Originally published 23-June-2021
This post details the product changes available this August that you can expect from a new feature to consolidate dates in Discussions.
Imagine this future for a moment: as an instructor, you can have complete control over whether students see an activity, and if they can, whether submissions are allowed. Also, imagine that all activities could have a due date and availability dates, and you could confidently know which activity dates ended up in the calendar.
What we're talking about is consistency of dates, consistency and control of behavior of activity visibility and accessibility, and consistency and control of calendar events. Across the system. Any tool.
Making this future happen is big and super exciting for us. We know you’ll be excited too because, well, you’ve been asking for these changes for a very long time!
The path to our future of date consistency begins with Discussions.
Summary of Key Changes
After enabling the new feature, users can expect the following to happen:
- Option to set unlock dates and the lock option on Discussion topics and forums will be removed (Restrictions tab changes).
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 Classic 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:
- Hidden. Today, whether a topic is hidden, is decided by the tool displaying the topics.
- Visible but learners cannot access it. Today, Classic Content is the only tool to make discussions visible without access.
- Visible but learners cannot post. Today, this is accomplished with the lock option or unlock dates.
- 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.
- Calendar events for unlock dates will be hidden.
- 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.
- Instructors can choose the default visibility and access behaviour for new discussion forums and topics from new options under Discussion Settings. The defaults can be set at an organization level.
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 (see New Properties of Availability Dates).
Reasons for Removing Unlock Dates
We understand change isn’t easy. Here’s some of the rationale.
Discussions has two sets of dates: availability and unlock. This fact highlights two inconsistencies in the platform. First, no other Brightspace tool has two sets of dates; and second, no other [assessment] tool has the capability to provide a view-only mode.
- ‘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.
- ‘Should’ other assessment tools support read-only? Yes! It will happen with this work.
- 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.
The above two reasons are key drivers in removing the unlock dates, but there are other notable mentions:
- Brightspace 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).
- The new consistent Brightspace activity creation workflows, which are part of the product direction, standardize on one set of dates.
Customers to be affected are those 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.
Enabling the New Consolidated Dates Feature
Admins can enable the new consolidated dates feature in for Discussions via the following config variable:
d2l.Tools.Discuss.ConsolidatedDatesEnabled ( OrgUnit )
Options: On and Off
Default: Off (in the August release of Brightspace Learning Environment)
Additional details for setting defaults for a course and entire organization can be found in section Configuring Default Date Properties.
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 Brightspace.
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
Availability End Date Properties
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.
Visible with access restricted:
- 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:
- can see all details of the forum including description and all topics within it
- cannot post to any topic within the forum
- cannot see forums that are hidden before or after start/end dates
Visible with access restricted:
- 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:
- 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
- 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”.
Outside of Availability Dates
Between Availability Dates
Behavior when the New Dates Feature is Enabled
Across Brightspace, 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
Between Availability Dates
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 Brightspace with respect to visibility and access. That behaviour will be one of four possibilities:
- posting is allowed
- topics are visible but not accessible
- topics are visible but posting is restricted
- 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 behaviour 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./td>
The following table highlights a few changes to visibility of discussion topics and forums when learners view discussions outside of availability dates. For more tools, refer to section Changes to All Tools.
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./td>
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./td>
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:
- Calendar events for unlock dates (“Locked” and “Unlocked” event) are hidden.
- 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
For details on editing Discussion dates in Manage Dates and Course Builder, refer to section Changes to All Tools.
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.
Editing Dates in the Classic Content Experience (before and after)
Like the Discussions tool, users can edit the availability date properties also from the classic Content experience.
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.
Clicking one of the links opens the date properties dialog:
Configuring Default Date Properties
Instructors can choose the default settings for availability dates for any new Discussion topic and forum. These 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.
Org-level Setup for Availability Date Properties
Admins have the option to set the availability date setting for any new topic or forum created at their institution by updating the following configuration variables:
Admins can choose to set an org-wide override, setting up a cascading org unit type, or leave the defaults as is and the instructor in each course can setup their own defaults as noted above.
Changes to All Tools
Tool Changes for Discussions topics and forum edit pages
- Refer to section Editing Dates in the Discussions Tool for illustrations of the changes.
Reading View - Date format
- Discussions is one of the few tools in Brightspace 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.
- Before and after the new dates feature is enabled, Discussion statistics continue to ignore visibility and access settings.
Classic 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.
Content: New Experience
(previously known as Lessons)
Content: New Experience (Sequence View) (previously known as New Learner Experience)Display of Discussion topics and forums:
- Previously, any Discussion topic or forum with future/past unlock dates appeared at all times; that is, they wouldn’t be hidden to learners. Topics with unlock dates but also availability dates in the future/past would not be shown to learners outside of those availability dates.
- When the new dates feature is enabled, submission restricted topics/forums are visible to learners – these are ones with future/past availability dates. This is because ‘submission restriction’ means students can see but not post to the activity.
- Note, when the new dates feature is enabled, items which are marked as access restricted (or hidden) will continue to not be shown to learners.
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.
- Users will not receive notifications (email, instant, navigation area 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.
Discussions and Content APIs: Updated Valence documentation covering API changes will be released at the beginning of August. In short, new elements for the availability date properties will appear in new versions of the APIs.
Calendar: Several changes are covered in section: Calendar Events and “Display in Calendar” for Discussion Dates
- 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 (CCC)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.
- Due to the additional properties of the availability dates, the XML format of the Brightspace course package has been updated.
- The import tool will recognize old and new formats for discussion topics and forums.
- When the new dates feature is enabled, the export tool will export discussions in the new format.
Sample old XML format for topic dates:
Sample new XML format:
<availability_start> <availability_date>2021-05-04T16:07:00</availability_date> <availability_type>0</availability_type></availability_start><availability_end> <availability_date>2021-05-06T16:07:00</availability_date> <availability_type>0</availability_type></availability_end>
The following map Availability Types:
- 0 = access restricted
- 1 = submission restricted
- 2 = hidden
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.