Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Glimpse of Daylight!

On December 13, 2017, the NLU Online Campus will implement D2L's responsive, mobile-friendly Daylight interface.

What to Expect

Home pages will be the most obvious indication that a new day has dawned. Home page improvements include:

  • You will first notice the new, sleeker look for the "My Home" page;
  • Attractive, high-res couse images provide a distinct visual link between the course listing on "My Home" (via a tile in the "My Courses" widget) and the course home page banner;
  • The redesigned "My courses" widget overlays course images with text information about the course and its status;
  • A cleaner design neatly and functionally collapses and rearranges to fit your device;
  • Additional functionality for instructors on course home pages.

Home Pages

My Home:The course tiles are a visual link to your courses.
Course Home: The banner on this course home page echoes the course tile in the upper left of the previous image. Instructors have a Course Overview widget that provides an immediate snapshot of recent course activity.

New Look, Same Functionality

Everything will work the same way as pre-Daylight, but the visual interface will be simpler, cleaner, and will even work on your smart phone! Sometimes "advanced" settings are tucked behind a "more details" link, but they are still available to you. You may be noticing some of these changes already in our pre-Daylight environment; an example is the "new look" for the Quiz tool.

Want to know more?

Ask your questions in the comments below. Then watch this space for further updates. And please, stop by the Daylight Lab at the Winter Connection.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Bye Bye Blog?

Not THIS blog; it is here to stay. The D2L Blog tool is being phased out from the NLU learning environment beginning in the Summer 2017 term.


  • The D2L blog is not a course-level tool. Depending on the individual settings, it is either visible only to the writer of the "blog", or it is public. This can raise potential FERPA issues and makes the tool inappropriate for course-level activities.
  • There are newer and better options for written communication in the D2L course and also for "outside" social media.
  • Publicly available D2L Blogs have raised security issues for our D2L site and our users.


What alternatives do I have for blogging with my students?

Course-level Alternatives

  • D2L Discussion, when provided with blog-like instructions, can function effectively as a class-specific blog that can feed into the assessment plan for the class if appropriate. Students should each create a thread (their "blog"). Students should then read their classmates blogs and post comments if they wish.
  • Single-user Group-Specific Discussion for a journal-like experience that allows iterative interactions between the individual student and the instructor in a class. Posts are visible only to the writer of the post and to the instructor. Some NLU instructors call this a "Two-Way Journal".
  • Announcements provide a place for news that you would like to share with your students.

Other NLU-Sponsored Tools

The following NLU-sponsored tools are loosely integrated with D2L and can work across Courses and Term Boundaries

  • Wiggio (linked in the More Tools menu, but student-driven and not class specific).
  • Electronic portfolios (LiveText and ePortfolio)

External Social Media

If the public side of the D2l blog is important to a class activity, and if Wiggio, LiveText, and ePortfolio don't meet your needs, here are some external tools that other NLU instructors have used. Just make sure that you, and your students, understand the associated privacy policies. Additionally, LITS cannot support faculty and students in their use of external websites, so you will want to make sure you are familiar with the sites and with the specific activities you would like your students to complete.

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Edublogs (by Wordpress)
  • Google Docs (for collaboration)


What is the timeline? I need to copy material from my D2L Blog while I can.

July 2017

  • Students and faculty will no longer be able to make the blog externally available, or publish it as an RSS feed.
  • External viewing and RSS publishing will no longer be enabled for the D2L Blog.
  • Students will no longer be able to view entries for other users or post comments through ours D2l site.

December 2017

  • Instructors will no longer be able to view entries for other users or add comments to entries.
  • Students will no longer have access to the Blog tool.
  • Instructors will have access to their own Blog posts by accessing Blog tool through the Course Admin page.

January 2018

  • The Blog tool will not be available. Believe me, you will not miss it!
  • Still wanting to use blogging with you class but not sure what to do next? Come to an Open Lab to brainstorm ideas.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Security for Online Teaching and Learning

Online Safety


The Wannacry/Wannacrypt worldwide cyberattack excitement is already a dim memory (I hope). Before the threat-inspired interest in online security also fades, let us take this opportunity to address some of the issues raised by NLU's digitally engaged faculty and students.

Your D2L Learning Environment

Our community asked, how secure is D2L itself? Authentication protocols are in place. The network centers have protection for the ports where data is passed. Backups, with encrypted transfer to other locations, protect us in the event of disaster. In other words, your courses are protected. If you would like to know more, visit D2L Security.

Electronic Materials Exchanged in Teaching and Learning

D2L makes sure that D2L is clean. D2L does not, however, patrol the material exchanged between users within the learning environment. Let us explore potential threats from user content and files and what individuals can do to mitigate and prevent potential damage.

You've got mail!

Email is the most common source of reasons to cry. Your NLU Outlook or Office365 email is filtered and scanned for security threats; the filters are constantly updated because so are viruses, malware, and other threats. Reminders of good email hygiene and potential security issues are frequently provided BY your NLU OIT team. Follow recommended best practices. This Blog post is, however. specific to security threats in the context of our online Learning Environment. What, then, about D2L mail?

External mail into our D2L environment is scanned at the Brightspace Network Center, but occasionally things can get through. Simply reading an expected D2L mail message in D2L without clicking links or downloading documents is not expected to harm your computer. Email notifications forwarded from D2L mail to your NLU email pass through the NLU email filters.

D2L mail, or any email system, regardless of any security issues, is not an appropriate method for submitting assignments. Student attachments to email messages should not, therefore, be a common occurrence. Most instructors who receive an assignment in email will redirect the student to the Assignment tool.

D2L Assignments

What about documents that you download from the Assignment tool in D2L, such as papers for instructors to mark up with feedback, and for students to read the feedback? here are some things you can to limit your exposure to malicious embedded macros in documents.

  • Set your security software to scan downloads.
  • Instructors should do a do a quick visual scan through the submission list before downloading in bulk to make sure they are getting only the expected file types. (D2L does limit the file types, and you have the option to place further limits on what file types students can upload to your assignments.) Students should also check that a file that is to be downloaded is of an expected filetype.
  • Be cautiously brave! There may be times when it is necessary to download a theoretically dangerous macro-enabled Excel document in order to grade homework for a course in economics or accounting. Teachers of these courses and students who receive marked-up version of the graded documents will be the ones who make sure their downloads are scanned.
  • Or don't download!
    • Did you know that an assignment submission that is a Word or PDF document or an image can be viewed online, and comments entered directly into a D2L comment field?
    • Instructors with an iPad or Android tablet can use the relevant Grader app to mark-up papers in-app.
    • Another option for marking up a paper in-line without downloading is Feedback Studio (available on your Turnitin-enabled Assignment folders). For this last, we do ask that you make sure that the grade is recorded in D2L and that the D2L rubric is used for grading purposes, with at least a summary comment in D2L.


Protect yourself when you click links in submitted work, in Discussion posts, or anywhere else you might go! You have security settings in your browsers and their plug-ins. Find your own balance between caution and convenience. We all know not to click links in unexpected emails or on sites we have no reason to trust, but it is easy to forget when engrossed in an Internet research project. Here, then, is my last and best safety tip: I hover links before clicking to make sure the target is what I expect it to be, and occasionally view the page source directly.

The End?

Sometime it will happen. You will be engrossed in surfing and throw caution to the wind. Or the email that appears to come from a collaborator looks like something you expect, but it isn't. Don't ignore what happened or wait until your next scheduled scan. Deal with it immediately. Reach out to LITS campus desktop services if you need support.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Naming Files for D2L and for People

What's in a name?

What is in a name?

The name of a file on your computer has two parts: "name" and "extension" connected by a dot. A few examples are myfile.docx, mySlides.pptx, myNumbers.xlsx, my_image.jpg, your-file.doc. When you view file listings on your computer, you might see only the "name" part while keeping the ".extension" hidden, or you might see "name.extension" depending on your system settings. The extension to the right of the dot tells a computer how your file can be read; don't mess with it. The name to the left of the dot is where you can get creative. To avoid technical issues with uploading your files to D2L, however, there a few simple guidelines to follow.

Filename Technical Guidelines

  • Use letters and numbers, combined with hyphens or underscores, to construct your names.
  • Avoid spaces. [Why? Spaces can be interpreted differently in different situations, causing errors in file upload and download operations.]
  • Avoid punctuation or any special characters other than hyphens and underscores in your names. [Why? Symbols like &, !, #, *, $, @, /, and so forth have special meanings in computer operations.]
  • Use ONLY a letter or a number as the first character and the last character of your name. [Why? To be safe. If it doesn't look like a filename at first glance, it might not get a second glance!]
  • Don't make your name ridiculously long! A creative person can be descriptive in 12-18 characters or less.

Other Naming Tips

  • Make your names easy for humans to read by using hyphens or initial caps as word boundaries since you are avoiding spaces.
  • If you use a date in your name, the standard YYYY-MM-DD date format is a popular convention.
  • Never use "final" as part of a name, because you never know!

Bottom Line - Don't Let Word® call the shots!

Microsoft Word® kindly offers you a ready-made file name when save your document. The name often is the first sentence of your document, and it will break most or all of the guidelines above. Instead, replace the ready-made text (or the text to the left of of the dot if you are seeing extensions) in the filename box with a well constructed name of your own choosing before you save. If you forget to do that, though, you can always rename the file, or do a save-as before you upload your Assignment file.

Why bother?

The most common cause of frustrated student calls to the NLU Help Desk is difficulty uploading a file to D2L. Usually renaming the file solves the problem. Instructors also encounter upload errors on occasion, and lose valuable time trouble-shooting the issue. The fix is so simple! Just use a simple name for your files.

Will leaving a space in the name of your document cause your upload to fail? Probably not. But if you name your files as described above, you are removing the major source of will-it-work stress from submitting your work online. Save and upload with confidence!

Monday, January 30, 2017

What's New in D2L?

What's new in D2L?

What's New in D2L for February 2017?

In the exciting world of Brightspace Continuous Delivery, there is something new every month! Here is a major improvement in group discussion functionality that has been implemented on our D2L site this month. This addresses a frequent pain point for NLU instructors who use group Discussions in D2L.

The Pain

In the past, small group discussions were always created in the groups tool with one Discussion topic per group. The instructor would go into each separate topic to read what students wrote. The real pain came when the instructor graded the group discussions. With no way to tie multiple Discussion topics to a single grade item, and home-grown work-arounds for multiple group-restricted topics were awkward at best.

The Cure -- Group Filtered Discussions!

As of D2L 10.6.9, any class that has set up groups in D2L gains an option to group-filter a new Discussion topic. In a group-filtered Discussion topic, students can only see only the threads created by members of their group, and can only respond to those threads. The instructor, however, can see -- and grade -- all the threads from all the groups in a single discussion topic. Only one grade item is needed!

The Steps

  1. Have your groups set up in the Groups tool. (Here is a video refresher on Groups.
  2. In Discussions, create a new Topic in a new or existing Forum.
  3. In the Properties tab, choose "Group or section topic" as the topic type. (Note that this choice is only available when first creating the topic; the Topic type cannot be changed after the topic has been created.)
    There is a 'Topic Type' heading, with a choice for an open topic, everyone can access' or 'Group or section topic'.

The Video

The video clip below illustrates the new type of group discussion.


Will my old group discussions still work?
Yes, existing group discussions will be unchanged by this new feature. You can use them exactly as you have always done.
Can I edit an existing Discussion Topic to make it a group-filtered topic?
No, the Discussion topic type cannot be changed once the topic has been created. You need to create a new topic and set the type to "Group".
What's wrong? I'm creating a new Discussion topic and I don't see a group choice for the type of Discussion.
Are there groups in your course? The group topic choice only appears when creating a new topic if there are groups in the course.
I'd like to switch my small group discussions to the new filtered kind, but I'm a little nervous. Can I get some help?
Yes! Come to an open lab. Here's the schedule.

-- Your D2L Team

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

“How Learning Works”: Unpacking Motivation in the Learning Proces

Written by: Dr. Diane Salmon and Anthony Boen

Principle: Students’ goals generate, direct, and sustain what they do to learn.

How do students develop their goals in the context of learning? How can you help students adopt positive learning goals?

Research on how students learn indicates that learners’ values, expectancies, and perceptions of support in the learning environment interact to impact the goals they set and hence, their motivation in a particular learning context. Motivation lies not in the learner, but in the dynamic interplay between what learners value, their sense of efficacy, and the support they feel as they engage in particular learning activities. Motivation is highly contextual and can be shaped by instructors.

One powerful pedagogical tool that instructors can use to influence learner goals and hence, their motivation, is formative assessment. The formative assessment system within a course can be intentionally designed to help learners develop positive expectancies for success, adopt learning goals, improve their self-regulated learning, and internalize value for course content. The following are important design characteristics in an effective formative assessment system within a course

1.       Well-defined expectations for assessed performances
2.       A clear rationale for assessments that clarifies the real world value of required learning
3.       Authentic assessment activities that embody a rationale for the learning goals
4.       Rubrics and exemplars that unpack complex performances for novices
5.       Alignment of multiple sequential formative assessments that shape learner performances for success in the summative assessment
6.       Feedback that shapes how students interpret their performances to focus on growth, effort, elaborative explanations, and self-regulation
7.       Formative assessment activities that direct students to think about the effectiveness of their own learning strategies (metacognition) and include self-assessment

Take a moment now to think about how you can you use technology to achieve some of these design characteristics the formative assessment system within your course.

It’s no secret that modern instructors have a wealth of formative assessment tools available to them. Hundreds of assessment platforms available on the market today allow instructors to craft formative assessments specifically molded to unique learners, experiences, and requirements. But nothing is without its price. With incredible flexibility comes incredible complication as users struggle to learn a seemingly never ending list of new and evolving technologies. Now more than ever it is important that instructors work together to implement formative assessment using standardized yet flexible tools.

One of the most obvious assessment tools available in D2L is the Quiz tool. When most students and instructors think of the “Quiz” tool they immediately think of summative assessment. However experienced instructional designers will know that the tool can be molded to fit many different needs. It’s all about how the assessment is set up and framed within the context of the entire class. Rather than calling the assessment a “Module 2 Quiz,” (which often carries a summative assessment connotation), the instructor may call the assessment something like “Module 2 Key Points.” The instructor can also set the assessment up to automatically release feedback based on student responses, and allow multiple submissions to encourage improvement and further learning. Some instructors of blended courses here at NLU use the Quiz tool to create short, low-stakes formative assessments students take before coming to class. The instructor can then review the quiz statistics stored in D2L as an opening activity in the f2f class session.

Incorporating these suggestions in the use of the D2L quiz tool would achieve which of the design characteristics of formative assessment discussed above? How have you used the quiz tool to shape student goals and enhance their engagement in the learning process?

Not all feedback needs to come from the instructor. One often overlooked formative assessment tool available in D2L is the discussion board. Many instructors often do not take advantage of the collaboration made possible by the discussion board.  Many discussion assignments seem to only require students to restate something they learned from some reading or a prior activity. Student interaction rarely adds value to these assignments. Often the thread authors do not even bother checking on responses they have received because the content is in the past and they have already earned full points for the activity. On the other hand some instructors have been able to leverage the tool effectively as a formative assessment tool. One instructional strategy might be to require students to make posts in the same topic over multiple weeks. For example, have students post multiple revisions of an assignment to one topic. Between submissions peers can critique the revisions and make suggestions for improvement. Posting in the same topic each week not only encourages students to return to their topics (and review feedback from others), but when finished the author can look in one place to see how the document evolved over time with the feedback from peers.

What motivational design characteristics of formative assessment can the instructor achieve by requiring students to post to the same topic over multiple weeks? How might this practice shape students values, expectancies and perceptions of the support in the learning environment? Can you describe your own experiences with discussion as a formative assessment practice that enhances motivation in the learning environment?