The Moodle Podcast

Moodle App Integration with Campus Student Services using custom blocks | A conversation with Mario Wehr and Marvin D. Hoffland

March 25, 2024 Moodle Podcast Season 1 Episode 19
Moodle App Integration with Campus Student Services using custom blocks | A conversation with Mario Wehr and Marvin D. Hoffland
The Moodle Podcast
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The Moodle Podcast
Moodle App Integration with Campus Student Services using custom blocks | A conversation with Mario Wehr and Marvin D. Hoffland
Mar 25, 2024 Season 1 Episode 19
Moodle Podcast

At MoodleMoot Global 2023 in Barcelona, Marvin D. Hoffland and Mario Wehr
of FH Kärnten gemeinnützige Gesellschaft mbH (Carinthia University of Applied Sciences) presented at MoodleMoot Global 2023 on how they used Moodle App at their university. We caught up with them to discuss further.

Watch their presentation from MoodleMoot Global on YouTube.

Watch the video on YouTube of their customised version of the Moodle App.

Get the Moodle App. 

Visit Moodle at

Show Notes Transcript

At MoodleMoot Global 2023 in Barcelona, Marvin D. Hoffland and Mario Wehr
of FH Kärnten gemeinnützige Gesellschaft mbH (Carinthia University of Applied Sciences) presented at MoodleMoot Global 2023 on how they used Moodle App at their university. We caught up with them to discuss further.

Watch their presentation from MoodleMoot Global on YouTube.

Watch the video on YouTube of their customised version of the Moodle App.

Get the Moodle App. 

Visit Moodle at

Hello and welcome to the Moodle podcast.

Hello, everyone, and welcome. In today's conversation, we're talking all about the Moodle mobile app. I'm speaking with Marvin Hoffland and Mario Wehr about their instance of the Moodle mobile app. And if integration with campus student services via custom blocks. Together, they work at the Carinthian University of Applied Sciences in Austria.

We might as well get straight into it. So, thank you both so much for being here. It would be good to firstly, actually introduce yourselves. My name is Marvin Hoffland. I am,
originally from the States, but I've been working in Austria since 1994. And I've been working at the Carinthian University of Applied Sciences, which is called in German, the Falco Schulichanten, since 2002. I started using Moodle around 2004, 2005. And then my colleague and I, Mario Wehr, we did a prototype for a company. And then we also were able to set up a test Moodle server in 2009 for one of our departments, which then grew in when we did an,

LMs evaluation. Our current LMs that we were using at that time wasn't really excitable, let's just put it that way. The choice from basically our board of directors was, let's implement Moodle. And so Mario and I have been the two main people behind the administration and development of Moodle, since 2013. I'm, 50% in teaching. I'm an, english lecturer for the department of Engineering. It as well as my other 50% is what called our center for teaching support. And I'm mostly in the elearning Moodle,

but also turn it in, plagiarism checks, things like this, also safe exam browser we use. So we are trying to do a secure testing environment. And a lot of this is all based on core element being the Moodle LMS. My name is Marvin Wehr. I'm working at the,

Carinthia University of Applied Science for about 20 years. I'm what we call a senior lecturer and researcher in the fields of,

multimedia technique. Try to teach our students how 3d game engines are working. And the other part,

on our university is that I am responsible for the technical part of our LMS. I've started with Moodle with, version two. That was 2000, 2009. I think since version two, I am fighting with Moodle and the technical part of the system. Probably we should also say we're located in southern Austria.

Mario has a lot of experience with the Moodle app, which we're going to discuss today. So let's go to your questions. Sorry. That's wonderful. Thank you so much.

wow. That's a lot of experience between the two of you. What was the catalyst for deciding to use the Moodle app back when you did decide that, what do you think that students weren't getting from the current systems?

 The Moodle app in general? I think that was basically an individual decision for the students. And then we started the development.

Wow. When did you start, Mario?

2090, I think. Yeah, just before COVID Maybe we should. Mention we have a history in building apps like the Moodle app for students. In 2010, we started to develop, me and my colleague, Marcus Bosiger, we started, a native mobile app. It was called students life. And the idea behind this app is that we want to have a separate mobile app which can be used by the students to get their current events, gradings, and all the stuff which they need, for their study. One of the problems with the native app, it wasn't a problem. It was just perhaps a technical challenge, was one person had to develop for iOS and one person had to develop for the Android platform. We changed this mobile app after four years from the two native apps to a cross-platform app.

Why I mentioned this is we used the same technologies, which is also used now by the Moodle mobile app. So we used ionic and angular and the Cordoba framework to build a, hybrid cross-platform app. 

This is a, type of  mobile app, which is, also used, for the Moodle mobile app. We also started with deep knowledge when we integrated our, new mobile blocks for the mobile app, because it's the same technology. 

So we had a really nice starting position when,Mario started working on coming up with kind, of a more of a branded, dedicated version of our Moodle app, of course, keeping all of the core features of the Moodle app, but then adding on the different elements that we presented in Barcelona at Moodle Moot worldwide. Can you tell us more about those added on elements? We came up with what we really thought was really necessary for the students, and some of those were, as Mario mentioned, events, as in, when is your next class?

Where is your next class? We've got the campus map built in. Mario actually even built in a feature where the student, if they're running late, they can see how many minutes are left in the calendar, which of which we integrated in the Moodle app. It's kind of a nice little bling bling effect, I guess, but it's actually really cool.

But what was really important was the course information. So basically what's listed on our website. What's listed. It's kind of an online syllabus that we wanted to integrate that was actually right from our campus information system so that the lecturers wouldn't have to do that extra in their moodle courses, which of course, they do.

We also wanted to make sure that exams a much better overview. We've got a color coordination system. Green is normal lecturers and I believe exams would probably be more of a yellowish orange. Yeah, it's a color marking, so students can really just using their apps. And also what's really nice is they see their official grades because of course, the Moodle gradebook depends on individual lecturers, individual professors, if they're actually using the Moodle gradebook.

These are the secure connection, but we've also created, with our connections, interfaces to the campus information system so that the students have a really good one. And a number of students really do need access to PDF files for transcript of records as well as basically it's a confirmation that they're studying. So for financial aid or things

So we've really tried to make those are the must have things. And then we added a lot of what we call really kind of cool features that makes the campus life. For example, we have four or five different campuses, so students can switch between the campuses, see what's for lunch on the different restaurants, or at, what we call the Menza, I guess you call it a cafeteria. 

One of the favorite parts of the app that I use all the time is the, public transportation system. Mario's created an interface so that the bus stop that's next to the campus will automatically come up. And then I can use, instead of having to go to the third party app that's provided by the carinthian public transport system. I can go right there and I say, I need to get from this campus to that campus.

And the train bus connections are there. That's a really cool feature. Students can see if there's a free room if they want to go in form study groups, and they're all on campus and they're looking for a place. So we've got a lot of really nice little features. I can actually check on the mobile app how many students are going to be in that classroom, and that's really useful for me as a lecturer as well as in the technical support field.

So, yeah, we've built in a lot of really nice things that are just more than bells and whistles. I would say some of those. I just think, that would be so handy back when I went to university, to have some of those features, especially the public transport one. Even just thinking of that is genius on its own. I think to be able to integrate the two is another thing. But to think of that, all those different things, how can I make the students lives easier? Is that what's kind of at the crux of why you decided to develop this out? Myself and my colleagues, and I'm going from the teacher, not from the Moodle administration, is sometimes we think more about what we're providing and we're not thinking about the students.

And I think Mario's done a great job, really thinking about what do students want? We have talked to the students.

I've gotten know when I give a, welcome day training for the students, and I bring up the app, and then people come up to say, well, it doesn't work here, it doesn't work there. And then Mario and I get together and I provide him the feedback, and he works on the development.

And then also, Mario does have that experience from the proprietary app that we had in house where he was thinking about all these things with his colleague Marcus prosegger. 

It's really focusing on what would have been cool. I think you said it right. What would be cool when I was a student that I didn't have and what can we provide? I think that's really behind a lot of the thought pattern. 

Love that. Thank you. Is there anything else that you're kind of thinking about adding on in the future?

There is one thing. This is a calendar for the course events that is missing. Yeah. where we mean, the Moodle course events. Assignment quizzes are due and things like this. Of course, that's on kind of on the moodle dashboard anyway, on the mobile app. I mean, the course events from, our course at management system. Oh, okay. For a great overview about a whole semester. That would be nice. Unfortunately, we don't have a set weekly schedule for a lot of our courses. Sometimes we have part time students, what we call in German. And so I might not see them for another month or I might have more blocks or how things are going. It's really indicated if it's an online course or if it's an in class course or if it's a hybrid. Know all the things that we had to get used to in COVID, have really been integrated into, so you get a quick overview. Fantastic.

Earlier, you mentioned that you could talk a little bit about security. So I'd like to hear a little bit more about that, if you can.

 Mario is much more the expert than I. For example, we don't push any data to the campus information system.

And it's basically more of a pull request. You want to take over? Because I think I've reached my limits. The cool stuff is about as we can use the Moodle mobile app. We don't have to care about security and how to make sure that the app work well on iPhone and Android, because this is the part of your colleagues from the Moodle mobile team, are building the app, also are developing the core functions.

 One of the functions which we are using is that the Moodle mobile app can use parts modules, for example, the blocks to render information of them. And that is what we are using. What we have done is we're using, ome blocks on our dashboard, and our part is to make sure that the information which will be provided for the students, will be nicely rendered in HTML. 

We see all these mobile blocks that are on the dashboard, but none of the other users do. So our normal lecturer professor roles, our student roles, they don't see all of these extra blocks that are on the dashboard. Probably the only constraint is we don't allow then anyone to edit their own dashboard and do their own design because we have this LinkedIn with the mobile app.

We're a very small university, but I think we're going about 85% of all of our users, from professors and students to faculty to staff, are using on Moodle on a daily basis during a regular semester, which we're quite happy with. I mean, when we started out in 2013, it was far, far less. I think one interesting thing might be we had approximately 213 courses in 2013, in the winter semester, fall semester, and we're up to over 1000. Yeah, we have integrated Google Analytics, I call it pages. What I see in Google Analytics per day. We have about 1500 users per day.

Which is actually quite good. Again, we have approximately 3500 students. I believe,

I'm sure management will correct me if I have that number once they hear the podcast. 

That's incredible, though. The retention is high, but also the adoption is really high. And you said before that it's around 85%, but before this it was much lower. You said, I think COVID has definitely boosted those numbers because the adaption, of course, is not only at the student level.

But of course, as faculty and staff, we implemented a series of online trainings twice a day during the lockdowns. A lot of people who are really: "I'm not going to do it". They realize Moodle wasn't that bad. And then they also, one of my favorite examples of that: 
I'm sorry, I'm digressing. It doesn't have to do anything with the Moodle app, but we had a person, one of our mathematics professors just didn't think he could ever use Moodle. And now he's one of our hardcore Moodle users. 

He's developed question pool of over 2000, 3000 mathematical questions. Sometimes people have to see what the purpose is and if they can see the functionality, they'll keep adapting and retaining. And I think these little nice to haves makes it a much more useful app as well as what we've also integrated into the Moodle LMs where we use the Microsoft office plugins.

We have, all of our plagiarism checks over, turn it in, goes that way. We've built in some additional, we're a certified GitHub educator platform, which we've also students can access. We've added all of our library online things into an extra menu so that students can log into Moodle and go right to, I don't know, the IEEE Explorer so that they can find their scientific journals. So we've really tried to make,

and I've used this at a few conferences, Moodle and the app, a one stop shop so that students can do so much more than just look at a PDF or take a quiz or the standard educational tools. We tried to really integrate many different options. So for the listeners, I will share your presentation.

But is there anything else you'd like me to share with them? Is there any other resources or anything that you have? Create a little. We do have a Moodle app video. Yeah, we have a YouTube link that we could probably send you and you can talk about an app, but unless you actually see how it works, it's just so hard.

That's what I was thinking. And even with the screenshots, which I think most people really saw what we were trying to do, but I think the little video kind of shows you, gives you a little bit more of the user experience. One of the nice things about the Moodle app and Mario and I have really talked about it, the yearly subscription for being able to do things like this is quite low. 

Our annual subscription for the branding functions on the Moodle app. This has allowed us to do a lot of really cool things with the Moodle app. Also, maybe a nice thing about the Moodle app, too. For those people who are actually studying or teaching at different universities, it's really easy to switch between your different accounts.

I'm on like three or four different Moodle websites on my app, and I can just switch accounts with, every once in a while. There's a password prompt every couple of months, but that's actually quite functional as well. Wonderful. Well, I don't think there's anything else, unless there's anything else you would like to share with the audience. I will share that video, yeah, in the show notes for sure, because I think that'll be really relevant to.

I think we might have to look it up. So,

I'll email it to you. Perfect. Yeah, there's no rush. I don't think I can get in the chat.

I do have some more broad questions, or maybe just one broad question is, what do you like about the open source community?

Well, for example, the safe exam browser. I had never heard of it. I went to a moodle moot. I saw it presented, from a gentleman from the university. Well, it's basically a technical university. We were able to then implement that for our secure exam environment. The open-source community gives you sometimes an advantage where you're not waiting for a proprietary license thing. Okay. This is what you can do with the new update open source. You kind of got an idea what's coming up, and you can already start making your integration plans perhaps easier.

And I'm thinking of this more, as in the elearning administration, for example, what h5p and how we can integrate more h5p elements into moodle, where this is becoming more and more of a question. So I think what it helps me out in my position is the ability to kind of answer questions before they're asked and have a solution to perhaps, certain problems. There's nothing worse when you're behind the curve. I don't want to say that we're ahead of the curve, but we're riding the waves pretty well. Our biggest thing was with the Moodle 4.0 change. There's a lot of people who were like, wow, I love the new interface, or, I hate the new interface.

Why did they move this button there? And things like this? So too much change is never good. But if you can do incremental change, and I think that's what open source. Environment brings open source is one of the most important. I call it drivers of development today. I think 99% of all web pages, in the Internet are driven by open source content management systems. Typo, WordPress, PHP, frameworks, PhP. Runtime is open source. It's the runtime which is used for Moodle and so on, without this work from a lot of people, which are not working for money because they want to involve the system, where they are working. And that's the main idea behind open source, like Moodle, you see what this community can do if money is not the priority one for developing and for making the system. The open-source community is really much more than the sum of the individuals. And I think you can see how people can take your idea or how you can take someone else's idea, adapt it for your own needs and then share it back.

Like Mario's made some improvements that we've worked with or he's worked with developers at universities in Germany and then they put that into the Moodle core system. And that's just a small thing, where we've actually gave back to Moodle after taking so much from using the open source and using the concepts.

I guess there's just a number of tools that you can use and with the open APIs we can integrate them into the learning management system so that the students don't even know.

For example, we use the cultura media server and we've integrated that into Moodle so that lecturers, can stream their videos, which makes a much better user experience for the students. Martin Dougiamas has always mentioned that the accessibility factor, and I think if you depend too much on third party as you're always going to be dependent on those products, but you lose the flexibility and you lose the ability to make those incremental changes because if you get a software release every two years and then wham, it's totally different, then you spend a lot of time in your training and administration and explaining how the new software works.

Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your knowledge with everyone because you've summed it up anyway, it's all about that sharing and what can I give back to the open source community? Thank you both so much. Well, thank you. Bye bye. In the show notes, I will link a demonstration of the Moodle mobile apps integration with campus student services by custom blocks created by Marvin and Mario for Carinthia University of Applied Sciences.

Thank you so much for listening. See you next time.