say they find it more visually appealing and easier to use with fewer clicks, which is pretty much what Snap and Moodlerooms wanted to do.
Students have responded very well to Snap because it looks modern and the content they need is there right away. One of the biggest goals is to continue refining the way people access and interact with Moodle so that activities become much more natural and simple to use. Of course there are some negative comments, most of them from people who find it difficult to make the transition from the stock Moodle (as it comes out of the box) to Snap because it has such a visual difference. “Sometimes we find a bit of resistance because they have to learn how to do things, but I think when people give it a fair chance and actually invest the time on relearning how to use Moodle with Snap their feedback changes to overwhelmingly positive.”, Guy Thomas explains.
Moodlerooms is growing and expanding day by day, and thanks to the visuals and clear structure Snap has created, people around the world are not only using the platform, but are also making an emotional connection with their learning process.
*Left: David Scotson, Software Engineer, Snap. – Photos by: AFP Andy Buchanan
*Right: Guy Thomas, Software Engineer, Snap. – Photos by: AFP Anthony Devlin