Discussion outside the context of a specific course

I’m working on building a community of learners.

We would like to have Alumni of specific programs (program = collection of courses):

  • Interact with participants in courses that they have already completed as guides for the folks coming up through the program.
  • Interact with each other outside the context of any specific course. (Possibly on a cohort basis but in some cases across cohorts.)

We are hoping to do all of the above with a single login. That is the alumni does not having to create separate discord account, or slack accounts to participate in discussions.

We are hoping to do this in a way that large scaling could happen. 10s of Thousands to 100s of Thousands of accounts potentially participating over time.

We also need the price per participant model to not have a significant incremental cost for each new participant other than some space in a data store, network band width, and some compute resources.

What I’m liking about Open EDx is that we are Docker/ Kubernetes based so scaling is theoretically built in to this solution.

I see that we are in a discuss.openedx.org environment that seems to be disconnected from a specific Open EDx course. How is this discussion environment setup generally. Is it a part of Open EDx or separate?

Has anyone done something like this? If so what are you using? Even if not, What sort of suggestions do you have around achieving this kind of educational community environment?

This forum is a Discourse instance that’s not tied to any Open edX instance. Discourse is open source, but tCRIL pays for a hosted solution for this particular site–the Business plan, at $300/month.

Open edX can act as an OAuth2 provider, so it’s possible to configure your Discourse instance to use your Open edX site for authentication. That would give you the basic auth-level integration.

I don’t know what your options are for deeper levels of integration like cohorts that mirror Open edX groupings. While he was the product owner for TNL at edX, @marcotuts pushed for a vision where top level forums like these are a more natural part of the Open edX experience (instead of only having the per-course ones that are built-in today), but I don’t know how much of that supporting infrastructure was designed or built.

@xitij2000 might know more about the latest state of Discourse integration with Open edX. Much of the focus of that thread was around making Discourse a viable solution for per-course discussions, but there may be some general Discourse integration work as well. I believe that OpenCraft did some kind of integration with Discourse for LabXchange, but again, I’m not familiar with the details.

Tagging a few folks that might know more: @jristau1984, @Agrendalath, @braden, @gabrieldamours


Thanks so much for your reply!

I’m beginning to get a sense that what we are talking about, cross-course community building may be a bit out of the norm for many MOOC platforms. What I’m learning is that most discussions in MOOCs seem to be course specific and have little broader community-building focus. Where our use case and mission have that as core to the value proposition we would deliver.

I’m also getting a sense that these ideas are not out of line with the thinking of some in the broader online educational community.

I would love to hear from others like @marcotuts about his forum ideas and learn where that project is today. What we are doing might help move this agenda forward.

@xitij2000 if you have some time I’d be grateful to learn a bit more about the Discourse and Open edX integration. I’m particularly interested in the comment from the attached document
It can potentially also be made available to students for meta-discussions. What was the thinking about this point?

Glad to hear from anyone else as well @jristau1984 , @Agrendalath , @Branden , @gabrieldamours

There is a mechanism in place that allows switching the discussion provider to one of, Ed Discuss, Inscribe, Piazza, and YellowDig. These are all discussion platforms that support LTI since that is the integration technology being used for this. There is also support for programs-level discussions using LTI.

While it’s a bit painful currently, it is possible to set up any tool that supports LTI as a discussion provider. With a few added plugins, Discourse can also be used as a discussion tool for a course, which would allow using Discourse in the main Discussion tab. Users will be seamlessly logged in using LTI. It’s not directly supported since an out of the box install of Discourse will not work with Open edX, and need some plugins (LTI support and iframe embedding support).

The document linked there is pretty old and was build around having a custom interface for discussions plugins. The approach right now has moved away from XBlocks and a discussion topic is directly linked to a Unit. This system is flexible enough to allow linking to any XBlock though, but it only supports Units for now.

The thinking here was, that we could automatically create a topic structure in Discourse that matches the course structure, and users could only access single Discourse topics embedded in a frame in the context of a Unit. However, they could also have access to the Discourse instance itself, which would allow course-level, or even site-level discussions, if the same Discourse instance is tied to all the courses on the site.

@xitij2000 ,
That sounds promising. However, I’m not clear how stable a solution this would produce. Please understand that I’m still very much a newbie when it comes to Open edX. At this time I’m having difficulties determining how straight forward and supportable this suggestion is in the context of Open edX now and into the future.

The mechanism for embedding LTI-based discussion tools is now a proper feature of the platform, with a UI to select between providers. Programs-level discussions are also a new and supported feature. Discourse would use the same mechanism.

I think the less supported bits here are (1) the Discourse LTI component, and (2) the plugin to support embedding discourse.

Discourse has an official supported LTI plugin, however it supports LTI 1.3 only. The Open edX platform support LTI 1.3, however the discussions LTI code does not. With some work on supporting LTI 1.3 here that problem will get resolved.

For the second issue, the plugin ins pretty simple, just a line or two of code since it simply involves changing headers to support embedding in Open edX.

I think adding support for LTI 1.3 is probably a good starting point for better support for Discourse in Open edX. A good test would be to just try embedding Discourse in the regular LTI consumer XBlock and see how that works. Do tell if a sandbox, with Discourse set up would be useful.