Zulip for instructors

Introduction

Zulip is an online discussion tool with latex support. It has been used by some Aalto teachers as an external service on individual courses. For Spring/Summer 2021, Zulip is provided by Aalto CS as a pilot solution for all School of Science departments’ course needs. The pilot refers to a) a fixed-term project with clear lifecycle needs, like in courses which start and end at certain times and after which the Zulip instance can be deleted; b) a transitional period between current state and possible production use or change to other solutions; and c) a basic solution with without all the fancy features or user interface. During the pilot users are expected to provide feedback, which will effect on the decision-making for future solutions, and the development of usability.

CS-IT hosts Zulip the chat instances for you. These chat instances are hosted at <chat-name>.zulip.cs.aalto.fi. Login to the chats is available with Aalto accounts. Email registration for external users is also possible via invitations. After logging in for the first time with an Aalto account, if no matching Zulip account was found, you are prompted to “Register” and create one. Once the Zulip account has been created, it should be linked to your Aalto credentials.

Internal or confidential matters should not be discussed on the platform.

Get started / request Zulip

Note

Request a chat instance at https://webropol.com/s/zuliprequest

We are taking in chat instance requests for 2021 spring and summer courses. In general, the chat instances will be removed after the academic year has ended.

Note

This service is still in beta. You might encounter some issues. If you encounter issues, report them to CS-IT or on #zulip-support at scicomp.zulip.cs.aalto.fi

You can also give/discuss feedback, complaints or suggestions on #zulip-feedback at scicomp.zulip.cs.aalto.fi

Note

You can test out Zulip at testrealm.zulip.cs.aalto.fi. Use the Aalto login. This chat is for testing only.

Configuring your organization

Below are listed the most important settings found under Manage organization in Zulip. There is no easy way for us to enforce these, so it is your responsibility as organization owner or admin to make sure they are set correctly. Make sure any owners/admins you appoint are aware of these as well.

Note

Settings that are not mentioned here, you can configure to your liking. However you should still exercise care, since you are responsible for the service and safety of your user’s data. If you would like advice, please ask us.

Organization settings / Video chat provider

  • Set to None

  • The default provider (Jitsi) has not been evaluated or approved by Aalto

  • Integration with Aalto Zoom may come later on

Organization permissions / Invitation settings

Do not set both “Organizational Premissions→Invitations = not required” and “Authentication methods→Email = enabled” at the same time.

You can allow signup by Aalto account or any email. You can allow anyone to signup or make it invitation only. But you can not set “Anyone with Aalto account may signup without invitation, but by email you must be invited” (Zulip limitation). So, we have to work around this, otherwise bots and random people might join in your chat. If the chat needs to include external users, make it invite only.

The exact questions and answers:

  • Are invitations required for joining in the organization?

    • If you are only allowing Aalto Login (see ‘Authentication methods’): Can be set to No,… (But still, anyone with Aalto account can join)

    • If you are allowing external users/email registration (see ‘Authentication methods’ below): Set to Yes, only admins can send invitations. (You can invite people via their Aalto email address for Aalto login)

Organization permissions / Who can access user email addresses

  • Set this to Admins only or Nobody

Organization permissions / Who can add bots

  • Set to Admins only

  • Consult CS-IT before deploying any bots

Authentication methods

  • AzureAD

    • This is Aalto Login and should be enabled

  • Email

    • This allows users to register using an email address

    • We cannot allow random people or bots to register freely

    • If you enable this, make the chat invitation only as described in ‘Invitation settings’ above, for the reason described there.

Users

  • You can manage users here.

  • Please be careful with who you assign admins/owners. These roles should be only given to course staff

Practical hints

There is a fine line between a discussion platform and chat, normal chat and topic-based chat, and chaos and order. Here, we give suggestions for you, based on what other teachers have learned.

  • Topics (basically, like subject for a message thread) is the key feature of Zulip. It is explained more below, but basically keeps things organized. If you don’t want to do that or it doesn’t match your flow, you won’t like the model.

  • Read the guidelines for students to see the importance of topics and the three ways to use Zulip, and how we typically manage the flood of information in practice.

  • Give these guidelines to your students (copy and paste from the student page).

  • Consider why you want a course chat.

    • Do you want a way to chat and ask questions/discuss in a lower-threshold platform than forum posts? Then this could be good.

    • Do you want a Q&A forum or support center? Then this may work, but would MyCourses be a better forum?

    • Do you want a place for students groups to be able to chat among small groups?

    • Do you mainly want announcements? Then maybe simply use MyCourses?

  • Create your channels (“streams”) before your students join, and make the important ones default streams (this is done under “Manage organization”), so that everyone will be subscribed (the “join stream” is not obvious once you get to hundreds of people!)

    • If you do create a new default stream later, use the “clone subscribers” option to clone from another default stream, so that everyone will be subscribed.

    • Some common streams you might want are #general, #announcements, #questions. Some people have one stream per homework, exam, and/or task.

  • If you want a Q&A forum, make a stream called #questions and direct students there.

    • Remind students to make a new topic for each new question. This enables good follow-up via “Recent topics”

    • If students don’t make a new topic (or a topic goes off-track), edit the message and change the topic (change topic for “this message and all later messages”). Then, you keep questions organized, findable, and trackable.

    • You can use the “forum bot” (https://github.com/AaltoSciComp/zulip-forum-bot). This is still a work in progress we have, but the basic idea is that you react to a message with check_mark (✔), and then the topic gets renamed to include “✔” at the beginning, so you can clearly identify answered and unanswered questions in the “Recent topics” view. We will add more features as people request. Please ask our help when deploying bots.

    • If you don’t want to be answering questions in private message (who does?… it leads to duplicate work), make a clear policy on either reposting the questions publicly yourself (without identification), or directing the students to repost in the public steam themselves.

  • If you want to limit students to not be able to do anything, you can consider disabling:

    • Adding streams, adding others to streams (if you want people to only ask and not make their own groups).

    • Disable private messages (if you really don’t want personal requests for help).

    • Adding bots, adding custom emojis.

    • Seeing email addresses. Changing their name.

  • On the other hand, you might want to “allow message editing” to a much longer period and allow message deleting. For Q&A these are quite useful to have.

  • You can use the /poll [TITLE] command to make lightweight non-anonymous polls. For anonymous polls, someone has used a bot called Errbot, but we don’t currently know much about that.

Things we know are missing (see also the student page):

  • More fine-grained permissions for TAs.

  • Support for bots and other advanced features (more like permission to recommend them).