Best practices: Diving into designing databases

The Moodle™ Database activity module allows the teacher and/or students to build display and search a bank of record entries about any conceivable topic. The format and structure of these entries can be almost unlimited including images files URLs numbers and text amongst other things. A database is made up of fields and templates. Fields define the type of data the database will store i.e. text dates files URLs. Templates allow you to control the visual layout of information when listing viewing or editing database entries. While the Database activity can be a bit overwhelming to newer Moodle™ teachers/designers using it even in its most basic form provides for interaction and collaboration provides engagement for learners and builds a sense of community in the online classroom. In today’s blog I’d like to get you started on the right path with Database by providing you with the major settings you’ll want to consider when setting the module up some potential benefits and possible pitfalls when using the module and provide you with some best practices and bright ideas for Database use.

Getting started

Settings you’ll need to consider include:

  • Available from/to: This setting controls the dates in which the database is visible to students. The database will also be open for data entry provided we are not within the date range specified by the "read only from/to" settings.
  • Read only from/to: This setting controls the dates in which the database is available for viewing but not open for data entry. The "available from/to" settings override the "read only from/to" settings. So if a database has "read only from" January 1st and "available from" February 1st students will not be able to view its content during January.
  • Required entries: This setting determines the number of entries each student is required to enter before the database activity can be considered “complete.” The student will see a reminder message if he/she has not submitted the required number of entries.
  • Entries required before viewing: This setting determines the number of entries the student needs to submit before he/she can see entries by other students. If the student has not submitted the required number of entries he/she will only see the entry page and not the list or single view pages.
  • Comments: This setting enables commenting on entries. The comments field appears on the single view template when this is enabled.
  • Require approval: This setting allows you to require each entry to be approved by someone with the appropriate role before other users can view it.
  • Allow posts to be rated: This setting allows posts to be rated which will enter a score in the gradebook for the student’s submissions in the Database. The grade is set using the dropdown menu below this option.

Potential benefits

Consider these benefits for using the Database activity in your classroom:

  • When student entries in the database are rated the grade is automatically added to the Gradebook.
  • Database provides several opportunities to encourage students to share information about themselves their interests and their work thus providing opportunities in the online environment to build connections and develop community (see the Bright Ideas section below for more creative uses).
  • Students in the role of content creator are much more engaged in the learning experience. Activities like database are perfect for building these opportunities.
  • Student-generated content can also be used as resources in future classes.

Possible pitfalls

Consider these possible pitfalls for using the Database activity in your classroom:

  • Instructors may want to track student entries to ensure that the contributions are useful. Managing the quality of these entries can be tedious but it also presents a potential opportunity for feedback to help the student learn.
  • If enabled the commenting feature allows students to comment on the entries of others. While this can be a fantastic way to encourage community building you may need to take some time to teach students the art of effective feedback.
  • Some instructors also report that database can be one of the more cumbersome Moodle™ activities to create and maintain. However using the module at its most basic when starting should provide you with just the right fit for collaboration and information sharing.

Best practices

So you’re probably thinking “How can I effectively use the Database activity in Moodle™?” I’m glad you asked! Take a look at these best practices outlined for the use of all Database activities:

  • Establish what is (and isn’t) appropriate regarding comments. Have students review Netiquette guidelines before participating in database comments.
  • Be prepared to demonstrate and reiterate your expectations for students who are unfamiliar with this tool.
  • Consider using the “require approval” option for moderation in order to ensure the quality of student contributions. Discuss with your students what a quality entry is and isn’t. Consider publishing a rubric to go along with Database submissions.
  • A little preplanning can go a long way when you are thinking about developing a database activity. Before you being digging into the database try to sketch out the fields you think you need the students to enter and how you might want to lay them out in each template.
  • To avoid the necessity of always having to create a new database from scratch the database module has a presets feature. You can create your own presets as well and share them with others.

Bright ideas

In addition to the best practices shared above consider these creative uses of the Database module:

  • Allow students to build out a research project collaboratively within the confines of a database.
  • Gather feedback on a list of ideas for a project or a guest lecturer. The rating and commenting fields can be used to capture group feedback as well as give you a tool for providing feedback to students. To set up voting select an appropriate scale when you set up the database options. To allow students to comment enable commenting in the database options.
  • Maintain a log of what was done in a face-to-face class each day so that absent students can get caught up themselves.
  • Allow collaboration on building a collection of web links/books/journal references related to a particular subject.
  • Display student created photos/posters/websites/poems for peer comment and review.

I hope today’s blog has inspired you to dive into Moodle™’s Database module. Remember that this blog has only scratched the surface of the Database’s true potential. For further support on using the Database tool enroll in our Advanced Course Building course today!


~Laura Lea



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