One of the problems I have with the way Moodle has been implemented at this institution (and probably not unique to this institution) is the absence of a search engine. Mostly because the students “inability to find anything” is being blamed on poor course design and being solved by an institutional push for consistency.

Amongst the many problems with this “solution” (e.g. the assumption that a single design will be suitable for the full spectrum of courses, topics and pedagogies used across a university) is that it won’t actually solve the “inability to find anything” for my course. My course will still have a series of activities and resources in which useful information is stored. No amount of consistent layout of a Moodle site is going to make it simple to find specific bits of information amongst those activities/resources. You need a search engine.

The purpose of this post is to explore a solution to this problem and also to illustrate the use of the TEST Framework. The TEST framework is introduced in the first week of my course as one tool to help the students think about the analysis of different tools to solve a task.


To able to find specific bits of information on the EDC3100 course website (called a “Study Desk”) and help those taking the course to also find those bits of information they need.


  • The course website is hosted by an instance of Moodle.
  • There’s no search engine for the site and access to the site is restricted.
  • A Mac laptop is my main computing device with some use of an iPhone and the occasional use of an institutional PC running Windoze.


I’m a competent, experienced computer user with some pretentions toward software development.


  1. Run my own search engine?

    Tools like regain or Arch potentially offer the ability to search the entire EDC3100 site using my credentials.

    On the downside, it would really only be of use for EDC3100. The installation and setup cost could be large as both are open source projects at a stable stage of their life cycle. It’s also not an option that other EDC3100 folk could follow, nor would it easily allow me to provide access to those other folk.

  2. Save the content.

    Most of the material is made available as Moodle books that can be printed out and through this saved as PDF files on my laptop. This would allow use of the Mac’s local search facility.

    It’s all a bit manual, but low-tech and would only work for EDC3100. i.e. a specific task for EDC3100. It also isn’t an option that would help the other people in the course to be able to find information.

  3. Diigo and social bookmarking.

    We are using Diigo for social bookmarking in the course. Bookmarking particular topics and being able to search through those bookmarks is one option.

    Problem is it assumes you know what you’ll want to find later when you read it/bookmark it. Doubt it would scale real well. Especially with lots of people bookmarking in a group. On the other hand, if it is restricted to my bookmarks, there’s the problem that the words I use mean nothing (or something completely different) to the other staff and students.

  4. Evernote or other note-taking software.

    There is a category of software to support notetaking. Evernote is one of the more prevalent examples, especially in education. Wikipedia has a comparison of Notetaking software.

    A tool like Evernote provides clients across a range of platforms – allowing use on different devices. It supports some form of search and the ability to organise what is being saved. Evernote is being used by some as a research tool. Teachers are also using it.

    With that last example use by teachers, there is a shared notebook that can be searched by people other than the creator. Even does a bit of OCR-enabled searching on images. I could potentially create a shared EDC3100 notebook that others can search.

    But the real point here is the ability to demonstrate something that students could do for themselves. i.e. keep their own notes on the course in ways that make sense to them.

  5. Put all the content on an open website.

    This was the option I initially considered and rejected because of the additional workload (I never did get around to doing it last year).

    To some extent the Evernote option is an example of this approach. The main difference is that the “open website” provides a range of clients across different devices that I can use to place information on the site.

Getting started with Evernote

  1. Download the Mac client for Evernote and install it.
  2. Create a free account.
  3. Use the Getting started with Evernote guide.
  4. Create a note, add an image.
  5. Install the Evernote web clipper
  6. Trial the web clipper on the EDC3100 website.

    The article clipper auto-detects the main content of a page.

    The Moodle book print option opens up a browser window without the widgets, but copy and paste that URL into a normal browser window and all is good. That looks like it might work.

  7. Set up an EDC3100 notebook and make it public
  8. Add some of the information.
  9. Do a search on the public notebook. All good.

Some reflection and experimentation

This does mean that I’ll need to update the notebook as I modify the resources in the study desk. But it’s a very easy process, so should be okay.

One limit will be that I won’t make the discussion forum content available here for privacy reasons, but on the plus side, Moodle does offer a search engine for that.

I also need to see if there’s any simple way to present the information in a more useful way. At the moment the public notebook just lists the resources added in reverse chronological order. Ahh, there are some view options at the bottom, but only simply sorts by title, age etc. I can tag the resources and have started using tags to indicate the week of content.

Another slide downside is that the search facility only really displays the notes in which the search term appears and then highlights it in the note. It doesn’t actually provide any support for you to go specifically to the place in the note where the search term was found. It appears from some early searching, that public notebooks are not indexed by Google. That could have helped.

That’s enough to try this out and see what folks think.