Forum .LRN Q&A: Loss of critical functionality in forums

This is an OpenACS problem but I'm putting it here because it has a particularly strong negative impact on uses in learning environments. The loss of the links to view all new posts in bboard and to view unanswered initial posts is huge and I don't understand how or why it happened. Personally, a direct result for me is that I'm much less current on OpenACS happenings than I used to be. Back in the 3.x days, if I fell behind on bboard for a few days I would never skim my email alerts; I would instead click on the "new posts" link (or whatever it was called) as well as on the link to see which posts had not been answered yet.

PhilG articulated very clear reasons for putting this functionality into bboard and, if you read him carefully, you'll see that those reasons can easily be interpreted as pedagogical. As one of the main "teachers" on, these features enabled him to keep track of who wasn't getting their questions answered and what new things were going on.

These bits of functionality are competetive advantages in a system where bboard is one of the main selling points. There was a survey done recently that showed most users of systems like Blackboard and WebCT primarily used bboard and hardly touched some of the other functionality areas. (I'll see if I can dig up the link and post it when I get a chance.)

Please, please, please! Restore this functionality to bboard.

Posted by Dave Bauer on

As I have answered before, the "new stuff" functionality would be much more powerful as a general service than stuck in one package, or worse, each package rolling their own version of "new stuff". I would love to see this done, but we want to make sure it can be used with other pakcages as well as forums. It then could show a view of new items on an entire site.

The unanswered questions function seems to be forums-unique and is a great idea.

Posted by Lars Pind on

If you rephrase "unanswered questions" to "untreated items", it could very well be more general. For example, in bug-tracker, that would list bugs that hadn't yet been resolved nor responded to.


Posted by Don Baccus on
Yes, I don't like this loss of functionality, either.

Tracking such things is simple to the point where I'm not sure  it's worth designing a grand generalized systemwide means of doing it.  At least if it means that we don't enhance forums for months and months while waiting for someone to invent such Grand Unifying Functionality.

There's also the *real* "new" semantics I added to SSV1 (ACES) which wasn't reimplemented in forums, which kinda surprised me given that Sloan felt it important enough to pay me to do it for ACES two summers ago.  In other words in ACES the forums package flags as "new" those threads that have posts you actually haven't read, rather than threads with posts less than a week old.  Phil's bboard's "new threads" was an "n-days-old" display, too, I greatly prefer the smarter "threads with posts I haven't read" display.

Of course there's expense in such bookkeeping so we'd want to make it possible to turn off for those who don't want to pay the price but it would be nice to have.

Posted by Carl Robert Blesius on
"Hear, hear!"  as in "hear, all ye good people, hear what these fine gentlemen have to say!"

A review of successful WebCT courses at our university revealed that forums is THE most important tool. 80-90% of the other bells and whistles that WebCT offers collect dust. The small but powerful bboard features that Michael mentions above (along with notifications) helped convince me that OpenACS/dotLRN was the way to go (it was not hard to feel the years of honing).

A general "new stuff" service would be excellent (I have seen something like this on Eve's Guatemalan ACES site). Clicking the "New Stuff" tab in "MySpace" (or using my personal RSS aggregator) to get a quick overview of what is going on across the board in dotLRN or catching up on the newest postings, bugs, comments, edited ETPs, CVS commits, etc. on would be great.

Posted by Dave Bauer on
All good points. Using <include> to grab data from different packages works fine. We could use that to aggregate new stuff from different packages onto one page. Its much simpler and works :)
Posted by Dorothea Fischer-Hornung on
By way of introduction since I am new to this discussion and to DotLRN: I’m teaching Cultural Studies at the English Department at the U of Heidelberg (also Carl’s turf) and I am currently testing the first course using DotLRN as a platform here (with lots of help from Carl). I have taught 5 courses using WebCT with students from several countries enrolled. I believe those courses are the ones Carl is referring to as those that used the “WebCT forums as the single most important class feature” (other than class content, of course -- smile).

After only two days of class using DotLRN, I already know that I will have a very hard time managing the forum (and also assignment submissions) if I have no way of immediately knowing which postings/submissions are new and which are old. We had an average of 400 posting (with approx. 15 participants) in one 6-week crash course. That is in addition to assignments and corrections going back and forth. The discussions were wonderfully lively – but if we had had to wade through lots of old stuff each time we entered the classroom (usually daily), it would certainly have put a damper on things. As a teacher/user I know now I will not be happy until you have some way of separating old and new material systematically throughout the course.

Posted by Peter Marklund on
Dorothea and Michael,
these are all good points. One useful feature that I added on cvs head (will be the 5.0 release) is that you can sort the list of threads (questions) not only by the date when the question was asked but also by when the last answer to the question was made. This way you can float questions to the top with recent answers.

Filtering to only show unanswered questions sounds like a very good idea and should be easy to add as well.

Posted by Carl Robert Blesius on
Hi Dorothea!

I knew you would show up here shortly after the start of the course (2nd day... not bad :-). I look forward to using your and student feedback to improve the system.

To emphasize the problem: after getting .LRN forum notifications in my inbox a came to to post responses. I had a real problem finding this thread because it has moved down on the list (ended up doing a quick directory search on your name to find the posting). This is suboptimal.

Possible quick solution for now (we certainly need one for the course): add a sort function (using the forums headings). Thereby making it possible to sort messages by Author, Last Post, etc.

Then we need to look at the other functions asap.

Posted by Carl Robert Blesius on
just missed your response Peter. That is exactly what I meant. Can we add the "sort by last post" to 3.6.3? I certainly would be willing to call it a bug.
Posted by Jarkko Laine on
Carl, there is a link in the notification mail to go straight to the thread :-)

But seriously, this is very important.  Making a "what's new?" -portlet in dotlrn that would aggregate new/unanswered stuff to MySpace from forums and possibly other sources shouldn't be too hard.

"What's new" would certainly help my teaching.

Right now I get all new emails/postings/homework alerts as notifications (123 messages in my inbox yesterday from 22 students).

Due to the fact that each notification has a different number, I can't seem to set up a rule in OUTLOOK to bundle all new postings, emails, and "homework alerts" (like that expression - sounds dangerous) in one folder.

If there were a folder with only new items in the class system, I could then simply turn off the notification feature and still be assured that I have new information. My students also have problems with the flood of emails in the present system, too.

We all seem to agree that this would be useful, but I wanted to describe my hands-on situation.