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Have you ever wanted to make your course page more relevant to your learners? Speaking to a client this week, that's exactly what they wanted to do. Listening to how they run their course, I suggested adding variable content by showing the latest forum discussions to the course page using RSS feeds. Learners can then click on a specific discussion and they will be taken to that discussion in the forum activity.

Forum discussion accessibility

As can be seen in the image above, when a user enters the course all the latest discussions are available to them in a single block. Yes, this can be done using the "Latest posts" block but this way will only show the only display the individual discussions, not the posts, although you can opt to do that as well if you want.

Step 1 – Configure your site to use RSS feeds

  1. Enable RSS feeds on your site (Site administration > Advanced setting > Enable RSS feeds)
  2. Enable RSS feeds in your forums (Site administration > Plugins > Activity modules > Forum > Enable RSS feeds)

Once these two settings have been enabled each forum has the potential to be used as the source of an RSS feed.

Step 2 – Configure your course to use RSS feeds

  1. Go into the settings for the forum you want to use as the source of the RSS feeds and you should see a new section entitled RSS. Expand this section and select Discussions and select the number of discussions you want to show and save your settings.
    Forum discussion accessibility
  2. Now that you are using forum to push out the discussions, you will now see a new item in the Forum administration menu entitled RSS feed of discussions. Right click the link and copy the URL - this is the link you are going to add to your RSS block on the course page.
    Forum discussion accessibility
  3. Now you can add your RSS block and configure it with the feed you have just copied to your clipboard.

Step 3 – Add the Remote news feed block to your coursepage

  1. While in editing mode, add an RSS block to your coursepage using the Add a block block and select Configure Remote news feed block from the block's Actions menu.
  2. Scroll down and click the link entitled Add/edit feeds. This will allow you to add the forum feed to your course which will then make it available to select as the feed for the RSS.
  3. Click the Add a new feed button and paste the feed's link into Feed URL text box and click the Add a new feed button to save it. As is always the case when you add a new feed, you cannot get back to the blocks configuration page directly, but have to navigate to the course page and then nto the block's configuration page from there.
  4. Back on the configuration page again, you will see the forum's title in the Choose the feeds..." pane which you should now select. There are various other settings you can configure here for instance, if you want to show the first post in the discussion in the RSS block, select Yes for the Display each link's description setting and if you want a call the block something like Latest discussions then add the required text to the Title box.
  5. Finally click the Save changes button and your RSS block should be showing the latest forum discussions.

If you ever wonder why, after you have added a discussion to your forum, the RSS block does not include your new entry when you return to the course page, it is because the feed is not updated when the post is added. RSS feeds are updated when the cron job runs (processes that occur behind the scenes) which if you host with us, will be every 15 minutes for pre-2.7 sites, or every minute with 2.7 sites or above.

If you feel that this is appropriate to your needs, it should be mentioned that this does not only work for forums. You can also use RSS to display content from Database and Glossary activities on the course page. If you use these activities as collaborative tools so that your learners can add entries themselves, it is a great way to engage and motivate your learners.

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