Saturday, January 8, 2011

Choosing the right discussion forum type in Moodle, Part 1

    Moodle offers several different kinds of discussion forums, and I’m still discovering the nuances.

A Standard forum for general use, the default, allows for posting a question, and then students can post separate threads.  This makes it easy to see who posted, at least initially.  The difficulty is that there are quickly a lot of threads, in essence little separate discussions, possibly not what you want.  The separate discussions can be quite lively, but I’m finding this doesn’t make for a cohesive discussion.  Think of lots of little tangents, not really visible in one place, and you’ll see how this could be problematic. When you first start working with Moodle, the temptation is to use this, since it’s the default, but it may not be the best choice for what you’re trying to accomplish with your students.  See the sample:

A Single simple forum allows the posting of one question, and students simply reply.  This looks the most like discussions in graduate level online courses (with D2L, for example).  It also gets the student to the point of answering fastest.See the sample:

A variant on the Standard forum is  Each person posts one discussion, which is nice when you want each student working on their own thread.  I’ve used this for personal reflections by each student, with subsequent conversations between the teacher and the student.  Very powerful.  (See Feedback improving student-teacher relationship.)

A really interesting variation is the Q & A forum, which I use if I want students to post their response to a prompt before they see what everybody else has posted.  Students can’t see what others have posted, or reply to them, until they have posted themselves.  I like this for avoiding the “me, too” kind of response.  I wouldn’t use this as the first kind of forum students use, because they need to feel comfortable with both the technology (do I know how to do this?) and with the situation (am I comfortable saying what I think in this environment?).  It does help students reflect about their own thoughts before getting immersed in other people’s.

     To see the mechanics of setting up a forum, see this helpful video by DomanskiRPS. (Thanks to Moodle News for letting the moodle world know about this and other videos.

There are several considerations for working with discussion forums when it comes to groups, and that’s the topic for Part 2.  (One important hint:  the single simple forum won’t work with groups of any kind.)

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