Juliette has been spending some time looking at the Moodle forums regarding the use of groups, adn this is the email she has sent around (I did ask her if it was ok before I posted this!!):
"I’m gradually ploughing through the Moodle forum on groups to get a feel for some of the problems that people seem to be having. One thing that’s worth being aware of is that the way Moodle handles groups has some changes version 1.6 (apparently available on the Moodle CVS).
As you may know, the way Moodle essentially works at the moment is that you can only define one set of groups for a course. When you add a tool to a course, you can tell it to use this set of groups. So for instance if you have two ‘groupable’ activities in a course you have to use the same groups for each activity. Most of the request on the forum arise from a need for multiple sets of groups (I’ll call a set of groups a group set for the time being – need a better name!). So allowing this would be an obvious improvement. When you add a tool you’d then tell it which group set to use. This would mean that you could use different groups for two different activities in the course.
There are also some possibly interesting things the user interface might be able to do if we have multiple group sets. For instance it could automatically create a new group set with minimum overlap with existing specified group sets. So for instance you could get it to put everybody into pairs, then say to the user interface ‘create me a new set of pairs with minimum overlap with the other set of pairs’, so that nobody is in a pair with the same person as before.
Another option could be that it can automatically create a new group set where groups are subsets of groups in an existing specified group set. This would mean that you could divide your students into three groups say, have a forum for each of these groups and then put them into pairs for another activity but be sure that the both members of a pair come from the same group of the original three.
As well as adapting tools to be able to choose a group set for the tool, ideally you’d want to be able to assign the force option (split all groupable activities into groups) to no more than one of the group sets.
All of this does however make the issue of what the ‘flattening function’ should be quite interesting though, as we’ll have to assume that some tools might be ready to use IMS groups before others. Maybe we could have some way of marking one of the group sets as the ‘primary’ group set that tools still using the conventional Moodles groups would see? There are general issues about the flattening function of course though because IMS doesn’t have any concept of courses. It’d be interesting to see exactly what the existing IMS Enterprise Moodle module that the MINTED folk mentioned does for this. Another thing I haven’t checked yet is whether it’s possible in Moodle to create separate ‘sections’ for a course like you can in some VLEs. If it can’t then separate sections, a pretty common requirement, are just groups within Moodle. As well as flattening, we also have the reverse problem – if somebody makes a change to the conventional groups in Moodle, how precisely do we reflect this in our IMS groups database? I think that way is much more straightforward, but we still need to make sure that we do it.
The user interface for managing group sets will also need substantial thought to make it easy enough for most people to use, but I think it should be possible. One thing that came up on the forums is that people want to be able to see a list of all the groups for their course on one page so we must make sure our user interface can do that too. "