Around & about Memories Personal Travel

Desktops 1

I have a number of photos that I have used as desktops on various computers. Most of them hold some memory or have a background of some meaning for me. The quality of the photos however, is quite variable.

In this occasional series I will describe some of those. We might sub-title this one “tranquility”.

Dawn breaks over Angkor Wat as the chattering crowds gather. Their talk is mostly drowned out by the din of crickets. Few notice the young monk who has also come for the view.
Ta Prohm in the days when crowds were few, late afternoon with the day cooling down. Lucky enough to see it in 1999 and had it mostly to myself.
On the trans-Siberian in Inner Mongolia, headed towards Ulan Bator. Long train journeys are great getaways with a sense of timelessness that air travel could never equal.
A riverside cafe, a snack made of river weed, a beer and watching the sun set over the Mekong River in Vientiane.
The sole campers, Hania and I, at Spirits Bay in the far north of New Zealand on Christmas Eve 2002. No cellphone coverage, cold water, a long drop and a beach that stretched as far as the eye could see. Heaven. At least until the possum screamed in the middle of the night.
The home of Frederick Chopin at Zelazowa Wola, Poland. A great place to visit and, if you are lucky, someone will play the piano as you relax on the terrace or stroll round the grounds.
Development Personal

Moodle Development: getting started.


NOTE: This post first appeared in eLearning World last year: Since then Simple Lesson has been published in the Moodle Plugins database:
Moodle plugins directory: Simple lesson

Moodle Bites for Developers Level 1 starts February 1st 2019.

As a user, teacher and lecturer of programming languages from FORTRAN IV to Java I’ve long been interested in the topic of Moodle programming, but every time I have started I’ve hit some kind of wall:

  • Lack of (or outdated) documentation
  • Lack of detailed PHP knowledge
  • Lack of help and support
  • Difficulty in understanding the source code

Then in frustration I’ve given up.

This last year I published my first Moodle plugin to the database and I’m deep into my second.  I’m still not a fully-fledged developer but I do understand a lot more than before.  So much so that I’m helping to facilitate a MoodleBites course in the subject[1].


One of the things needed to bring about this change was motivation.  I’d been working with people who were developing Moodle courses making extensive use of the Lesson Activity in Moodle.  It’s not a bad activity but it does suffer one serious shortcoming – you cannot use questions from the question bank in a lesson.

I began to Google around and pretty soon discovered that this had occurred to people before and they had not been able to solve it yet, mostly through lack of time.  Being in my late 60’s time is not as much of a luxury as it used to be for me.


Stuart at HRDNZ knew that I was interested and offered me a place on Justin Hunt’s MoodleBites for Developers Level 1 course.   Justin is “the POODLL guy” – the smart Moodle Developer of that Swiss-army knife of Moodle improvements, especially good for language learning[2].

Although the course covers much of the basics of Moodle programming (by no means all) it also teaches the value of persistence – or should I say without persistence you will find it hard to complete.  This is not the nature of the course material or the skill of the facilitator, rather it is the nature of the challenge.


Persistence for me was, when faced with a challenge, not going first to the forums and getting the answer but working back and finding out where I had strayed from the path.  Experienced Moodle Developers have all sorts of tools at their disposal.  All I had was echo and var_dump.  Echo allows you to print things at your console (you can also log messages to your error log). Var_dump allows you to see the “guts” of an object and work out what you should be doing with it.

Armed with these simple tools I would go back over my code and figure it out for myself, resulting in those wonderful “ah hah” moments.  When you have those, by the way, don’t forget top put them in your Evernote or whatever you use for a log.

I’ve sometimes puzzled for days over some piece of code and this has led to a broader and deeper understanding of Moodle structure and coding norms.  Even some of the documentation at Moodle org started to make sense.


There is, of course, an endless amount of knowledge already on the internet about Moodle, PHP, JavaScript and other technologies.  So much in fact that you sometimes have to be pretty skilled to find the missing piece you are looking for.

Obvious sites are:

  • The Moodle General Developer forum[3]
  • Stack Overflow[4]
  • The Developer documentation[5]

Less obvious routes include looking at GitHub for Moodle HQ and other developer’s accounts and studying the code of any plugin somewhat similar to the one you are trying to build. 

The Moodle database will also help you understand what variables/properties belong to which classes/objects and gain a deeper understanding of what your code is actually producing.  I have found this especially useful when trying to understand how my plugins store media files.

For a really quick but excellent overview of Moodle architecture, you can read Tim Hunt’s excellent guide[6].


As many people will tell you, learning by doing Moodle development is better and more effective than learning by reading about Moodle Development.  In fact Moodle is built on the philosophy of social constructionism[7].

If you see an error message as an example of feedback on your learning, a challenge to be googled, rather than as an obstacle to your progress you will learn more effectively.


We’ve already mentioned personal traits such as persistence to which we can add optimism and a sense of humour.  However, you will also need:

  • A sound knowledge of programming (preferably in PHP, preferably Object Orientated)
  • A good understanding of SQL and relational databases
  • A good understanding of html and css.
  • An understanding of JavaScript.

It’s true that if you are not familiar with all of the above technologies you can learn as you go.  A good source of basic knowledge is at the W3Schools website[8] which may help if you have some gaps.

Good luck!










Richard Jones

Professional Background

Started life as a geologist and geophysicist and from there, during a bust in the oil industry moved into mathematical modelling of fluidized bed combustion and other research for a few years.

Eventually became a teacher in an international school and have worked in Portugal, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and China.

I worked for many years as an examiner for the International Baccaluareate Organisation.

Since 2003 I have been an eLearning Manager and have developed Moodle courses for Te Wananga o Aotearoa, Dulwich College Beijing and Moodle workshops for the IBO.

I have also developed online workshops as a complement to traditional f2f events (blended learning).

In 2013 I completed a 3 1/2 year contract with the Southport School, Queensland, Australia as eLearning Coordinator developing more Moodle resources and other initiatives.

These days I’m working from my home in Pirongia, New Zealand. Past projects include Articulate Storyline training and development for Geneva Healthcare and TANZ eCampus, working on innovations in practice for tertiary educators and proposing solutions for EBRD.

Current projects include remote Moodle Administration, course development and Moodle plugin development with three plugins in the Moodle plugins database and courses in Moodle Development for Moodle partner HRDNZ.  I also undertake testing for Moodle Org.


  • B Sc Geology, London, 1974
  • M Sc Marine Earth Science, London, 1978
  • MA Education (Educational Management), Bath, UK, 1996
  • Certificate in Online Education, USQ, Australia, 2002
  • Certificate in Designing and Facilitating eLearning, Open Polytechnic, New Zealand, 2014

The Internet in 2034

A little piece I wrote recently for the Coursera Course by Dr Chuck (Charles Severance) on Internet History, Technology and Security.  An excellent course by the way, you may know much about the technology already but the interviews are quite fascinating.

The Internet in 2034 References are in brackets [].

If I’m still here in 2034 I shall be 84 – what will my life be like? My bed wakes me gently at 6 AM – or as I asked it last night “mid-afternoon New York time” and asks me if I need a drink or something to eat.

A far cry from the primitive Siri [1], my entire retirement unit is wired for voice recognition.  The system has also switched on the 3D holographic unit (seeing is believing [2]) so that, when I’m ready, I can talk with my son as he sits on the edge of my bed.

This morning his Vietnamese wife is with him and she has switched on her translation unit so that her words come to me in clear unaccented English.  This new version of Facebook Translate is magic [3].

I enabled sharing on MARTY (Medical Alert in Real Time by Yahoo) [4] with my son a few months back so he asks if I’m taking my meds.  I tell him yes, of course, otherwise alarms go off all over the place and a real human nurse (Betty) comes in to yell at me.

At least I think she’s real, it gets harder to tell all the time, even though my eyesight has never been better since the last implants were put in. He asks what I have planned today. I tell him I am answering history questions for a Primary school in Hangzhou, China.  The little ones are curious to know how we managed back in the 90’s when buildings were so primitive they couldn’t talk (gossip, if you ask me) to neighbouring buildings about their humans [5].  None of them (the kids, not the buildings) are actually in school this morning since they are not playing any sports today.  However, their 3D images will all appear to me to be in some nice setting – probably down in the park by the West Lake.  I remember visiting in 2007 back when the pollution was pretty bad.  The sequestration nanobots have all that sorted now I hear.

My son works for Bloomberg where his team is developing software for the new FINGERTIP payment system – “see it, touch it, buy it!” as the ad goes [6].  He will work from home today as he does almost everyday. Their teacher is a nice, polite young man who took his teaching degree with Coursera for free.

His home town near Lijiang in Yunan province still retains its original flavour and practices agriculture in the traditional way.  However, thanks to internet commerce, the products can be shipped pretty quickly via Amazon’s new Farm Market to practically anywhere in the world by next day. [7] It was the profit from the farm that allowed Huang to take some time off from the family business to study.  However, he tells me, one day he will go back, perhaps when he marries, and raise his own children in the traditional way.  He feels that, despite the opportunity he now has to travel and work anywhere in the world, he wants his children to know where their food comes from.

As far as these children are concerned, the house system manages all the food ordering and storage.  They simply open the fridge and take what they need.  They realise by now that if they try to eat too much junk or drink too much cola, the fridge will send a message to Mum on her WhatsApp Earphone [8] and they’ll be for it when she comes home.

Later, when they are grown perhaps, he will go to the USA. I plan to tell the children that, when I was growing up in a similar small village in rural Kent (England) we could only talk to people at a distance by the telephone (and not everyone had one of those) or write them a letter.

Then I’ll have to explain about pens, paper and all of that (perhaps I won’t explain about inkwells and nibs, that’s too confusing).


eLearning Perspectives Personal

School Trek

PowerPoint 2013 Presentation

SchoolTrek (pdf)

A keynote at the Sydney 2013 Moodle Schools Moot hosted by Pukunui.

Thought I might share this with a wider audience.  It might be a bit self-indulgent in parts but I think it gives some perspective for those new to the eLearning world.

In the keynote I try to show why it is that the time for technology to finally change the nature of education has arrived.  For me, this is a journey that started in 1990, for others (notably Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow – ACOT) it started as far back as 1985.

We have come a long way slowly but now things will change fast.