In broad terms, rendering is a method that takes a set of instructions and produces digital visualizations of objects. We owe the current landscape of computer-animated movies and special effects to the ever-increasing elaborateness of rendering techniques and technologies. But even though Moodle sites do not require the complex algorithms involved in the lengthy and resource-intensive rendering processes of today, renderers still have a lot to teach us when it comes to producing the visual elements we use on sites today.
The official developer documentation in Moodle provides comprehensive information about how renderers work and how programmers and designers can setup powerful and efficient renderers for their Moodle Themes. But now, developer and POET Executive Director Mike Churchward has created a 5-part easy-to-use tutorial on Moodle Renderers.
While it is not required that you set up a renderer for a theme to display visual elements, both Churchward and the Moodle documentation agree it is good practice. Renderers separate a theme’s structure from its visual processing and allows development modularity. This is a key concept in the operation of teams, especially large ones, where different developers can tackle different parts of a task simultaneously and independently. It can also save time and effort, as one theme structure could (for example) be processed by several renderers for different clients.
The Churchward primer explains renderer and its main components, including examples, tips on best practices, and points for future discussion. The five-part series goes as follows:
Part 1: Setting up the Renderer. Churchward lists the files involved and some standard conventions.
Part 2: Using the Renderer. Churchward “runs” the renderer file written in part 1 to generate visualizations.
Part 4: Using the Template. Churchward “runs” the renderer file again, as it now uses the template file developed in the previous section.
Part 5: Further Discussion. Churchward discusses possible uses for renderers and his views on the future of the technology.
POET, Partners of Open Educational Technologies, is a non-profit initiative to promote skilled knowledge about Moodle and other Open Source technologies applied to education. The organization has provided support for Moodle Plugin development and testing. It is supported by universities and private organizations, including some Moodle Partners.