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Online Studies: Blog

Updates, tutorials, and tips for Falcon Online and distance education.

Falcon Online Update - Fall 2021

by Bill Harrison on 2021-10-07T12:48:15-04:00 | Comments

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Falcon Online Updates - Fall 2021

In this blog I will cover a few updates in Falcon Online. Select a link below to jump to that section.


Specify Accepted File Formats for Assignment Submission

Instructors now have the ability to specify the file formats accepted for assignments. NOTE: this is not available in the classic create/edit experience. It is only available in the new create/edit experience for assignments. 

  1. On the create/edit screen, expand the Submission & Completion section in the right panel.
  2. Under Allowable File Extensions, make your choice from the dropdown.

Interface to specify allowable file formats

The Allowable Filetypes field provides options for the types of files that learners can submit for the assignment. Options in the drop down menu include:

  • Annotatable files, which include all file types that are supported by the Annotation tool in Assignments. 
    • .doc
    • .docx
    • .rtf
    • .odt
    • .ppt
    • .pps
    • .pptx
    • .ppsx
    • .odp
    • .xls
    • .xlsx
    • .txt
    • .jpg
    • .jpeg
    • .png
    • .tif
    • .tiff
    • .gif (once converted to PDF, only the first frame of the .gif displays)
  • PDF only
  • Files that can be previewed without any conversion, such as .HTM, .HTML, .MHT, .MHTML, and .BMP
  • Images and videos
  • Custom filetypes

If an instructor selects Custom File Extensions, they can then enter file extensions that are allowed for file submissions.

The Allowable Filetypes filed with the Custom filetypes option selected opens a text field to list the allowable file extensions

When file type restrictions are used on an assignment, learners see the list of allowable file types listed on the Submit Assignment dialog.

 In the Submit Assignment dialog, the allowable file types are listed based on the restrictions set by the instructor

When a learner attempts to upload a file submission for an assignment of a file extension type that the instructor has restricted, an error message appears.

An alert message indicating that a restricted file cannot be uploaded.


Welcome to The New Discussion Evaluation Experience

The first thing you'll notice when entering the new discussion eval experience is that is looks just like the New Assignment Evaluation Experience.  Evaluation tools like Grades, Rubrics, and Feedback are moving to the Right-Hand panel to display in the same way.  No more scrolling up and down to see both the rubric and the post at the same time!  This is the same rubric component as the New Assignment Evaluation experience uses.  That means that it will drop down the side panel or pop out into a new window for grading.

New discussion evaluation screen

Also consistent with Assignments is the header panels with the activity name display, navigation - either back or iterating through submissions, and the learner's name and profile card.  The draggable divider will work the same here, too!  The best part? It stays where you put it.  This also means that the adaptive mobile view is just as useful in this view with the evaluation tools tucking into a neat drawer when the screen gets smaller.

Adaptive mobile drawer
 

The differences in the display of the Discussion topic and replies are slight.   One change that may be noticeable is that the title of the topic or the reply is a link. It will open the post in a new window so that the evaluator can get an idea of the context in which the post was made. Some of our most popular PIE items for discussions are around providing more context.  We hope that this helps!
 



Reply to a post, linking out to that post to give more context

When is this all happening?

Users now see this new evaluation experience with an option to opt-out.

In late December 2021, this new experience will be the default and only discussion evaluation experience moving forward.


New Consolidated Dates in Discussions

Summary of Key Changes

With this new feature, users can expect the following to happen:

  1. Option to set unlock dates and the lock option on Discussion topics and forums will be removed (Restrictions tab changes).
  2. New options on availability dates for flexibility in visibility and access will be added. This applies to the Restrictions tab of Discussion forums and topics, to Content, and to Manage Dates. When a Discussion is setup with availability dates, the instructor can choose (not the tool), whether learners can see and access discussions:
    1. Hidden. Today, whether a topic is hidden, is decided by the tool displaying the topics.
    2. Visible but learners cannot access it. Today, Content is the only tool to make discussions visible without access.
    3. Visible but learners cannot post. Today, this is accomplished with the lock option or unlock dates.
  3. The “Display in Calendar” option associated with availability date will apply to both Availability Start Date and Availability End Date. The tool will no longer decide which calendar event should be added. Consequently, Calendar events for availability dates may change and additional events for Availability Start Dates may be added.
  4. Calendar events for unlock dates will be hidden.
  5. Where Discussions and User Progress may have previously hidden a topic or forum when outside of availability dates, those tools may show them as visible but not accessible.
  6. Instructors can choose the default visibility and access behavior for new discussion forums and topics from new options under Discussion Settings. 

Removal of Unlock Dates

As noted above:

Unlock dates and the ‘lock’ option are going away.

By locking a topic, an instructor prevents new posts by learners. Although unlock dates and lock option are being removed, additional properties of availability dates will be added to support locked Discussions.

Reasons for Removing Unlock Dates

Change isn’t easy. Here’s some of the rationale.

  1. Discussions has two sets of dates: availability and unlock. This fact highlights two inconsistencies in the platform. First, no other Falcon Online tool has two sets of dates; and second, no other [assessment] tool has the capability to provide a view-only mode.
    1. ‘Should’ other assessment tools have two sets of dates instead of taking away the unlock dates in Discussions? No! There are better and simpler ways to support learners having a view into assessment requirements before allowing submissions.
    2. ‘Should’ other assessment tools support read-only? Yes! It will happen with this work.
  2. Understanding unlock dates and their interaction with availability dates is challenging. We can simplify the user interaction while continuing to support the view-only mode in Discussions.
  3. The above two reasons are key drivers in removing the unlock dates, but there are other notable mentions:
    1. Users rarely use a combination of unlock dates and availability dates to set up a fixed period where learners can view but not submit (view-only between two dates).
    2. The new consistent Falcon Online activity creation workflows, which are part of the product direction, standardize on one set of dates.
Affected Customers
Instructors who set discussion topics as locked between two dates.

There are many combinations of availability dates and unlock dates supporting different use case for interacting with discussion topics. When the unlock dates are removed and additional properties on availability dates added, all but a single use case (locked between two dates) will still be supported.

Note: This case is found across a moderate number of customers but represents a very small percentage of topics for any one customer.

 

New Properties of Availability Dates

The availability dates for Discussion topics and forums will have new properties as described below. Eventually, these new properties will be applied to other activities across Falcon Online.

The Availability Start and End Dates each will have a set of three options. You will be able to select one option for each date. By choosing an option, you are deciding whether learners can see the discussion and access it.

Availability Start Date Properties

Property Description
Visible with access restricted before start The topic/forum will be visible to learners before the Start date, but they cannot click/open it. This behavior will be consistent with how the legacy Content tool shows content topics outside of availability dates.
Visible with submission restricted before start The topic/forum will be visible to learners before the Start date and they can access it but cannot post new threads or replies. This will effectively make a discussion read-only, which will replace the current method of setting up read-only via unlock dates.
Hidden before start The topic/forum will be hidden from learners until the Start date. This will be a new feature. Calendar events for Availability Starts and Availability Ends will be hidden until the Start date. Notifications will also not be sent until the Start date.

 

Availability End Date Properties

Property Description
Visible with access restricted after end The topic/forum will be visible to learners after the End date, but they cannot click/open it. This behavior will be consistent with how the legacy Content tool shows content topics outside of availability dates.
Visible with submission restricted after end The topic/forum will be visible to learners after the End date and they can access it but cannot post new threads or replies. This will effectively make a discussion read-only, which will replace the current method of setting up read-only via unlock dates.
Hidden after end The topic/forum will be hidden from learners after then End date. This will be a new feature. Calendar events for Availability Starts and Availability Ends will be hidden after the End date. Notifications will also not be sent after the End date.

 

Visibility and Access

Visibility and Access to Forums and Topics Based on Availability Date Properties

When the new dates feature is enabled, you can expect the availability date properties to affect the information learners can see about forums and topics.

Forums

Visible with access restricted Learners:
  • can see the forum name, dates, and other restrictions
  • cannot click the forum to access it
  • cannot see the forum description
  • cannot see topics within the forum
Visible with submission restricted Learners:
  • can see all details of the forum including description and all topics within it
  • cannot post to any topic within the forum
Hidden Learners:
  • cannot see forums that are hidden before or after start/end dates

Topics

Visible with access restricted Learners:
  • can see the name, dates, other restrictions, topic stats, last post author
  • cannot see the topic description
  • cannot click the topic to access it or participate
  • will see the topic count toward content progress
Visible with submission restricted Learners:
  • can see the names, dates, other restrictions, topic stats, last post author
  • can the topic description
  • cannot post (participate) in any topic
  • will see the topic count toward content progress
Hidden Learners:
  • cannot see topics that are hidden before or after start/end dates
  • hidden topics are not counted toward content progress

 

Note: Topic visibility and access can be inherited by a parent forum, but a greater level of restriction specifically on any topic in a forum overrules inheritance from the parent forum. For example, a topic marked as hidden before a start date is considered to have a greater level of restriction; thus, such a topic would be hidden within a visible but submission-restricted forum.

 

Permissions Affecting Visibility and Access

Visibility of forums and topics is controlled by availability of the tool, group restrictions, release conditions, visibility status, availability dates, and the 'access hidden' permission.

Assuming no release conditions or group restrictions, visibility and access to forums and topics is determined by visibility status, availability dates, and specific tool permissions.

In all scenarios in the following sections, we assume the user has permission to compose or reply (post).

The permission “Override Locked Topics Restrictions” will be renamed to “Override Availability Date Submission Restrictions”.

 

Current Behavior

Outside of Availability Dates

  • Generally, outside of availability dates, forums and topics are hidden…
    • …unless the user has the Access Hidden Forums and Topics permission. In this case, forums and topics are visible regardless of their visibility status.
  • However, with permission to hidden forums and topics, whether users can post is based on permission to override locked topics:
Access Hidden Forums and Topics = ON
Override Locked Topic Restrictions = OFF
Users can see forums
Can see topics; can post to non-locked topics
Access Hidden Forums and Topics = ON
Override Locked Topic Restrictions = ON
Users can see forums
Can see and post to both locked and non-locked topics


Between Availability Dates

  • Generally, between availability dates, forums and topics are visible (so long as their visibility status is set to ‘visible’)
  • However, the ability to see hidden forums and topics, and the ability to post to locked topics is controlled by permission
Access Hidden Forums and Topics = OFF
Override Locked Topic Restrictions = OFF
When forum/topic visibility status is hidden:
  • Users cannot see or post

When forum/topic visibility status is visible:
  • Users can see forums
  • Can see topics; can post to non-locked topics
Access Hidden Forums and Topics = OFF
Override Locked Topic Restrictions = ON
When forum/topic visibility status is hidden:
  • Users cannot see or post

When forum/topic visibility status is visible:
  • Users can see forums
  • Can see and post to both locked and unlocked topics
Access Hidden Forums and Topics = ON
Override Locked Topic Restrictions = OFF
Visibility status of the forum/topic doesn’t matter:
  • Users can see forums
  • Can see topics; can post to non-locked topics
Access Hidden Forums and Topics = ON
Override Locked Topic Restrictions = ON
Users can see and post to locked or unlocked topics which have any visibility status
Behavior when the New Dates Feature is Enabled

Across Falcon Online, tools will uniformly respect the availability date properties. Ignoring release conditions, group restrictions, and tool access, whether users will see and be able to post to Discussions will be influenced by 3 different permissions.

Outside of Availability Dates

Availability Date Property /
Permission
Visibility and Access with Permissions
Hidden
Access Hidden Forums and Topics = OFF
  • Cannot see hidden forums and topics
Access Hidden Forums and Topics = ON
  • Can see forums
  • Can see and post to topics with the ‘hidden before start date’ and ‘hidden after end date’ property
  • Can see and post to topics with a visibility status of ‘hidden’
Visible with access restricted
Manage Discussions = OFF
  • Can see limited information about forums
  • Can see limited information about topics; cannot post to access restricted topics
Manage Discussions = ON
  • Can see forums
  • Can see and post to access restricted topics
Visible with submission restricted
Override Submission Restrictions = OFF
  • Can see forums
  • Can see but not post to submission restricted topics
Override Submission Restrictions = ON
  • Can see forums
  • Can see and post to submission restricted topics

Between Availability Dates

Between availability dates, generally, users see all forums and can post to all topics that have a visibility status of ‘visible’.

Permission Visibility and Access with Permissions
Access Hidden Forums and Topics = OFF Can see and post to all topics that have a visibility status of ‘visible’
Access Hidden Forums and Topics = ON Can see and post to all topics that have any visibility status
General Visibility and Access

Today, combinations of unlock dates, availability dates, and locking option (along with the specific tool) currently lead to what learners observe in Falcon Online with respect to visibility and access. That behavior will be one of four possibilities:

  1. posting is allowed
  2. topics are visible but not accessible
  3. topics are visible but posting is restricted
  4. topics are entirely hidden.
Note: When the new dates feature is enabled, instructors will see their existing topic and forum unlock dates, availability dates, and lock option consolidated into a new set of availability dates with additional options.

What is the net effect to visibility and access for learners? Consistent behavior across tools!

Today, some tools hide topics and some tools show them but with restricted access (i.e., users can’t click into the topic).

After the new dates feature is enabled, when outside of availability dates, some tools will begin to show topics with access restricted where before they may have hidden those topics.

The following table highlights a few changes to visibility of discussion topics and forums when learners view discussions outside of availability dates.

Tool View of topics outside of availability dates
Before enabling the new dates feature After enabling the new dates feature
Discussions Reading View Hidden Visible when access restricted
Classic Content Visible with access restricted> Visible when access restricted
Class Progress Visible Visible when access restricted
User Progress Hidden Visible when access restricted

Most combinations of dates and lock options that lead to visibility and access of topics are preserved when the new dates feature is enabled. However, …

Some visibility and access behaviors that come out of these combinations are not preserved, as covered in the next section.
Date Combinations not Preserved Leading to Changes in Visibility or Access

After enabling the new feature, what is not preserved? Here’s a summary:

  • Any combination of dates, with or without the lock option, that previously allowed learners to view discussion topics but restricted them from posting between two dates is not preserved. 

Said another way, it’s the period between two dates where a topic is read-only that is not persisted when the new dates feature is enabled. The date range is collapsed and to avoid learners accessing discussion topics when they shouldn’t, the switch of dates favors a greater level of restriction. For example, where previously a user might have a read-only view of the discussion topic for a week (and no access outside of that), learners may no longer have access.

Note: The 24 other combinations of dates and lock option are supported when enabling the new dates feature. What this means is that learners will continue to have the same level of access as they did prior to enabling the new feature. See the note below for the change in visibility.

 

Note: Previously in Classic Content, outside of availability dates, learners would see discussion topics but not be able to access them; however, in Discussions, the topics were hidden. After enabling the new feature, outside of availability dates, learners will also see topics in the Discussions tool in the same way they do in Classic Content: visible with access restricted.

 

Calendar Events and “Display in Calendar” for Discussion Dates

Calendar events are created for discussion topics and forums whenever the “Display in Calendar” option is selected for Availability Dates. The date that is picked for the calendar event is decided by the Discussions tool.

Current Rules for Calendar Events

Here are the current rules when the Availability Dates “Display in Calendar” option is selected:

  • if both End and Start dates are set, show an “Availability Ends” event in the Calendar
  • if only End date is set, show an “Availability Ends” event in the Calendar
  • if only Start date is set, show an “Availability Starts” event in the Calendar

Additionally, the same logic applies to Unlock Dates – depending on which are set, a calendar event is created; the unlock end date is given priority for a new event. Here are the current rules when the Unlock Dates “Display in Calendar” option is selected:

  • if both End and Start dates are set, show a “Locked” event in the Calendar
  • if only End date is set, show a “Locked” event in the Calendar
  • if only Start date is set, show an “Unlocked” event in the Calendar
New Rules for Calendar Events

When the new dates feature is enabled, the Discussions tool will no longer give priority to an end date event. Instead:

When “Display in Calendar” is selected, the Discussions tool will create a calendar event for each Availability date that specified.

In other words, no more hidden logic.

When “Display in Calendar” is selected, the new, simplified rules for topics and forums are:

  • if Start date is set, show an “Availability Starts” event in the Calendar
  • if End date is set, show an “Availability Ends” event in the Calendar
Impact to Learner Calendar Events

Learners will see the following changes to calendar events when the new dates feature is enabled:

  1. Calendar events for unlock dates (“Locked” and “Unlocked” event) are hidden.
  2. For any topic or forum that has both Availability Start Date and Availability End Date, and the ‘Display in Calendar’ checkbox is selected, learners will see an additional event for the Availability Start Date. (Today, learners would see a single event for Availability End Date.

Configuring Discussion Dates

Editing Dates in the Discussions Tool (before and after)

The following illustrates the Restrictions tab of a Discussion topic before and after the new dates feature is enabled.

Before

Discussions restriction tab before date consolidation

After

Discussions restriction tab after date consolidation

Editing Dates in Content (before and after)

Like the Discussions tool, users can edit the availability date properties also from Content.

Once clicking on a date, a link is available to launch a dialog where the start and end availability date properties can be updated.

Note: Users can adjust whether calendar events for the availability dates are created from classic Content. Previously, Content would also create a single calendar event depending on which of the 3 dates were set.

 

Inline properties for discussion tool link in course content

Clicking one of the links opens the date properties dialog:

Date properties dialog

 

Configuring Default Date Properties

Course Defaults

Instructors can choose the default settings for availability dates for any new Discussion topic and forum. This settings page is in the Discussions tool, under the Settings gear (top-right of most pages). Making a change on the Settings page will not affect the availability date properties of any previously created topic or forum.

Availability date defaults

 

Changes to All Tools

Tool Changes
Discussions Reading View - Date format
  • Discussions is one of the few tools in Falcon Online that still shows dates in the ‘long’ format: fully spelled out day of the week, full name of the month, day of the month, year, and time including time zone. Both discussions views are bringing consistency to the date format with other tools such as Assignments and Quizzes.
  • Example: Friday, January 1, 2021 9:52 AM EDT
  • The new format is considered the ‘short format’ for dates: abbreviated month, day of the month, year, and time (no time zone – all times are shown in the user’s time zone anyway)
  • Example: Jan 1, 2021 9:52 AM

Reading View - Presentation of Availability Date Properties
  • Users will see language appended to each availability date explaining how the topic behaves before and after the start and end dates.
  • Previously, in Reading View, availability dates were presented as follows:
  • Available on <start date> until <end date>
  • Available on <start date>
  • Available until <end date>
  • Previously, in Grid View, availability dates were presented as follows:
  • Available: <start date> - <end date>
  • Available after <end date>
  • Available before <start date>
  • When the new dates feature is enabled, each availability date is shown separately with a format based on which property is configured for the date:
  • Available on <start date>. [Hidden | Access restricted | Submission restricted] before availability starts.
  • Available until <end date>. [Hidden | Access restricted | Submission restricted] after availability ends.

Reading View and Grid View – Icons
  • When the new dates feature is enabled, the lock icon and unlock dates are not displayed.

Statistics
  • Before and after the new dates feature is enabled, Discussion statistics continue to ignore visibility and access settings.
Content Topic Edit
  • When editing Discussion dates in the Classic Content experience, users will have the option to open a dialog to change the availability date properties.
Manage Dates Changes:
  • When the new dates feature is enabled, the “Other Dates” column does not show unlock dates for Discussion topics and forums.
  • The Bulk Edit dialog shows the new availability date properties, but applied changes affect only discussion forums and topics. Manage Dates currently lacks the sophistication required to dynamically show the new date properties based on selected items.
Notifications Changes:
  • Users will not receive notifications (email, instant, minibar alerts) for discussion topics that are hidden or access restricted.
User Progress Summary and Detail Sections
  • In the Discussions section of the Summary page, previously, outside of availability dates, topic posts would be visible and would be included in counts of threads and replies (statistics graph at the top of the page). In the Discussions detail section, topics would be hidden but be included in counts of threads and replies. This was an odd inconsistency.
  • When the new dates feature is enabled, discussion topics and forums in the Summary and Discussions detail sections will be hidden only if explicitly set as hidden outside of availability dates; otherwise, they will be visible, they will be included in counts of threads and replies.
Class Progress Discussion Participation Summary Indicator
  • The Discussion Participation Summary indicator presents statistics for reading and responding to discussions. The indicator currently will include topics that
  • have a ‘hidden’ visibility status, or
  • are outside of availability dates, or
  • might be hidden for any number of other reasons
  • When the new dates feature is enabled, the Discussion Participation Summary indicator will exclude topics which have a ‘hidden’ visibility status, and which are marked as hidden via availability dates. The indicator will still include statistics for topics hidden to learners for other reasons.
  • This change will also align it with the change to the counts of threads and replies (statistics graph) at the top of the Discussions section of User Progress.
  • Instructors and administrator looking for complete details on topic participation are encouraged to use the Statistics section of the Discussions tool.
Calendar Additional Changes:
  • When the new dates feature is enabled, editing a calendar event for a discussion will not provide the option to update the new availability date properties; these changes need to be made through the Discussions tool or Classic Content.
Course Copy Changes:
  • When the new dates feature is enabled, the availability date properties associated with discussion topics and forums are copied as part of the CCC process.
  • Note, Course Copy does not copy the config variable setting that enables/disables the new dates feature. The new feature will either need to be enabled manually in the destination course (org admin updates the config variable) or the new feature could be turned on for the entire org.
 

.

Pulse Notifications
  • Previously, anything with a future availability start date would not lead to a notification. Topics marked as locked would result in a notification.
  • In the update, learners will receive notifications for visible topics.

Work-to-do
  • Previously, future-dated/past-dated discussions would be hidden, and locked topics would appear at the end date.
  • In the update, topics that are marked as hidden before/after will not appear.

Course Content
  • Topics with a future availability start date (past end date) would show up; learners clicking the item would see a Pulse app error page: “Sorry. I can’t seem to find this content”. Accessing a locked topic would direct learners to an LMS discussions page.
  • In the update, future/past dated items that are set to hidden do not appear; items that are set to access restricted continue to show the Pulse app error.

Activity Details page
  • Learners can get to the Pulse activity details page for topics that are access restricted and submission restricted.
  • In the update, the Discussion topic description is hidden for access restricted topics.
Content Browser Widget
Work-to-do Widget
Changes:
  • Topics marked as hidden before start/after end are not displayed.
  • Access restricted topics are not clickable.
  • Submission restricted topics are visible and clickable.

When is this all happening?

You can see this new consolidated date experience on the Falcon Online Test site.

In late November 2021, this new consolidated dates experience will be the default experience moving forward.


As always, we encourage you to subscribe to this blog so you can comment and ask questions. When you subscribe you will also receive email notifications of future posts. You can also contact the FIC at fic@daytonastate.edu or 386.506.3485 for assistance or visit between M-F 8AM - 5PM.


Photo of Bill Harrison

Bill Harrison
Director, IT Instructional Resources and Training
bill.harrison@daytonastate.edu | 386.506.4306


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