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As more and more class resources go online, web-based tools for learning, communication and evaluation become increasingly important. One of the ways that Veracross facilitates this trend in pedagogy is through its Class Discussions application. Class Discussions, a tab on each class webpage, allows teachers to create and manage classroom discussions in an online forum. Students are able to make contributions to discussions in the classes in which they are enrolled, while teachers manage the content, flow and evaluation of the discussions. In this way, Veracross gives teachers the tools they need to take their classes online in the ways that work best for them and their students.
Discussions are always, and only, initiated by the teacher, who begins a discussion when he or she creates a discussion title and a discussion topic. Once the title and topic have been drafted, the discussion can be opened to allow students to post. A single discussion can be shared to several sections of the same class. All sections see the same title and topic, but each class posts its own unique comments and replies, visible from its own class web page. Posts are made up of comments and replies, and both students and teachers are able to comment to open discussion. Comments are added in response to the discussion starter; replies are added in response to comments. Veracross allows unlimited comments and replies, however, the nesting of posts is limited to two levels: comments and replies to comments; there are no replies to replies. These two components — the discussion starter and comments and replies — make up the discussion.
Discussions that have not yet been launched have a Draft status. As a draft, a discussion is not visible to the class, allowing the teacher to fully prepare and edit the discussion before launching it. Also, a teacher could use the draft status to compose all of his or her discussions for the entire year (or semester, month, et al.), leaving them as drafts until the appropriate time for the discussion in the curriculum.
The Open status takes the discussion live, displaying it on the class website where students can begin posting comments and replies. As moderator, the teacher pre-sets the end date for a discussion. Discussions are automatically opened at 12:00 a.m. on the specified start date.
When a discussion reaches its expiration date, its status is changed to Closed. Students will still be able to view Closed discussions, but they will no longer be able to add comments and replies. A discussion automatically closes at 11:59 on the specified date.
Finally, a discussion can be Archived. An Archived discussion is no longer visible in the class website, but it is not erased. Although students are no longer able to view it, the discussion remains available to the teacher.
Adding to the Discussion
Veracross makes it easy for students to participate in discussions. Students select the discussion they want to participate in from the list of open and closed discussions on the discussion tab of the class website. The discussion grows when students click “Add a New Comment” or “Reply” and post their comments in the box. By clicking the “Save Comment” button, the post is saved and rendered on the page for immediate viewing. Replies to comments are created in a similar way.
Managing the Discussion
The discussion tab, located on the class website tab of the class section, conveniently allows teachers to moderate and evaluate all discussion posts. New discussions default to the open status with a start date of today. Teachers can select which date they would like the discussion to close. The status can be changed by clicking the edit button and selecting a new status from the dropdown. Once the discussion is set up with the correct status and close date, clicking “Save Discussion” completes the set up.
Teachers have the ability to both add and delete comments and replies as necessary to all of their open discussions. Students, however, have no access to editing tools; once their posts are made, students are not able to change them. Choosing “Delete” removes the comment and/or reply from the discussion. By clicking the Edit tab on the discussion, a pop up window launches a fuller range of management tools. From this window, basic editing as well as Deleting or Archiving an entire discussion is possible (the open and closed status can be changed here too). However, all edits must be completed discussion by discussion and class by class.