Moodle Blog

Review of Moodle 1.9 Theme Design

Monday, 10. May 2010 von admin

There are currently two books out by Packt publishing aimed at themers/developers of Moodle, rather than tutors or admins. They are Moodle 1.9 Extension Development (which I’ll be reviewing shortly) and Moodle 1.9 Theme Design, which I’ll review now.

Confession: I know nothing about theme design and even less about extension development. So why am I reviewing these books? Because if they can do what they say on the cover, they should  be able to provide me with at least the beginnings of an understanding of these two major elements of a good Moodle site. So here goes first with the themes!

I am not a coder. I say that so often I am planning on getting a t-shirt that says as much.  (With <body> on the front and </body> on the back , obviously!) But when I first looked into Moodle I discovered that you can download a theme, change a few  hex colour codes here and there, upload it back and you get your own chosen coloured theme. I never took it any further because that was the limit of my understanding and I have no artistic skills whatsover.  So I left it.

The new book Moodle 1.9 Theme Design, written by UK Moodler Paul Gadsdon, is advertised, and I believe very appropriately, as a Beginner’s Guide. Although you are expected to have some understanding of HTML and CSS, the chapters of the book take you through very methodically and very gently through theming such that you always feel confident and never feel overwhelmed.  I know what HTML and CSS are – and I could copy bits of other people’s but could never write my own – however, at the end of this book I felt I had a fighting chance of creating my own theme thanks to Paul Gadsdon’s step-by-step instructions.

We start in Chapter 1 looking at what exactly is a VLE and what precisely is Moodle. I wasn’t over-convinced by this chapter, as presumably if you are theming for Moodle then you already know what it is and why you are using it – but let’s move on: Chapter 2 starts really simply (as a Beginner’s Guide should) by explaining where Moodle’s themes are kept on the server and selected within the Moodle interface and how you can download a non-standard theme and add it to your Moodle. Chapter 3 shows how to change the header logo and footer details – one of the most commonly requested theming desires on the forums. Important also is how to check appearance in different browsers. You can read Chapter 3 as a sample chapter here. Chapter 4 looks at changing the background fonts and colours using CSS (at which point I realised that my earlier forrays into Moodle theming would only have got me as far as chapter 4 of this book) After this we investigate the differences between full (liquid) screen  and fixed width themes in chapter 5 I really appreciated this as it’s something I have never really “got” -but now I do! Chapter 6 looks at the graphics side – using Adobe Photoshop. Just a niggle, as I know many people use Photoshop but it might have been nice to use a freely distributed program such as Gimp. But I am just being pedantic there. In chapter 7 we learn about parent themes -what they are and when not to use them -and in Chapter 8 we finally start to put all the elements of our theme together. Chapters 9 and 10 and the appendices offer little extra styling tweaks, changes to the core code  and further enhancements – all of which get tested thoroughly before we finish the book with a usable, cross-browser compatible, validated -and -in your case if not mine – attractive theme for our Moodle 1.9

I found this book very easy to read and I like the way it takes you from the absolute beginnings safely to the end of your theme design. Moodle 2.0 is due out in the summer and theming has been rewritten so these instructions won’t work for Moodle 2.0. However, Moodle 1.9 is used by thousands of establishments worldwide and will continue to be popular for a fair while yet, so this book is an invaluable aid to those who’d like to improve the appearance of their site.
So did Moodle 1.9 Theme Design do what it said on the cover? Do I feel I could create a workable theme for 1.9? Absolutely, yes. Do I think I could create a work of beauty and artistry like Moodle 2.0’s themer Patrick Malley? No – but then – sadly – that was never going to happen! 🙂


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