Embedding Forums, Assignments, and Exams in Lessons

I was recently helping a faculty member migrate her course from eCollege to Sakai. and, because I didn’t want to make things too hard on her when it came time to move her course to a new site for the next semester, I decided to use Lessons.  This might not seem like a big deal, but I’ve never been a big fan of Lessons and have tried to avoid it at all costs in my own sites.

The main reason I’ve not been a fan of Lessons is because it is sometimes difficult to manage students’ navigation through a course when they have to bounce between the fourth content section of a module to a Forum Topic, then back to the fifth content section of the mode and next to an Assignment.

However, in setting up this course, which had multiple forum topics and assignments in each module, I got an idea.  I knew that I could link directly to those forum topics and assignments using the Sakai Entity Link button  in the Rich Text Editor, which is great for getting them to those other places, but it wasn’t so good for getting them back.  I then remembered that when you use the Sakai Entity Link button, it gives you the URL for the Forum topic or Assignment.

I also remembered that when you “upload or link to a file in Resources” to create a content section in Lessons, it just creates a link on the page that would open in a new window.  And what is worse, the link text is just the filename of the file.  However, when you “upload or link to a file” or “Link to new or existing URL resource on server,” it embeds that file in the content section page itself.

For instance, if I have a PDF file I wanted to present as a content section, when I choose the upload or link to a file in Resources option, the page would be nothing but a link that students would then click to open, and it would open in a new window.

This is functional, yes, but not very elegant.  However, if I chose the “upload or link to a file” option,  the PDF would appear directly on the content section page.

Much better!  And since the “Link to new or existing URL resource on server” option embeds in this same way, since I can get the URL for the Forum topic or Assignment they need to get to, I can embed it as the next page in the Module.  Even better still!

To do this, I needed to be able to use the Sakai Entity Link button without interfering with my content section creation in Lessons, so I right-clicked on Resources and chose to have it open in a new tab.  I then went to that tab and created a new HTML page (Note: This was just to get a Rich-Text Editor I could work with that was separate from Lessons).  I clicked the Sakai Entity Link button and chose the appropriate Forum topic.  I then copied the URL from the box and returned to the tab with Lessons.  I created a new content section, chose the “Link to new or existing URL resource on server” option, and pasted the URL from the Sakai Entity Link into the box.

Therefore, when the students hit the Next button on the previous page, it takes them to the proper Forum topic directly inside of Lessons.  They can then hit the Next button on that page and proceed to the next content section.

Clean.  Elegant.  And actually quite easy.

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Sakai Forums tool: Requiring students to first post a message before they take part in discussion

There is not really a no-brainer way to do this, but there is a work-around that comes from Jim Mezzanotte in a Sakai user forum. Read on if you are interested.

girl at computer

As an instructor, you may want students to post an initial message for a specific topic in a forum before they will be able to participate in discussions. The Forums tool does not let you set such a requirement, but there is an effective workaround that involves creating a special group for your site.

Note: Keep in mind that you will need to move students to this group after reviewing their first posts, in order to give them full rights to read and post in all forums.

First, go to your site and select the Site Editor tool. Then, follow these steps:

From the tool menu bar, click on Manage Groups.

Click Create New Group.

In the Title field, enter an appropriate name. In this case, let’s use “Forum Participants.”

Click Add. Under “Group List,” the CLE will display the new group, along with “0″ in the “Size” column.

Except for the one topic for which you want students to first post a message, you must now limit student access to all other topics and forums. At the same time, you must grant the appropriate permissions for the new “Forum Participants” group you have created. To do so, select the Forums tool. For each existing topic, follow these steps:

Click on the Topic Settings link for the topic. The CLE displays the Topic Settings page.

In the Permissions section, select Student from the “this site role” dropdown menu and then select None from the “gets this permission level” dropdown menu.

In this same section, select Forum Participants from the “this site role” dropdown menu and then select Contributor from the “gets this permission level” dropdown menu.

Click Save.

To specify these permissions for all new forums and topics you create, click on Template Settings in the tool menubar. Then, follow steps 2-4.

Next, find the topic for which you want students to first post a message. You must specify custom permissions for this topic. To do so, follow these steps:

Click on the Topic Settings link for the topic. The CLE displays the Topic Settings page.

In the Permissions section, select Student from the “this site role” dropdown menu and then select Custom from the “gets this permission level” drop down menu.

From the list of permissions, click only the New Response checkbox. Make sure that you have also clicked the None checkbox for “Edit Postings” and “Delete Postings.”

Click Save.

All students will be able to post a message for the one topic for which the student role has the “New Response” permission. Students will not be able to see any posts from other site participants, however, and they will also not see any other forums or topics.

Once a student has posted a first message, you can use the Manage Groups function in the Site Editor to add that student to the “Forum Participants” group. The student will then have access to all other forums and topics.

–appeared in ‘Sakai CLE General Usage and Tools’ forum on 1/6/12.

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Spring 2012 Sakai 101 Schedule Now Available


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Sakai Accounts for Faculty


Faculty members who wish to have a Sakai account can now create their own account at the following link:


This will take you to a webpage where you enter your Jag Number and your PAWS pin.

sakai access manager screenshot

Once you hit Submit, if you are a Groupwise user, you will be taken to a page where you can enter a New Password.

sakai access manager password page

Once you’ve done this, you can now login to USA’s eCampus (Sakai) at https://ecampus.southalabama.edu/ using your J number as your username that the password you just established as your password.

USA eCampus Home Page

If you are are jaguar1 user, you are all set and will be able to log into Sakai using your J number as your username and your jaguar1 email password as your password.

Once you’ve logged in, you can create a Project Site by clicking on Site Setup in the My Settings box on the left.

Then click New and you’re on your way.

We will have a lot of information in the weeks to come on using Project sites, but you can use project sites for almost anything, such as an online meeting site for a research project or student group.  You can even create project sites to start building your course(s) for next semester.  And when your course site (or shell) is created by Banner when the official course schedule is posted, you can simply import the content from your project site into your official course site.

If you have any questions about Sakai, please feel free to contact us at ilc@usouthal.edu.  Also check out our schedule of events and trainings at http://usailc.org/events/

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Campus Technology: Rethinking the LMS

A panel at last week’s Campus Technology 2011 Conference discussed the future of the online Learning Management System.  This article by John K. Waters, “Rethinking the LMS,” gives an interesting summary and suggests that USA’s choice of Sakai was a good one, especially considering the exciting new capabilities promised with Sakai OAE.

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Sakai Trainings Are Underway!

Our first formal Sakai training sessions are underway!  We offered the first of our two-part Learn SAKAI! workshop yesterday to a packed room, and it went wonderfully.  We will offer the second part tomorrow and repeat the workshop again next week.

Due to an overwhelming response, all of the sessions are overbooked, so registration is closed.

We plan to offer another round in early August, and our Fall Schedule will be available soon.

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Create Project Video How-to

embedded by Embedded Video

vimeo Direkt
10-minute “reminder video” about how to create a project site.




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Project Site Tutorial from TSU

A nice short tutorial on project sites from Texas State University is located at
Their interface is different, but the principles are the same.

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Migrating Courses to Sakai: Dreaded Drudgery or Exciting Opportunity?

Today is a big day at the ILC.  Today is when we will formally begin planning our process for migrating courses from eCollege to Sakai.  Since we have about 350 fully online courses, 80 blended courses, and no-telling-how-many web-enhanced courses to move, this will be a significant undertaking involving a lot of people.

The good news is that we have time to get it done.  Our contract with eCollege still has over 2 years remaining, so there is some hope (and perhaps it is not too naive a hope) that this cushion will allow us to make the transition with minimal pain and stress.  It won’t be an easy process, however.

eCollege is a proprietary system, which means that they are much more interested in making it easy for you to add your course content into their system than they are in spending their development capital in helping you (or, for that matter, another LMS provider) to get it out.

Therefore, while there are some shortcuts that we’ll be discussing in future posts, moving content from eCollege to Sakai is largely a manual process. And I suspect that if you have a lot of content in your course, or if you have several courses, the copy/paste process will soon start to loom tediously over you.

Rather than dreading the obligation to do this work, however, I see this as an excellent opportunity you to reconsider your course, to reinvigorate it.

In the video below, from UNC Chapel Hill’s Sakai Blog, Vince Petronio, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Rhode Island, talks about how moving a course from one LMS to another can help you and your course get “recharged.”


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Early Adopter’s Group Training

Several members of USA’s Sakai Early Adopters Group are participating in a two-day pilot workshop on the Sakai system this week. The training consists of two, two-hour blocks each day and covers all of the basic functionality of USA’s Sakai environment. The total of eight hours of training time provides an opportunity for in-depth and hands-on coverage of various tools and settings within Sakai.

Learners start with setting up a syllabus and move through creating lessons and assignments. The Early Adopter Group (EAG) members also receive handbooks and other resources, and more importantly, a chance to learn in a sandbox arena where changes are not detrimental to courses or students.

The University is slated to make a full migration to Sakai over the next couple of years; however, faculty members will have some opportunities to move their own classes through the Sakai LMS before a full transition has occurred.

If you would like to join the EAG or are just interested in learning more about Sakai, receiving training in the LMS, or even moving your classes over to the system before “crunch time” hits, please let us know.

You may contact rmgray@usouthal.edu for information on the EAG or with any questions you may have about Sakai.


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