I am working with an Instructor on a project in Desire2Learn in which she wants to give students the ability to comment and respond to any piece of content in the course, similar to a blog commenting system.
D2L does have the ability to allow students to leave feedback on content pages, but this content is only visible to the Instructor. This particular Instructor felt it was important for all students to see each others comments as it may be the spark that gets other students to engage and discuss the content. She also wanted to have the conversation start and continue at the place where the content lived, rather than forcing the students to click on over and navigate to the discussion boards.
I really like the way this Instructor thinks. I think there is a lot of value in not only encouraging and make possible spontaneous dialouge in a course, but also reduce the cognitive load on the students by having the comment system on the same page as the content, as is becoming commonplace around the web.
So, in order to do this, we needed to figure out a system that was a bit more robust and transparent than the default D2L star rating system.
In the past few years, a number of third party blog commenting systems have appeared. Haloscan was one of the first (now called Echo). I use one called Intense Debate on this blog, and I am aware of another popular system called Disqus. Most of these third party commenting systems operate as a blog plugin, but I decided to poke around and see if one of these three had the option to work on stand alone HTML pages.
I added a comment and hit submit. A Disqus popup appeared asking me to enter in a name and email address (it also gave me the option to sign in with a Twitter, Disqus, Yahoo or Open ID account)
I added in my email and name, hit post comment and up popped the comment in all it’s AJAX-y goodness right underneath the comment box. Seamless. And the student stays right on the page they comment on the entire time.
So far so good.
I started replying to my comments using a new email address and name for each comment. I was pleasently surprised to see that, not only were comments nested, but if I included a link to a YouTube video, it would attach to the comment and, when I clicked on the attachment, the video would pop up right there, in context, within D2L. So, not only could students include video in their comments, they could view that video right there without leaving the learning environment.
In addition to leaving a comment, a student can simply like or dislike the content as Disqus includes a thumbs up/down option. And students can subscribe to the comments using either RSS or email, so they can be notified outside of D2L if someone comments on their comments, and there is a Community button that will show stats about the comments begin left not only on this content, but on comments being left across the courses.
All this information about the learning community right there on the same page and in a very unobtrusive way. I think Disqus has done a bang up job of making a usable interface that looks generic enough that, out of the box, it does not look like an out of place element within D2L.
All this is making me feel all social learning gooey good.
There are compromises, of course, with using a third party tool in this way. The obvious one is that students are prompted to enter in an email address and name when they post a comment. Not a huge deal, but some of them will be faced with a moment of “why, if I am logged into a system, am I being asked to enter in my name and email address?” moment. But that is a problem that some well worded instructions could fix. And I still need to check out the privacy of the comments. So far it looks like all the comments are stored away on the Disqus site in a password protected admin area, which is good.
I should stress that I have only been playing with this for a few hours, and have not subjected it to heavy lifting. I am still not sure how well it will work out when I roll it out over a number of pages within the course. There are some configuration variables that I will need to muck around with, but so far this looks like a promising way to add comments to any static content page in D2L.