Discussions

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The Discussions tool enables you to communicate asynchronously (not live) with your site participants. As an instructor/facilitator, you can create, change, and delete forums, moderate discussions, and grade student postings. Site participants can privately communicate using the built-in [Private Messages] component.

It’s important to note that CLEW’s Discussions tool is not a “threaded” discussion forum. Postings within one topic occur under one another and do not branch off, nor can you post a reply to an individual posting. You must reply to the Forum topic instead. However, you will be able to select parts of a posting and reply using the “Quote” feature.

Contents

Getting Started

If you don’t see Discussions in the left tools menu in your site, you will need to add it using the Site Editor tool following these steps:

  1. Open the Site Editor and select the Edit Tools link in the top menu bar.
  2. Ensure that Discussions has been checked.
  3. Click on Continue button at the bottom of the page.
  4. Complete the process by clicking on Finish, found at the bottom of the page.

Discussions is organized into four parts:

By default, you will have two categories in your site's discussion tool: Main and Other. The Main category contains two forums, Questions & Class Discussions. The Other category consists of one forum, the Student Lounge. There is nothing special about these default categories and forum names. You can change them to suit your needs. These Categories and Forums are illustrated below:

Navigation structure of discussions
Main Elements of the Discussion Navigation Panel

Wiki Bulb Icon.gif Note: There will be no pre-existing topics in your forums when you get a new course or project site. You will be able to export your categories and forums and import them into a new site. Additionally, topics that you have flagged as I will re-use will be exported/imported into new sites (without replies).

Navigating Discussions

Discussion Home

The home page for the Discussions tool is the Discussion Home area. As you navigate through your forums and topics, you can return to home from any page of the tool by selecting Discussion Home or Discussion List as indicated below.

Breadcrumb Navigation in Discussions

Once you select forums, the software will build a navigation menu (breadcrumbs as shown in the image to the right), showing you the path you've taken. The forum title is displayed as well. Further, if you are in a forum, you will see Discussion List, the category title, and then the forum.

Breadcrumb Hierarchy
Breadcrumb Hierarchy

Recent Activity in Home Page. Upon adding the Discussions tool in new sites, a message gets embedded in the site's Home page which shows if there is recent activity in the "Discussions" tool. This message center is located just below Recent Announcements. It is available to both students and instructors.

New message or posts
New message or posts

If you have new activity, you can click on the hot link of the private messages (PM) count and you will be taken right into the in-box of your Private Messages in the course site. Likewise if there are new posts (new topics and / or replies) since you last viewed the activity in your course, you can click on the new activity hot link and you will be directed in the Recent Topics page.

To benefit from this functionality, you might consider setting your announcements' options to show only one or two lines of text for two or three announcements. This way, you and your students can see when you have new activity in the Discussions & PM tool when you get to your course and go there quickly. Otherwise, this message center will be buried at the bottom of the screen.

The menu bar and Discussion List navigation menu is accessible from all screens (except Manage). No matter what you select (Recent Topics, Member Listing, Private Messages, etc.), you can return to the list of forums by selecting Discussion List or Discussion Home. You may also navigate between forums by using the drop-down menu at the bottom of the Discussion forum page.
Icons to indicate different functionality

Finally, take a moment to study the legend above (this is located at the bottom of the page in Discussions), which explains the different types of icons used to highlight functionality such as: new message, blocked messages, etc.

Wiki Bulb Icon.gif Note: Hot messages refers to messages that have had heavy dialogue and have reached the minimum number of replies to be considered hot (default is 30).

Student posts are always "normal" posts. Special types of postings can only be created by instructors/facilitators. They include Announce, Sticky, and Reusable topics and will be described in more detail on the Discussions Topics page.

Discussion Icons

Icon Definition
Deny Access Icon
Deny Access Icon
Deny Access - This forum is visible only to the Instructor/Site Owner.
new message icon
New Message Icon
New Messages - Members can see at a glance where new activity is – where a new message is posted. An orange document icon will appear next to the forum name as well as how many topics and messages (replies) are in a forum and who posted the last message and when. Clicking on a user's name will bring up their profile; clicking on the letter icon will take the user to the actual message.
No New Messages
No New Message Icon
No new messages - If there are no new messages in the forum, the document icon will be

white.

Read only icon
Read Only Icon
Read-Only - Read-Only and "Lock at specific date" forums overlap. If a forum is set to Read Only (locked) upon creation, no lock at date is shown, as the action (locked) takes place instantly. A padlock icon beside the forum name means that it is locked. Everyone except the Instructor/Site Owner can only read the postings and cannot post messages.
Reply only icon
Reply Only Icon
Reply Only - The pencil and paper icon means that in this forum only Instructors/Site Owners can create a new topic. Other members can only reply to existing topics.
Select Groups Icon
Select Groups Icon
Select Groups - The Instructor/Site Owner has allowed only a certain group(s) of members to participate in this forum. Only those members belonging to the designated group (and the Instructor/Site Owner) have access.
Grade by Forum Icon
Grade by Forum Icon
Grade By Forum - The entire Forum has been designated for grading. All topics are to be graded as one inclusive mark.
Grade by Topic Icon
Grade by Topic Icon
Grade By Topic - Forum has been designated for grading by a Topic, not the entire Category or Forum. Topics within a Forum have been designated for grading.
Grade Category Icon
Grade Category Icon
Grade Category - Entire Category is to be graded using one inclusive mark per student.

The Read Only, Reply Only, and Select Groups icons will appear with an  orange  background if there are new messages, and with a  white  background if there are no new messages.

Discussion List
Discussion List

Instructors (facilitators) can add new forums to the existing list, or remove the default forums and create entirely new ones for their discussions, as shown in the following example. Note that members can see at a glance where new activity is (orange folder), how many topics and messages (replies) are in a forum, as well as who posted the last message and when. Selecting a user's name will bring up his or her profile, and selecting the letter icon will take you to the actual message.

Students/site participants' first instinct will be to jump right in and start participating, and, by default, they can do just that. The default forums enable anyone who is a "Participant" (access) or "Facilitator" (maintain) the ability to read and respond to messages.

Instructors can

Advantages of Discussions Tool

Among the advantages of the Discussion Tool there are:

Private Messaging With the Discussions tool, users can privately communicate (email) with other members of the site. This is organized into a Sent Box and an Inbox. When viewing messages, there are From: and Date columns where there will be a [delete] check-box beside each message. These messages appear in your Inbox of the Private Messages area. There is an option to [Flag for Follow-up] or [Clear Flag].
Profile Users can customize a personal profile by embedding an avatar or other self-identifying graphic and additional contact information. This profile and its settings will be visible and used in all sites where you are a participant or a facilitator.
Search There is a search function within the Discussions tool. There is also a [Recent Topics] link that sorts the topics by date with the most recent at the top; however, you cannot conduct a search by Author.
Interface Some have said that using the Discussions tool is more intuitive and easier to set up than the Forums tool. There are prepared Forums (Questions, Class Discussions and Student Lounge) has and the tool has a similar look and feel to other commonly used forums.
Quick Reply If you are not interested in formatting a message, there is a [Quick Reply] button available for straight text replies at the bottom of a forum. Individuals can also Private Message (PM) the author of the post.
Hiding/Showing a Topic The Discussions tool has a feature that will have a [Make Forum Visible on Date/Time] as well as a [Due Date/Time] to disable access to the forum.

Differences between the Forums Tool and the Discussions Tool

There are some differences between Forums and Discussion and knowing them will help you to choose the appropriated tool for an specific task or topic:

Question Forums Discussions
Definitions and Overview Forums is a tool that has one or more Forums (General conversation vessels) that contain one or more Topics within. Individuals can post replies to the topic thread (individual responses connected to the topic), or post new threads related to the topic. It has an internal statistics package and customizable settings to enable various editing access to users. Within the Discussions tool, instructors can set up unlimited Forums (Conversation areas with a theme or topic), Categories (cluster of similarly related Forums), and moderate topics; communicate privately with users (private messages); and post individual details including images and social networking connections in a viewable profile.
Can I use this tool to grade postings? This tool can associate a Forum or Topic with an existing Gradebook Item or instructors can establish an entirely new Gradebook item when creating a Forum. If an instructor wants to use a pass/fail process, they can select a 1/0 point scheme, with 1 for pass and 0 for fail. This tool can enable Gradebook to be associated to individual Discussion Forums. Instructors can assign a grade by an entire Category, Topic or Forum, or by individual postings using points only.
Can I assign a pass/fail, checkmark or letter grade to a posting? No. Gradebook will only accept points from the Forums tool. No. Gradebook will only accept points from the Discussions tool. However, you can enter a "point" amount into Discussions that does not get transmitted to Gradebook, but students can review in the Discussions tool only. Enable the Send to Gradebook option in the grading panel for the Forum and Topic or in the "Manage" screen for Category and Forum.
Can I use this tool to conduct group work? The Forums tool can be set up for groups (in the Forums or Topics sections) if groups have been previously set up in the Sections tool or Site Editor -> Manage Groups options. The Discussions tool can have groups assigned to specific Forums when groups have been previously set up using the Sections tool or Site Editor -> Manage Groups option.
Are Threaded Conversations available? The Forums tool has threaded conversations, which means students, facilitators and participants can reply to a posting, or reply to someone else's response to a posting. Conversations are linear, which means one posting follows another with the most recent at the bottom of the topic.
Can I be notified of new postings or topics? The number of new postings in the Forums tool will be shown in the Home page of a site for all users, and clicking on the link will take the user directly to the Forums tool. Also, within a Forum, anyone can enable the [Watch] option to be notified by email when there is a posting made. Bookmarks can also be set up to frequently visit a forum of interest by selecting the Bookmark button at the top of the forum. Within the Discussions tool, there are several icons that change when a new topic is posted. When setting your preferences in the Profile section of the tool, you can indicate that you want an email sent when new topics are posted or when a private message is sent.
Can I order or sort the forums or topics I initiate by importance? Instructors can rearrange the position of the topic within the Forum or Topics using the Organize link. Instructors can classify a topic by Announcement (top priority, top of the list), Sticky (appears under Announcement) or Reusable (can be copied), and Normal. Also, instructors can manage the order or names of Forums or Categories using the Manage link.
Can I know how many postings a student has read or authored? Separate Statistics area defining number of authored/read/unread/percentage is available in Forums. The number of messages posted is available under the Member Listing link, but there are no statistics for the number of postings that are read.
Is it easy to learn and use these tools? The Forums tool may be challenging for new users, but it now has a prepared forum or template to model future Forums or Topics from. For more information on how to set up a forum, visit the Forums page, enroll in a CLEW workshop, or contact the CLEW team at CLEW Team with specific questions.
Can my students or I upload attachment(s) to a posting and how big can they be? In the Forums tool, users can post attachments with a maximum size of 50 MB. The Discussions tool allows postings to be accompanied by a maximum of three attachments, each with a file size of 10 MB or 30 MB in total.
Can I Show or Hide a forum or topic?

Can I disable the Forum/topic from further postings?

Can I see postings first before I release them to the class?

Forums/Topics can be locked (disabled from further postings) and enabled to be Moderated (postings have to be approved prior to being displayed). Instructors cannot hide/display a Forum once it has been created, but they can change permissions within the Forum setting to enable or disable access. Also, saving a Forum as Draft will make it not appear to students. A Discussion Forum can be hidden until a specified date. It can also be locked on the "Due Date" to prevent further postings.

Instructors can Lock/Unlock/Move or Delete any topic. When an instructor uses the Deny Access option, it will not be visible to students.

Can I use a quick method to indicate the topics have been read?

How do I know what topics are the most recent ones?

When viewing a thread within a forum, there is an option to Mark All as Read. There is a link in the Home page of the site indicating the number of unread postings in the Forums tool. Once in the Forums tool, there is no way to see the most recent Forum posted; you must open each Forum and look to the top of each message where the date/time is indicated. Also, the Statistics option gives a summary of postings by individuals who authored or read postings with corresponding date and time. Beside each Topic there is an indicator of the number of messages contained within, and the number that are unread. An envelope will appear next to the unread message. There are features to be able to Mark All As Read or Check All -> Mark Topic as unread in either the entire Discussion site or under individual forums. Select the Recent Topics link in the top menu to bring a sorted list of activities in the Discussions tool, sorted beginning with the most recent message (to a maximum of 2500).
Can I enable my students to edit postings? Editing by students/participants can be adjusted by changing the Permissions options of Forums or Topics. Editing or deleting postings can be adjusted to none (no editing or deleting by student), own (only their material) or all (any posting can be edited or deleted). Use caution when enabling participant editing, as material can be irretrievable if deleted or altered. Normal postings enable the post and reply options. Open the Manage link to edit the Forum to enable Reply only or Read only. Access can be given to all participants, no participants, or to specific groups. Deleting of postings is not available in this tool. Editing one's own posting is done using the Edit button within a posting. The most recent edited date appears below the picture, avatar, or name of the student in the posting.
Can students reply specifically to a quote from another posting? When replying to a posting, the editing screen and a Insert Original Text button appears, which copies the From: and Subject: fields into the new response. The quote button is used to respond to a previous message. It copies the entire message into the new reply and can be trimmed as needed.

Other Discussions Tool Components

There are many parts of the Discussions tool that may be of interest to you including:

Related Articles


This article is based on the equivalent Sakai help article created by Indiana University found at: http://kb.iu.edu/data/arcr.html.
Additional sources of content include Brock University's Sakai / Isaak Wiki and the University of Florida Sakai / e-Learning Documentation with thanks and appreciation for the collaboration.

All respective sources used are under a free-for-reuse license and additional permission has been obtained.

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Other articles about Sakai tools and how instructors can use them:

Core Tools: Announcements | Assignments | Email | Forums | Gradebook | Quizzes & Tests II | Resources | Site Editor | Syllabus

More Tools: Polls | Chat | Drop Box | Home | Discussions | News | Feedback | Sections | Lessons | Site Stats | Web Content | Wiki

Related articles: How to add tools to CLEW | Using the Text Editor | Manage Groups | Permissions and Roles | Contact the CTL for help

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We are constantly trying to improve the information in this Wiki.
If you notice any errors or omissions with this material, please advise the LMS Team or submit a Service Request at http://www.uwindsor.ca/bbhelp.

Credits

JForum (or as it is known in the University of Windsor Sakai implementation as Discussions) has been customized and integrated with Sakai by Etudes under the direction of Vivie Sinou, Executive Director. Murthy Tanniru is the lead developer of JForum, Etudes team. The Melete (or as it is known at the University of Windsor Sakai implementation as Lessons) lead developers are Mallika Thoppay and Rashmi Maheshwari, Etudes. Murthy Tanniru, also Etudes team member, has contributed to the Melete code, particularly IMS Content Packaging. Several individuals and organizations from Sakai have contributed to Melete's development. See credits in release notes per version for contributions.

We are grateful to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for the funding support for JForum development, and to Rafael Steil for making his work available as open source. Enhancements in JForum 2.5 and 2.6 were made possible with funding support from the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. The original JForum source code is licensed under the BSD License.

License

Open Source Initiative Certified

OSI symbol

Melete and JForum are licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0

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