This week I started a MOOC called “Hybrid Courses: Best of Both Worlds” on the Canvas Network (https://learn.canvas.net/). There are approximately 900 learners in this MOOC and many have already started to feel overwhelmed by the vast number of posts in the first discussion, many of them videos. Having been a Canvas administrator and helped design and support courses in Canvas for the past two years I thought I would toss up a quick post describing how I manage the volume of posts on a daily basis.
The first thing I do when I get to a large discussion is to click the “Collapse Replies” button at the top of the page. It looks like this: By clicking this button I can see a listing of all posts that reply directly to the original topic. Any threaded conversations around a single comment are collapsed within the original reply. Now I can meander down the list reading the first line of each reply and if something piques my interest and can click on the blue down arrow in the center of the white box containing the post. Now you won’t see this arrow until you mouse over the top center of the box containing the post you want to read. Click the “Expand replies” button, , to show all of the posts in full detail.
Before I begin reading though, I want to know how many new posts have been added since my last visit. This is easily done my finding the unread/read icon, , at the top right of the discussion page. The number in blue tells me how many unread posts there are and the number in grey tells me how many total posts there are. Now, if I use the “Collapse Replies” button mentioned above, each original reply will also have the unread/read icon out to the side indicating how many comments there inside that reply. Now it is easy to see which replies to the original post are generating conversations.
Now, how do I know which posts are read and unread? Well, when you look at a post that is expanded, all replies and comments will have a dot just to the left of the poster’s avatar. A grey dot signifies that the post has been read and a blue dot signifies that it is unread. See the pic below for an example:
Now, I have to remember that when I am in expanded mode and I can see all comments on a post, the blue dots will automatically turn to grey a couple of seconds after they appear on my computer screen, whether I have actually read them or not. All is not lost though, I can mouse over a dot and if it is grey I am given the option to mark it as unread, or if it is blue I can mark it read, .
So what if I only want to read any unread posts? That is easy, all I do is click the Unread button at the top of the discussion. Clicking this button only shows you unread posts. Note that they are not presented in any context so you have to dig deeper to find out which post they refer to. This is easy to do by clicking the “View in discussion” link at the bottom of the post. This will reload your page and take you to the place in the discussion where this post originated. What is nice about the unread posts button is that the posts don’t automatically get marked read when they appear on your screen. You just click the dot like the images above.
The last way to look at comments/replies is to use the search option. You can search by a persons name or by keywords. The results start to return as soon as you start typing! Once again, the search results are out of context so if you want to know where they came from you have to use the “View in discussion” link at the bottom of the post.
There is one more thing that I do that isn’t obvious given the way the discussion boards are configured in this course. On the list of discussions page, there is a setting that you can use that will make it so that you have to manually mark each post as read. This setting is global for the course and impacts all discussions from what I can tell. I access this setting by clicking on the gear icon, , at the top of the discussions list page. After clicking the icon, tick the box that says “Manually mark posts as read” and then click the “Save settings” button. Now I have to manually mark posts as read 🙂 You may ask, “how do I access this page in this course?” That is easily done by entering a discussion and then look at the navigation bar just below the top menus for the site. In this navigation bar you will see the current discussion as the last item in the list and the word “Discussions” just to the left. Click on “Discussions” and you will be taken to the list of discussions for the entire course. Now you too can set your global discussion settings if you like.
I hope this little post helps in managing the volumes of information presented so far in this MOOC! If you have any comments please add them to my blog!