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.


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.


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.