How to restore the Moodle frontpage forum

In versions of Moodle before 2.9 it’s not possible to use the Moodle interface to simply restore a backup of your front page course, or activities within it.

I’ve found a route around this problem which enabled me to restore my front page ‘site news’ forum. It involved a little database poking so find yourself a tame sysadmin if you’re not confident.

Make sure you backup before you start. Really.

1) Restore your forum backup. Use the usual moodle routine to restore a backup, creating a new course.
2) In the database, look for the mdl_forum table and find the ID of your site news forum, and the ID of the new forum you have just created.
3) Now, look at the mdl_forum_discussions table. Run a quick search for the IDs you found in step 2 and you’ll see posts to each of the forums. To move a discussion from your newly restored forum and add it to the front page site news forum, simply change the ID field.
4)A simple SQL query will move all discussions from the restored forum to the front page. Something like:

UPDATE `mdl_forum_discussions` SET `forum` =(frontpage forum id) WHERE `forum` = (your new forum id)

And, that’s it.


Deploying class sets of Chromebooks


This is the first in a few posts I plan to write documenting our process for deploying various devices into school. It’s an area I get asked about frequently so thought that a post that gets updated with latest practice could be helpful. Do add to the comments if you do something different / have questions.

With the Chromebooks it’s simple. If you’ve been doing similar with iOS devices you’ll notice how much shorter this job list is. With the right preparation it only takes a few minutes to go from unboxing to classroom use.

Before purchasing

There are two pretty critical steps here.

You’ll want your school to have a Google Apps for Education setup. You can log on to a Chromebook with any Google account, but you don’t get the device management features if you’re not part of GApps.

Make sure you get the Management Licenses. Your reseller will be able to provide them (when we purchased £19.99 / device), and it gives you all the admin functions you’ll need.

In our experience this took longer to activate than expected. We had the Chromebooks but had to wait a few days before they could connect to our apps installation. Not a huge problem, but do be aware of this is you have tight timescales – chase your reseller when you order.


With your management licenses in place you’re good to go. We labelled our devices and powered them up. Join a wireless network (& add your proxy settings), but when you get to the login screen don’t log in.

Instead, hit ctrl-alt-E and you’ll be get the enterprise login screen. Enter your GApps admin credentials.

Once logged in your Chromebook joins your apps installation. You can log out and it’s ready to go. From now on it will default to the enterprise login so your users don’t need to remember the key combination.



With all the Chromebooks added to your domain you can have a look at the Google management tools.

Log in to your Apps domain and go to the admin area (the ‘manage this domain’ option in settings). Pick ‘device management’ and you should see your devices.

You can drill down to an individual device level and get useful data like recent active times and users. ‘Last policy fetch time’ is a useful piece of information for when you start to deploy apps/settings.

You can assign Chromebooks to different ‘Organisations’ within your setup. You could assign them all to the top level org, but using sub-organisations such as staff/students/yeargroups/etc will allow you to set up groups of devices in slightly different ways. Different permissions/apps for teachers compared to students seems like an obvious way to use this.

Back on the device management page the network & chrome management settings are useful. On these pages you can control settings for your devices, based on those organisations mentioned above. Google have full docs on these, but some key settings are:

  • Preconfigured wireless networks (and proxy settings)
  • Wallpaper
  • Allowed app types
  • Homepage
  • Bookmarks
  • Privacy

Possible trip hazards

Couple of things to watch out for that when setting up your Chromebooks. Nothing major:

  • The Chromebook has a guest account that gives Internet access without a login. We had trouble getting this to work reliably on networks with a proxy as it doesn’t remember the ‘allow proxy on shared networks’ preference between sessions. Our current options on this are either disable guest account or setup transparent proxy. Working on a better idea…
  • Be careful with your management settings. Make a typo in the network settings and save them and they’ll deploy. If that results in the devices not being able to connect it gets a bit harder to deploy a correction.

And that’s it, you’re good to go. In the next post on the topic I’ll cover deploying apps, and how you could delegate app deployment to your teaching staff.

Selective Attention as a Metaphor for the Research Process

Watch.. (if you’re still under your Internet-proof rock and have somehow managed to miss it…)

As I see it, there are two ways of missing the gorilla in the research process.

The intentional

First, the intentional. You throw your Harry Potter invisibility cloak over the big monkey and choose to ignore it. 

This could be entirely your fault. Because a certain strand of evidence doesn’t back your theory,  or you dislike the work of another author so don’t read it, or just don’t bother to do your searching very well.

Or, it could be the fault of your environment. Maybe your institution doesn’t have access to the right materials, or you don’t have the funding to purchase them. Or, you just don’t have the time to give it the attention it deserves.

The unintentional

The cape is on the ape before you knew there was going to be an ape.

It might be the thing you hadn’t considered. Much like one of those choose your own adventure books, your research could take you down a particular route and you entirely miss other options. How many pages down the Google search do you go?

Or, it could be about the technology. Whether it’s the search algorithm prioritising results above others or your organisation/ISP/government filtering certain content from you.

An argument for high quality research

All of which clearly points towards planning the research method being just as important as choosing the topic when it comes to my upcoming dissertation. Time to open that textbook

How to host a website on Dropbox

Built yourself a website and need somewhere to host it for free? There’s a really quick way to do this with your Dropbox account and a neat little web-app I discovered over the holiday called Pancake.

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As the image above explains, just hook up Pancake to your Dropbox account, create a folder for your site and you’re done. Pancake will give you a URL, and there’s your website.


Ubuntu November Idea

The problem with the school holidays is it gives me more time to think about things than usual. Most years I come up with something to trial in the school to suck up some more of our staff free time, this year I’m thinking maybe we could extend the idea to a few others that are reading this.

Earlier in the week I read this post on the Grumbledook blog and it got me thinking. We really need to be working harder on minimising our IT spend in schools and we’ve never really put Ubuntu (or any other Linux flavour) up to a proper test to see if we could actually work with it. Like the man in the short at the start of Toy Story 3 said, we stay with the familiar.

So, my plan is to attempt to run for the whole of November using Ubuntu. I’m going to dual boot my laptop/desktop and see just how far I get before I need something it can’t do. Throughout the process I’ll document how it goes, from the install through to how I find editing video there compared to with iMovie/etc.

But, I want to go further than that and really produce some useful case study work. In addition to my own personal set up:

1) As many other members of the Wildern team will do the same thing. This will obviously cover the technician roles, but also out into our media/programming/teaching types as well. The more people involved the better the results will be, and the wider the range of needs covered.

2) We’ll set up a dual booting IT suite and look to deliver our ICT curriculum using the same setup. Again, documented to look at all the various aspects of the process but with a focus on the impact on teaching and learning.

At the moment I’m feeling incredibly positive about this as a trial. Feels to me like something that the sector needs, and hopefully the data we produce from it will encourage others to try it too. I’m hoping I have the impact to get plenty of our own staff involved as well as the wider Hampshire area, but it would be great if others would be prepared to join in too. Drop me an email/stick something in the comments if you fancy it, and please pass on to others you might think might be interested. As a school we probably have some resource available to help others who want to try but don’t feel too confident, and if you’ve already been down this route we’d be really appreciative of any support/tips you might have.

Edit- this is getting a slightly larger response than expected so I thought a quick Google Form would be an easier way for people to say they’d be interested. No pressure, just add yourself if you want to know what’s going on. Thanks…

Image source- Tux by Matt McGee. CC licensed on Flickr