Add comments to a D2L content page using Disqus

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.

As it turns out, Disqus has some universal Javascript code that allows you to add the Disqus comment box to any static HTML page. Perfect. So I signed up for a free Disqus account, grabbed the universal code and hopped into my play course in D2L.

I didn’t hold out a lot of hope as D2L doesn’t tend to play well with Javascript, but, lo and behold, when I opened up the content page, switched into HTML view, popped in the JS code and hit save, the Disqus comment box popped up on the page.

Comments in D2L

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)

Disqus Login

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.

YouTube, Disqus and D2L

Very slick.

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.

Community in Disqus

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.


Is Desire2Learn search really this ineffective?

I was reading Jacob Nielson’s new research on how College students use the web and this little tidbit popped out at me.

Students are strongly search dominant and turn to search at the smallest provocation in terms of difficult navigation.

Now there is no doubt that students turn to search on Google a lot. However, research byAlison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg (pdf) of the University of Washington’s Information School show that, while Google and Wikipedia are important sources of information for students, many will begin their search with the resources given to them by their instructor.

Almost every student in the sample turned to course readings—not Google—first  for course-related research assignments.

Students are turning first to the content given to them by their instructors. As more instructors at our institution use the LMS as a content management system for their course notes and presentations, it seems logical to assume that students are turning to the search function in the LMS to find the content they need.

This got me thinking about search in our LMS, Desire2Learn. To be honest, I haven’t really paid much attention to the content search in D2L. When we work with faculty on course content, we spend time talking about how to structure content in modules and topics, but not a lot of time considering how to design our content to be search friendly within the LMS. But according to both the Neilson and Head & Eisenberg studies, perhaps we should be paying more attention to designing for search.

Or so I thought, until I dug in under the hood and checked out search in D2L.

Turns out, we really can’t do much to make content search friendly in D2L because the D2L search only searches for content based on the title of the content. Search does not look within the body of content to find search terms. I could forgive D2L if it looked only in the body of HTML documents and didn’t index the content of other document types, like PDF, Word or Powerpoint files (in which case I would have another fine piece of ammo to use to rally against using those types of file formats in the first place), but to not even search the content of an HTML document makes the search engine useless.

I may be missing something here. Perhaps there is some setting that can be tweaked to enable a full text search in D2L (and please, if you know of anything like that, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments), but this seems like a pretty big piece of underdeveloped functionality. If students really do rely on search to the degree that research suggests, then a robust search function that will scour the course content for the exact piece of information a student is looking for should be an important feature of the LMS.


Desire2Share Ning Group

Just a quick note that if you administer and/or support people who use Desire2Learn, Kyle Mackie at the University of Guelph has set up a new Ning group called Desire2Share. It’s a private group and if you want to join us, contact Kyle. His credentials are on the site.

This site is outside of the official Desire2Learn community and is independent of the company. Just a bit of peer to peer support for all of us using and supporting D2L. So far there are 20+ members from around North America.


4 Free Audio Players to Add Audio to Your Site

Adding audio to your website, blog or online course is pretty easy to do these days. Long gone are the days when we would force students to download and install proprietary players like Real Player or Quicktime. With the ubiquity of Flash and JavaScript, and mp3 we now have more options for delivering audio on the web than ever before.

Here are 4 audio players that I have been working with recently while redeveloping a French language course. All of these players support mp3 and are built using JavaScript and Flash. 2 of the players (Playtagger and  Yahoo Media Player) only require a single line of code to get working on a page. The other 2 (WordPress Audio Plugin and the JW FLV Player) are more complicated, but much more feature rich. All will do the job of playing audio without requiring a software download or install by students and all worked when I tested them in D2L.

The links to the demo of each player will open in a new window since I didn’t want to have multiple players competing with each other on the same mp3 files.

1) Playtagger

The most basic of all the players on this list, the Delicious Playtagger, is minimalism in action. You can start, stop or add the file to Delicious. That’s about it. No pause or volume control. In fact, no audio controls whatsoever.

But what Playtagger lacks in features it makes up for in simplicity of use. Include a single line of JavaScript in your HTML, and any link to an mp3 file in your document automatically becomes playable on the page. A play icon will appear just to the left of the mp3 link.

The one little problem I have with the Playtagger is that if you click on the text link, the mp3 file may either try to load in your default media player or try to download the mp3 file to your computer, depending on your browser. It would be better if the mp3 file played in Playtagger regardless of whether you click on the Playtagger play icon or the actual text link itself.

That one minor problem aside, if you are looking for a simple option to play an mp3 file, you can’t get much simpler than Playtagger.

Playtagger in action.

2) Yahoo Media Player

Like Playtagger, the Yahoo Media Player is added to a page with a single line of JavaScript, which adds the audio player to any mp3 link on your page. Click on the play icon beside the file and the player opens up at the bottom of the screen.

The Yahoo Media Player has more features than Playtagger. There is a pause button, skip forward/back to the next/previous track control, volume control, and track and time information.If you have multiple audio files on a page, the Yahoo Media Player will play the files back to back like a playlist. In fact, there is a playlist option within the media player itself.

The Yahoo Media Player does give you more options to customize the interface and the default behaviour of the player. There are some documented hacks at the media player wiki which come in handy if you want to extend or change the player.

Another resource you will want to check out if you use the Yahoo Media Player is the blog of  Eric Fehrenbacher. Eric has written a number of scripts that extend the player and add extra features. Features like TrackSeek , which adds a slider to give users the ability to move forward and back in a track and TrackLoop which will loop through a playlist after it is finished.

Yahoo Media Player in action.

3) WordPress Audio Player

First off, the WordPress Audio Player is not just for the WordPress blog platform. There is a stand alone version that can be used on any web page.

This audio player is a tad more complicated than Playtagger or the Yahoo Media Player. There is more mucking around with the code to set parameters, but the process is well documented and should be fairly straightforward to get you up and running.

You also have to download and install the scripts for the WordPress Audio Player on your own server, unlike Playtagger and the Yahoo Media Player whose scripts are hosted on external servers. This could be a deal breaker if you don’t have access to a web server. However, if you are using D2L, you can use the file manager in D2L as a place to serve up the files from.

Those negatives aside, I think the WordPress Audio Player has the nicest interface of the lot and packs all you need for features in a compact player. The player itself slides open and closed so it takes up very little screen space and you can change the look and behaviour of the player by changing a few values in the settings.  And unlike the Yahoo Media Player, the WordPress Audio Player comes with a slider enabled out of the box with no need for a third party script.

WordPress Audio Player in action.

4) JW FLV Player

The JW FLV player is by far the most full featured (and hence, the most complicated) of the 4 players here. The JW FLV Player works not only for audio files but for video as well.

Of all the players, JW FLV is the only one capable of doing true media streaming using RTMP as opposed to progressive downloading. True media streaming requires a media server. If you have access to a medai server, then JW FLV Player is your player.

Like the WordPress Audio Player, you need to upload the Javascript and Flash files to your own server.

Configuring the player can be a bit of a frustrating affair if you are not technically inclined. Much of the documentation and tutorials feel like they were written by developers, which is okay if you are a developer but not so if you just want to get the thing working. You should feel comfortable working in JavaScript before diving into the JW FLV Player, especially if you want to customize the features or look and feel beyond the default player.

Speaking of which, the JW FLV Player does have a vibrant developer community and many developers are creating and releasing skins and addons that change the look and functionality of the default player, so you have a lot of pre built interfaces to choose from if the default interface doesn’t toggle your play button.

JW FLV Player in action as an audio only player. This is a streamed mp3 file from our Flash media server.

5) Bonus for the more geek oriented: SoundManager

Okay, if the thought of digging into the JW FLV Player code excites rather than terrifies you, then be sure to check out SoundManager. SoundManager is not a player per se, but rather bills itself as a Javascript Sound API which lets you create some pretty impressive audio players. Check out the page as playlist demo and the still-under-development-so-may-not-be-working-perfectly examples of the 360° Player Demo. However, SoundManager is very JavaScript intensive and I was never able to get it working reliably enough in D2L to use it.

And then there is HTML 5

The chances that most of these players will become obsolete once the WC3 releases HTML 5 to the world are pretty good. HTML 5 promises easier ways to embed audio and video content on web pages with standard HTML tags. The goal is to make adding multimedia content to a web page as easy as adding an image or a table is currently.

But even though HTML 5 got a huge Google boost with the demo of Google Wave, which is a fully functioning  HTML 5 web application, we’re still a few years away from it being available widely enough to rely on it as the sole method of delivering audio and video content. So in the interm we still need players to play multimedia content.

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Personalize D2L content using variables

Online Course Peer Review at Lake Superior College just posted a nice D2L tip on how to personalize content in a D2L course.

By inserting {firstname} into any HTML spot in your courses (news, content, release conditions, etc), D2L automatically places your students’ first names into your message.  This just adds an element of personalization to your class.  This also works if you’d like a student’s last name or username inserted — {lastname} or {username}.

I have tested a few other variables and have found that these work as well.

  • {OrgName} will show the name of the organization (in our case, Camosun Online).
  • {OrgUnitName} will show the name of the course.
  • {UserName} will show the login name of user.

I have checked the D2L documentation and can’t seem to find any reference or list of available variables so there may be more. Remember to include the brace symbol ‘{‘ and ‘}’ at the beginning and end of each variable.

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Create an interactive wall of images with TiltViewer

Demo of TiltViewer

TiltViewer is a free, customizable 3D Flash image viewing application you can add to your site to create a lovely, interactive wall of photos. In just a few minutes I put together a demonstration page to show off the effect.

The images are being pulled from my Flickr account, and if you click on the rotate icon in the bottom right hand corner, you can the Flickr description of the image along with some other data, which could make TiltViewer a nice little flash card exercise with the image on one side and answers on the reverse.

TiltViewer also integrates with Picasa or with a folder of stand alone images on your web server. And, best of all for us D2L users, I was able to get the application working in D2L without a lot of mucking, which is a bit of a surprise since anything that uses javascript often makes D2L very unhappy. Here is what TiltViewer looks like in D2L.

TiltViewer inside D2L

If you plan to use this with stand alone photos, it does require some mucking with an XML file, but the instructions are straightforward.

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Embed a YouTube video in Desire2Learn

Well, I put this video together and demonstrated this technique at a video workshop for our faculty last week, only to have it fail miserably in Internet Explorer 7. Of course. Go figure.

I have embedded dozens of YouTube videos in blogs, wikis, discussion boards and in older version of D2L (prior to 8.3) and have never had a problem. But the D2L HTML editor (which I believe is based on the open source TinyMCE editor) strips out the embed tag when you cut and paste using IE7.

This is a brutal bug, imho, and I’ve reported it to D2L as well as posted it in the D2L user community.

At any rate, here is the video, complete with a spiffy annotation (my first for a YouTube video) explaining this does not work in IE 7.


Patent Office rejects Blackboard patent & D2L releases workaround

The D2L patent blog has been humming the past few days.

First, it looks like the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has rejected all 44 of Blackboard’s patent claims. The patent office released a non-final action, which means it ain’t over yet as both parties can still comment before the final decision is made.

However, regardless of the claim, D2L has gone ahead and released a new version of their LE, 8.3, which President & CEO John Baker says works around the patent issues.

Our Learning Environment 8.3 underwent external third-party review
after we devoted significant resources to ensuring that 8.3 was outside
the scope of the method claims of the patent. We are confident that
this version does not infringe the asserted claims.


Desire2Learn loses Blackboard patent case

D2L President John Baker posted the news on the D2L patent blog late Friday afternoon. Blackboard has won the patent lawsuit against D2L. D2L has been ordered to pay Blackboard $3 million US in damages.

Now, I’m no lawyer. And even though I have been following this case with interest partly because we are a D2L institution, I don’t know all the intricacies of the patent claim beyond the what I have read at places like No Education Patents, the D2L patent blog and various blog postings. But in my mind, this really stinks, and I am not alone in this sentiment.

This worries me on a number of fronts. First, being a D2L customer this may have implications. Perhaps not immediately, but unless D2L can find some sympathetic and sane ears at the US Patent Office (who will be reviewing the patent claim), there could be rough times ahead for D2L. In his letter, John Baker has made an assurance that:

There is no immediate threat to you our clients. We will work with you
to ensure there are no future issues. We are financially sound and are
confident of our ability to work through this matter.

Maybe I am reading too much into the word “immediate” in that statement and my FUD-ish tendencies are showing. But as a client, I am concerned and troubled by this turn. (update: maybe I don’t have to worry too much, being in Canada, according to this article.)

After my self serving interest, I’m really astonished that Blackboard can now claim it “invented” many of the features of an LMS, which, as this excellent analysis by Alfred H. Essa at Minnesota State College clearly shows is a folly. If this is the case, then can we soon expect to see a number of other software companies in other industries launch similar claims using this decision as the basis?

For example, one of the patent claims upheld was the claim that says Blackboard created a method that allows instructors to post a student grade to a file on a server accessible only to that student (claim #39 for those of you keeping track). Well, what Student Records System doesn’t have a web interface that allows that? Can we now expect to see Blackboard sue Datatel or another SRS that allows that functionality?

Claim #40 that allows instructors to perform a statistical analysis on a student or group of students grades? Maybe Microsoft should be worried because I know a heck of a lot of instructors that do grade analysis using Excel.

Claim #43 that says Blackboard provides “…an asynchronous communication tool accessible to student users enrolled in the course for enabling asynchronous communication amongst student users.” Insert ANY bloody email or discussion group software provider here. And the next claim says the same thing for synchronous products.

The list goes on. It’s a crock. Plain and simple.

Who first invented the idea of authenticated users having access to specific resources? Quick, sue Blackboard! Judging from this farce you have a strong case.


Desire2Learn 8.2 – my first impressions

We’re preparing to upgrade our version of Desire2Learn from 8.1 to 8.2 in the Spring. This week I got access to our 8.2 sandbox to take a look.

While I have experienced 8.2 in action at the D2L community site, I didn’t fully realize the extent of this upgrading. In the words of some of my colleagues – it’s HUGE!!!!!!

Here are some of my thoughts and some screen shots for you.


The changes to the user interface are substantial. Overall the design feels more unified and cohesive. Navigation between tools has pretty well be standardized on the left. No longer do you have to hunt around for where the option tools might be – on the right, left or along the top.

There are new icons which feel more contemporary and help give the system that more unified feel I mentioned above. The new icons are also more logical, although I think D2L relies a bit too much on icons to convey information, especially in the content area for students where no text information is provided for the icons they see.

A nice feature is the icon highlighting of your current option. This makes it much more obvious as to what option you are currently using within the system. The previous version didn’t have this highlighting and relied on font color alone to convey what option you were currently working with. This was always confusing for me, especially if a tool only had 2 options and you had one option with blue text and the other with black text. Which one was I actually using? Now at a glance I can see where I am and what option or tool I am using.

Course Management (edit course)

This area has had a major upgrade for the better.

The previous Course Manager area was very clunky and confusing. For one thing the course navigation bars used to disappear and were replaced by the Course Manager options. This was a bit confusing for faculty, especially when they would make changes to the navigation bars for their course and not see those changes reflected in the navigation bar. So it’s nice to see that when you now enter the new Course Manager, the standard course navigation bars remain. And if you add a tool to the navigation bar, it immediately appears. Instant feedback for users.

The Course manager navigation bar has been moved from the top to the left, making options more obvious to users. And you can now manage your groups via Edit Courses.

Course Content

This area has also had a major overhaul and is probably going to throw our faculty more than any as it is quite a bit different than the Content Manager in 8.1. But once they get used to it I think they will find it saves them time as it reduces the number of clicks you need to add or edit content.

When you first enter the new Content Manager as a teacher, you are now taken to manage content instead of view content, which will save a few mouse clicks. The navigation has moved from the right to the left and has been greatly simplified.

You can now access reports about your content directly from the Content Manager, giving you a snapshot of how many times the content has been viewed and which students have viewed what content. And student feedback is directly accessible from the Content Manager.

For students, the content modules and topics are now collapsible, reducing the clutter on the screen.


As with the Content Manager, the Discussions tool in 8.2 is quite a bit different than the Discussions in 8.1 in terms of look and feel and new features.

When you first enter Discussions you are taken directly into Manage Discussions instead of View Discussions.

As I mentioned before, there is a peer rating system so students can rate other participants content. And discussions can now be tied directly to the Grade tool, a nice integration feature.


Finally, users can now have multiple bookmarks to content within the system as opposed to a single bookmark.

Blogs & Personal Homepages

Two tools that haven’t changed that I was hoping would are the Blog and the Personal Homepages tools.

The blog tool is still the only way you can publish an RSS feed for any content from within D2L. Both the blog and the RSS feed can be made public. But compared to other blogging options, the D2L blog is still very clunky and confusing to use. I would love to see some major work done here to make this a more compelling option for our faculty and students.

I was also hoping we might be able to suggest the Personal Homepage tool as a possible replacement for stand alone faculty websites as the Public Homepage is also outside the LMS. But you can’t link from one page to another within the Personal Homepage tool. And you cannot create folders or organize content. A bit of work here would make this a much more compelling option that Frontpage for many of our faculty.


This isn’t a definitive or comprehensive look at all the changes in 8.2, but rather a snapshot of what I’ve noticed after poking around the system for about an hour. For example, I haven’t touched the new Group Folder or Group Dropbox functions, or taken a look at the Group Workspaces area or any of the new Admin tools within the DOME. But overall I’m quite impressed with the changes D2L has made to the LMS.

Now, on to train our faculty….


Pearson's TestGen doesn't play well with Desire2Learn

This is a pretty specific post aimed at the poor D2L admins who, like me, have spent hours trying to work around a very granular and specific issue. Hopefully Google has led you here in your quest for a fix for this problem and that this will work for you.

A number of our faculty use tests created using TestGen, a Respondus-like test creation software package created by Pearson Education. We have been running into problems exporting multiple choice quizzes from WebCT 4.1 CE to Desire2Learn. The questions were exporting from WebCT 4.1 CE to Desire2Learn fine, but the correct answers were not.

After troubleshooting and hunting around, we discovered that the common thread for these multiple choice questions was that they were all originally created in TestGen and then imported into WebCT. When we exported the courses from WebCT as a WebCt 6.0 package, the xml file spit out by WebCT contained an error. A value variable for the correct answer to a multiple choice question gets incorrectly set to 0 when it should be 100.

Here’s what we did to fix the problem. It’s cumbersome, but it works. The obvious fix would be for Pearson to add a D2L export to their list of supported formats for TestGen. We’ve asked for that and hopefully that is in the works. But for now, this workaround has had to suffice.

  • Export the questions from TestGen in WebCT 4 format.
  • In WebCT, create a blank course. Import the quiz questions into WebCT.
  • Create a blank test in WebCT. We discovered that WebCT wouldn’t export any questions in the database unless at least one quiz was defined. So we created a dummy quiz with no questions in it.
  • Export the entire course as a WebCT 6.0 course.
  • Unzip the exported package.
  • In the course folder in the IMS package, find a file called questionDB.xml. Open that with your favorite XML or text editor capable of doing a find and replace. Search for these 2 lines of code:
    <setvar varname="que_score" action="Set">0</setvar>

    <setvar varname="answerValue" action="Add">100</setvar>
    and replace with:
    setvar varname="que_score" action="Set">100</setvar>
    <setvar varname="answerValue" action="Add">100</setvar>
  • You will have to make this change to each of the MC questions in the file, hence the ability to do a find and replace is essential when you are dealing with hundreds, or even thousands, of values.
  • Rezip the package.
  • Upload to D2L as a component. Choose to only upload the question library and you are off.

This fix is also documented in the D2L community (login required) in the Discussions > Product Management and Enhancements > Quizzes area. The fix was discovered by Rafi Syed.


A simple mashup for D2L using Yahoo Pipes and Feed2JS

Mash delicious, d2l, pipes, feed2js

One of the features I like about Desire2Learn is the ability to create custom widgets within the LMS. I’ve just finished creating a custom external resources widget for our faculty based on feeds of some of our course developers and it was a snap to incorporate it into D2L. Here’s how I did it.

The Scenario

In addition to myself, there are 2 other developers at my institution who, among other tasks, actively support faculty using D2L. We wanted to create a custom widget of external Desire2Learn resources for our faculty to give them access to resources other institutions have put together. Instead of creating a page of static links, we decided to use our accounts to create a dynamic reference library that would automatically grow and update as we added d2l related links to our delicious accounts.

One problem was that we all tagged resources slightly differently in, so we needed to standardize our tagging convention. We decided to use the general tag of “d2l” to designate a resource we wanted to share in the widget.

With that non technical piece out of the way, I began to work on merging the three feeds into one.

Mashing up feeds in Yahoo Pipes

PipesI decided to use Yahoo Pipes for no other reason other than I am familiar with it and wanted to get something put together quickly. Since we are all networked in, it was quite easy to go to my colleagues accounts, click on their “d2l” tag and grab an RSS feed of that tag.

Once I had the RSS for all three accounts, I was able to begin creating a new pipe.

The first step in creating a new pipe is to specify the source of the data. In this case, it is the 3 RSS feeds from delicious, so I dragged a Fetch Feed module into the pipes work area and enter the 3 RSS URI’s.

I noticed that we had all tagged some of the same resources, so I needed to do a bit of data cleaning. Enter the Unique Operator, which allowed me to filter out duplicate links that appeared in the mashup. Now I had a unique list of links.

The one other thing I noticed was that both of my colleagues had added and tagged our institutions local instance of Desire2Learn in their delicious accounts. Since the final product of this feed was going to be within a widget inside that instance, I decided to filter out the url to our institutions Desire2Learn instance using the Filter Operator.

I now have a mashup outputting a single RSS feed created from 3 source feeds. The next step is turning that RSS feed into a Javascript snippet that I can use in the D2L widget. A great future enhancement for the widgets in D2L would be the ability to import RSS feeds. Right now you are limited to HTML and Javascript, which is what we are going to use.


There are tons of great tools that you can use to convert your RSS feed into Javascript. For this project I used Feed2JS.

I took the RSS feed from the Pipe output and plugged it into Feed2JS. Feed2JS gives you a number of options to tweak the behaviour of the feed. I truncate the feed at 15 and choose to open the links in a new window to avoid taking the faculty out of D2L when they click on a link. I click on “Generate Javascript” and voila, I have a nice chunk of Javascript ready for embedding into a D2L widget.

D2L widget

D2L Final WidgetThe final step in the process is to copy the Javascript code and create a custom widget in D2L.

In D2L I created a new widget in the “Manage Homepages” area. After giving the widget a title, I decided to share the widget with other faculty members who may want to use it for themselves in their own courses, so I choose the share option in the Admin tab.

Since I only want faculty to see this widget, i set the release conditions to teacher. Finally, in the custom code tab I paste the JavaScript code I generated at Feed2JS and save the widget.

Once I have created the widget, I can then go into our Faculty Community course and add the widget to the homepage of the course. Now, whenever faculty enter the community, they will see the widget with the most recent resources our work group has tagged in delicious.

Reading through this it seems like a bit of work to create the mashup. But in reality it took me much longer to write this article than to actually create the mashup. All in all from start to finish it took me less than 15 minutes to create what will hopefully be a valuable resource for our faculty.


Desire2Learn 1 Blackboard 0

A judge in Texas has ruled that 35 of the 44 patent claims Blackboard has filed against Desire2Learn are invalid.

In addition, the rules have been set down for the future court case. Specifically, the ruling spells out how key terms will be defined for the court case.

To illustrate how detailed these proceedings are, the terms that needed to be defined before the case could go to trial are “Hyperlink”, “Tool”, “Asynchronous communication” and “Synchronous communication”.

More details on this decision can be found on the D2L patent blog.


Desire2Learn gets a tad social in 8.2

Just got some release notes for the new version of D2L (8.2) on the way this summer and it looks like they are beefing up some of the student collaborative tools, and improving on the (albeit basic) social features of the LMS.

One of the features that looks interesting is the ability for students to rate the value of a message posted in the discussion forums. In this respect, students can begin to grade conversations between students as to whether they are relevant or useful.

In addition, there will be a peer review option on discussion posts. Details are a bit sketchy on this feature and at first glance I’m wondering if this feature might be a bit redundant as discussions themselves can serve the function of peer review. I’ll have to wait and see the actual implementation of this feature to wrap my head around how it is significantly different than functionality already available by default with discussion boards.

Group Lockers and Group Dropboxes will make it easier for students to collaborate on group projects and shared files within the environment.

To aggregate group functions, D2L has created a central place for students to view their groups, contact group members, and access shared locker areas, dropbox folders, and discussion topics.

These new collaborative tools should make it easier for students to interact with each other and work on group projects while giving instructors a bit more flexibility when it comes to group assignments and projects.

One thing on my wishlist for future releases is more RSS feeds from the various tools to allow students to put the content where the like. The discussion boards seems like an obvious place for RSS feeds, but it would also be nice if this new central aggregated area would have an RSS notification system that would show when group lockers or dropboxes were updated.