Discourse Basics and Configuration



Because Discourse (the software that you are using now) is where most of this course’s interaction takes place, it is worth some time to learn a bit more about how it works.


What’s so great about Discourse? See what it’s creators have on their [About](http://www.discourse.org/about/ "About Discourse) and FAQ pages. It is fairly widely used, as indicated by this list of customers. I recommend that you spend at least a couple minutes looking at each of those pages.

Another resource that you might find interesting (but might not) is the Discourse Sandbox. There you can try out whatever you want and whatever you do will be deleted within 24 hours.

Keyboard shortcuts

People who are good at using computers use keyboard shortcuts. If you use a program regularly, you can save lots of time learning to use it better. Typing a ? (question mark) will give you a list of keyboard shortcuts. Type it now. The Escape key will close it.

A few keyboard shortcuts that you might not think to tryi out are the j & k keys to move through posts in a topic (or topics in a list of messages). Pressing enter (return for you Mac people) will enter the selected topic.

Reply vs reply-as-linked-topic

There are (at least) two ways to reply in Discourse. The first, and most natural way is to click the reply button (or type ‘r’). This puts your response in the same page/discussion thread as the one you are replying to, and is how you will reply in a discussion, as about a reading. For challenges, though, you want to start your own thread with your solution to the challenge at the top, so that people can reply to your solution and you can watch the topic (since any reply there will be about your work and hence something you will probably want to read).

Reply-as-linked-topic inserts a header that says “continuing the discussion from” and includes a link to the original challenge. The “continuing the discussion” link is what we want. It can help people tell just what challenge you are trying to solve if it is somehow not clear (it happens!). Also, when you do this, Discourse will be able to add links to the original challenge page so that people can see how people have solved the post. The links on the right hand side show up because of messages with the "continuing . . " link.

Post as anonymous

A feature of discourse that I think might be worthwhile, but few people have used in the past anonymous posting. It seems to me that there are times that someone might feel more comfortable making some comment under the cloak of anonymity. You enter anonymous mode by clicking on your picture and then the icon of the cloak-and-dagger-guy. Your image will change into a letter “A,” so you will know that you are now anonymous. After you post your message, switch to anonymous mode and make a reply that indicates that you were the one who replied anonymously (this, of course, makes your response not anonymous, but I think for the purposes of this exercise, that is acceptable).

Watching Your Course’s Topics and tags

Though I try to pay attention to everything that anyone posts here, you probably will not. You need a way to know what to read. Discourse makes some guesses for you, like “watching” a topic that you have participated in. It will show you little numbers by your profile image at the upper right indicating that there are posts it thinks you should know about. It will also email you when it thinks that there is something you should pay attention to. You can tweak these settings under the “Categories” section of the preferences page (the little gear gets you there).

Flagging posts

Discourse is designed for large groups of people who may not know each other to have civil discourse. One of the features that supports this is “Flagging.” At the bottom of each message is a little flag icon. Clicking it will give you a window like this:

When you flag a message, the only person who will know about it are administrators of this system (currently only @pfaffman). I am going to encourage people to use flags when they see a message that they think needs my attention. Here are some examples:

  • You posted a message that you need or want a response to ASAP. When you do this, I get a little red notification so that I will notice the next time that I am logged in (or immediately, if I am logged in at the time). Rather than email me a message like “I posted so-and-so but you never responded,” just flag the message, and I’ll notice right away.
  • Something is wrong with a challenge I wrote that you think many people will be confused. You can use the “something else” flag to send a quick note. This will make sure that I tend to the problem quickly. You could also post a message in your course’s “help” category, which has the advantage of allowing other people to express similar concerns or explain the problem, but a flag makes sure I will see it.
  • I said something that seems rude. I can be somewhat sarcastic. In a face-to-face class, people generally understand when I am being sarcastic, but without visual and social cues, my words can sometimes be misunderstood online. I try very hard not to be sarcastic, but sometimes it seeps through. If I say something to you (or another student) that strikes you as inappropriate, mean, or condesending, I encourage you to flag my post as “inappropriate” or use the “something else” flag to further explain.
  • If someone else in class says something that seems mean or rude, please flag it so that I can deal with it appropriately.

You can also use the flag tool to send a private message to the author of the post (and those I do not see).

Fixing your Mistakes

Though Discourse’s default is to allow people to edit posts for only 2 days, I have changed the default so that you can always edit your post. If you post a response to a challenge that is wrong somehow, and I say so in the comments, just click the pencil icon and fix your original post. You should also add a reply to see what you changed (you usually don’t need to reply and say that one day you will change it). Otherwise, I will not know to look again; also, your comment can help me understand what I need to look at.

Similarly, you will sometimes forget to put your post in the proper category or include the right tag. For these, you can click the pencil at the top, which lets you change just the title, category, and tags. And here is an interesting feature. After Discourse trusts you enough to make you a “level 3” member, you can edit the title and recategorize other people’s posts. If you are a level 3 user and notice that someone’s challenge is not posted in the “completions” category, everyone will be happy if you change the category for them.


Your reading and writing here is like showing up to class. You need to listen and contribute to the conversation. Discourse keeps tabs on what you do. The Users Page shows that Discourse counts:

  • likes received
  • likes given
  • topics you’ve written
  • replies you’ve written
  • topics you have entered
  • messages you have “read”
  • number of visits
  • how long you have been reading

These stats are used to calculate your participation grade. If you are far below the average, you will lose points.

Quoting text and following long discussions

Make sure you see how quoting text works.

gif of quoting text

Now that quote box will let you expand the whole message and also jump back up to where that message was in the conversation.

What to do

reply-as-linked-topic with discourse-basics

  • Include a learning narrative that describes how you figured out how to complete this challenge and how long it took you.
  • Reply to your post anonymously and reference your @username.
  • “like” at least 3 people’s posts who completed the above things successfully.
  • Flag a post as “something else” with “I know how to call attention to a post if I need to” (or similar) in the message spot.

Conquering Discourse (or at least the basics)
Scavenger hunt or tasks to do in Discourse
Quote for my badge