What's up with Glossary?

Blog Post created by ab37750 on 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.