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With the Open LMS 3.6 release a quiet change was made to the gradebook; I thought it might be nice to go over the change and visit the Natural grading method and talk about how it is useful. 


Grade calculations get ifs

Buried in the footnotes that I am sure you read on a regular basis was a mention of an update to the gradebook's calculated grades feature. It is a request that goes way back to Moodle 1.9 (aka 2009) that has finally added for your enjoyment. 

Calculated grades background

If you weren't aware, in the gradebook you can create a grade item that is based on a calculation of other grade items. With it you could make a category total that is not just the weighted mean of the grades, but a custom weighted total of selected grade items. I know it sounds pretty advanced, and really it kind of is, but it really comes in handy for the specific times that I need it. How about if you need to go beyond the built in min and max functions? For example, you could make a grade item that is the average of the highest score value of 6 pairs of graded items, I'll take the highest score from each week's homework with two assignments per week in a six week course. Well the calculated grade can handle that for me; the grade total would be =average(max([[Item1]],[[Item2]]), max([[Item3]],[[Item4]]), max([[Item5]],[[Item6]]), max([[Item7]],[[Item8]]), max([[Item9]],[[Item10]]), max([[Item11]],[[Item12]]))

Put an if in there

Well now as of the 3.6 release, you can add an IF statement to the calculation. So if I state in my syllabus that I will add 10 bonus points to the exams total if all the assignments have been turned in(for me this means they've got scores above 0, I'm only dishing out 0's for not trying), I can do that automatically in the gradebook.

=if(min(Assignment1, Assignment2, Assignment3, Assignment4, Assignment5) >0, sum(Midterm1, Midterm2, Final, 10), sum(Midterm1, Midterm2, Final))

Now I could add in logic to make sure the bonus score does not exceed the maximum total score for the exams, or weight the exams, or take the average of the scores whatever logic needs to be in the calculation can be nested in there. Overall the idea is that the if function works like an if in coding or logic.

if(condition, then this, else the other)

if(condition, calculation1, calculation2) 

The if starts with the condition to check. If the condition matches, the middle clause happens for the calculation, if the condition does not match then the third clause is the calculation.

Seems pretty straightforward and lots of potential for fun!


Natural grading method

Introduced a few years back, the Natural grading aggregation feels like the new kid on the block still. I get questions about it pretty regularly so I thought we could discuss it here. What is natural about it and why would I use it? 

Screenshot of the grade settings showing the control of the aggregation and other settings.

The simple version of what is the natural aggregation is that it is the sum of the grade values scaled by their weight. It is a sum with an implied weighting based on the size of the grade item. Five assignments with the same maximum score will all have the same weight, an exam worth double the points will have an effective weight that is double the others. The "natural" bit is that it tries to follow what we naturally mean when we have 5 items in a gradebook with the same total points; they get the same weight. They have the same impact on the final grade because they are worth the same amount. 

How does it work?

Natural aggregation functions as a sum of grades when the weight boxes are left alone. In this situation, the numbers in the weight boxes are just informational and show the effective weights in the sum. Natural aggregation assumes that all of the points will total up to 100% and automatically weights everything based on their contribution to that amount. Here it automatically suggests or shows weights for the assignments based their relative maximum scores. This first one is out of 100 points, that other assignment is out of 40 points so it is 40% of the weight of the first and so on. 

Screenshot of the gradebook setup page showing grade categories, grade items, and grade weights automatically assigned by the Natural aggregation method.

In my course set up, I weight my assignments, participation, and tests grades to be specific amounts of the final grade. Now pen and paper me used to put in the effort before the term to make sure that my number of assignments and their point totals got me to the right total number for the assignments grades part of the course grade. Here in my online course I can do the same thing, but what if I didn't? What if my assignments totalled up to 400 points and the course was 900 points but I wanted the assignments to be worth 25% of the total score, not 44.4? The natural method can support this easily. When I look at the category grade settings, I can just click on the checkbox to override the grade weight for the category. The value there is created by a calculation based on the total points (not including extra credit) in the category compared to the total number of points available in the course. If I override the weight, I can set the assignments to be worth 25% and the participation to be worth 50%. The aggregation will automatically assign the remaining third category of grades to be worth the remaining 25% of the weighting in order to keep the total to 100.  

Where credit is due

If you are looking at that Assignment category layout in the screenshot above, you might have picked out that the total in the weights seems off; the weighting adds up to 110. What happened there? Has the natural method let me down? Don't worry, one of the assignments that is worth 10 in the weighting is also marked as extra credit. 

Screenshot showing the extra credit indicator in the gradebook setup view. The indicator is keyboard accessible.

This item does not actually add to the total available points, but just adds it's value to the student's score in this section. It's weight indicator shows how much potential it has to lift grades in the Assignment category that I have set up. Students who complete this with a perfect score have a potential to move their grade in the assignments by 10%, more generous than I normally am. 

So why use the natural aggregation?

It is not a radical departure from the other methods, and that is a good thing. However in my mind it offers one clear advantage. If I add a collection of activities to my course worth the points that I have given each one and do nothing else, the natural method will gather them up and create a total that acts more or less exactly how I would expect it to handle the scores without me doing anything else.I can see the implied weighting and make changes as needed, but if I took my pen and paper course layout for grades and translated it directly to an online gradebook, natural would give me exactly the same grade I got by hand. 

Natural merges some of the functionality of several of the older grade aggregation methods into one method and adds extra credit support without having to choose a special version of a method. Rather than use sum of grades and then switch to weighted means to get custom weights and then make sure that the weights add up to the right total, I can use natural and have the single aggregation method handle all of that without me needing to keep switching and correcting. 



What's up with Glossary?

Posted by ab37750 Aug 19, 2019

The Glossary activity is there in your add activity list. You've probably looked at it and wondered what to do with it, or how to use it well, or if you are like me even where to start. Well this blog post is for you my friend. Let's talk about what the Glossary tool is all about, how you can use it, and some neat features that can really enhance your course.

Glossary is a normal Moodle activity, but typically is not graded. The most common way to think of using one is as a dictionary or encyclopedia list of entries that explain terms and concepts from the course material. The list can be the authoritative source for terms and definitions for the course provided by the instructor or even from an associated textbook. The list can be shown in different layouts and styles, dictionary, continuous listings (not broken up by first letter), encyclopedia (dictionary with pictures inline with the terms), and FAQ (where the concepts and definitions are called questions and answers.) This screenshot shows a simple, dictionary style listing. 

Screenshot of the list of entries in a glossary. It is searchable and can be filtered by the entry's first letter.

Glossary can be treated as a student contribution and collaboration space where learners can create entries for terms or concepts that they do not understand and have other students provide attempts at answers. Comments and even grading can be used in this approach. 

For my exploration, I will use the authoritative source approach which assumes that the entries are "official". For this purpose I prefer to use the appearance mode called "simple, dictionary style". It provides a clean standard view with terms organized by first letter and dispenses with the notion of who authored each individual entry. Entry authorship is more useful for collaborative glossaries. 


Screenshot of the form for making a new glossary entry.

Each new entry is a combination of a Concept or a Term and it's definition. It is best to keep the Concepts as simple and short as possible. In part because they tend to be easier to search for, and in part because it is easier to use the filter system on single terms and fixed short phrases. Keywords can be thought of as aliases for the concept; any terms that should be considered synonymous to the main concept in the entry. Filters will show this definition for the keywords as well as the concept. 

What's this about filters? 

Screenshot of the course admin tools showing the Filters settings for the course. Screenshot of the enable filter interface.

Maybe you've used them before, maybe not, or maybe you've used them and not known. Filters screen the HTML text on the page and do something when they find a match. Like the MathJax filter that takes LaTeX embedded between the right tags and turns it into a nice math font based mathematical expression on the page. Glossary comes with the glossary auto-linking filter. Auto-linking takes the glossary out of it's isolation in the activity and injects it into the course content.

When enabled in a course or an individual course content item (a Forum or a Page resource as examples) the glossary auto-linking filter finds words in the HTML that match concepts and their keywords and creates a link to the glossary entry that matches. 

Screenshot of a section of text with the glossary auto-link enabled and modals with definitions open.

It even works on itself! Concepts and keywords in glossary definitions can be auto-linked to their definitions. A veritable journey through concepts awaits your learners as they follow a key term in text presented in the course to a definition that opens further definitions for the key concepts it contains. 


The filter matching can be set to match on all or part of the concept term in the text, for example if the concept is for the word trust, whole word matching will only match to the word trust, partial will match to trust in the word trusting. Keywords can be useful here to have more precise control over the matching behavior. Set the match to whole word only and list intended matches in the keywords list to avoid partial matching to terms that are not intended. There is also an option to force case sensitivity, to create constraints on the matching behavior. Auto-linking can be enabled and disabled for each individual term, giving you complete control.


Glossary auto-linking can be enabled everywhere in the course or just in specific activities and content items. If enabled everywhere, it can be disabled in specific activities or content items, like in a summative quiz to avoid showing answers in question text. The glossary auto-linking filter needs to be enabled by a site administrator before it shows up in your course as an option. 


Experiment with the glossary. Add terms and concepts over time; enlist learners to start a glossary and then refine and finalize it. Use the filter in a few areas and then expand them over time. Glossary can be a useful and rewarding tool for teaching and learning when employed in your courses.