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Moodle Management: Student Groups and Backups

In this third part of a four-part series on Moodle, an open source course management system for your classroom, you will learn how to manage student workgroups and make backups. This article is excerpted from chapter four of Using Moodle, Second Edition, Teaching with the Popular Open Source Course Management System, written by Jason Cole and Helen Foster (O'Reilly; ISBN: 059652918X). Copyright © 2007 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the publisher. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media.

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November 24, 2010
  1. · Moodle Management: Student Groups and Backups
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Moodle Management: Student Groups and Backups
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Student Groups

This section covers the following MTC skills: 8.1 Using and managing groups

Moodle has an unusual but effective way of managing small student workgroups within your course. You can define groups at the course level, then set each activity to a group mode or leave it available to everyone. The group mode you choose may also determine the behavior of the module. Think of groups as a filter. If you are a member of a group within a course, and an activity is set to group mode, Moodle will filter out any work from anyone who is not part of your group. You are all looking at the same activity, but you can’t interact with anyone who is not in your group.

There are three group mode options:

No groups
Everyone participates as part of the class. Groups are
   not used.

Separate groups
Each group can see only their own work. They can’t
   see the work of other groups.

Visible groups
   Each group does their own work, but they can see
   the work of the other groups as well, as shown in
   Figure 4-3.

Once the group mode is set for the course or activity, students will interact with your Moodle course as they normally would. The only difference will be the people they meet in certain activities, such as forums. For example, if you set the group mode of a forum to separate groups, Moodle will create a forum for each group. Each student will see the same link to the forum, but she will be able to access only the discussions for her particular group. You need to create the forum only once; Moodle takes care of creating the individual group forums.

To utilize the group mode, you first need to create the student groups:

  1. Click Groups in the Administration block.
  2. On the Groups page, there are two columns, as shown in Figure 4-4. The left column lists the groups you have created. Initially, this list is empty, as there are no groups created by default. The right column lists the students assigned to the selected group.
  3. To create a new group, click the “Create group” button at the bottom of the page.
  4. On the “Create groups” page, as shown in Figure 4-5, set the options for your group:

    Group name
    This is the name of the group displayed in
       various places throughout your course.

    Group description
    Write a brief description of the group and its
       purpose. The description is displayed above
       the list of group members on the Participants

    Enrollment key
    Enrollment keys allow users to enroll
       themselves in a course. You can set an
       enrollment key in your course settings, as we
       covered in Chapter 2. If you set a group
       enrollment key too, then anyone who enrolls in
       the course using that key will also
       automatically be made a member of the group.

    You need to set an enrollment key in your course settings, as well as set a group enrollment key, otherwise students will not be prompted to enter a key when they attempt to enroll. Students only need to enter the group enrollment key and do not need to know the course settings enrollment key.

    Make sure that the first letter for each group enrollment key is the same as the course settings enrollment key. If a student makes a mistake typing in the enrollment key, he is provided with the first letter of the course settings enrollment key as a hint.

    Hide picture
    Hiding the picture for the group prevents the
       group picture from being displayed in various
       activities throughout your course.

    New picture
    You can upload a profile picture for the group
       or replace an old picture with a new one.
  5. Click the “Create group” button.
  6. The name of the group will now appear in the groups list. Select the group you just created.
  7. On the “Add/remove users” page, there are two columns, as shown in Figure 4-6. The left column lists the existing members of the group, and the right column lists the potential members. To add a student to the group, select the

    Figure 4-4.  Groups

    student’s name from the potential members list and use the left-facing arrow button to add the student to the list in the lefthand column.

    As for assigning users the role of student in your course, you can add multiple students by holding down the Shift key to select a number of students in a row. If you want to select multiple students who aren’t listed next to each other, hold down the Control key (or Apple key on a Mac) and click each name you want to add. 
  8. Repeat steps 3 to 7 for each group you need.

    It’s possible to assign students to more than one group. If you do so, it can be confusing for both you and the students. You will need to carefully watch the number of students assigned to each group to make sure you haven’t left someone out. Students will need to be careful about interacting with the right group in the right place. If you have set a module to separate groups mode, students will need to select between the groups where they are members.

Figure 4-5.  Creating a group

If you have a lot of students to organize into groups, you might like to try the “batch upload of groups” facility. Click “Import” in the Administration block, then follow the instructions in the “upload groups” help file.

If you’ve not forced the group mode in your course settings, you can set it for each activity, either when adding the activity (in the common module settings), or by clicking the group mode icon opposite the activity name when editing is turned on for your course page. The group mode icon toggles between the three possible group modes shown in Table 4-1.

Table 4-1. Group mode icons





Group mode


No groups mode


Visible groups mode


Separate groups mode





Figure 4-6.  Adding/removing users

If you’ve forced the group mode in your course settings, then you will not be able to toggle between group modes on your course page.

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