When I first started using Moodle, I put the “homework help” discussion forum with the module that’s always “up,” which is mostly vocabulary. This worked well for the first month or so, and students quickly started helping each other with their questions.
I wondered should I make a big deal of “this is where your questions are supposed to be” but Moodle is just so free-form and middle schoolers really don’t get into scrolling down to get to the forum.
During snow days I put in a general snow day forum, and that’s where all the homework questions surfaced. That forum was in just the right place, easy to find. I guess I’m a slow learner; I’ve been trying to keep everything organized, but the organization needs to make sense to students, not just to me. And scrolling down just doesn’t make sense to them (and there may be a laziness factor in there, too).
It seems to be OK to scroll down when working with vocabulary, because all the vocabulary units are in one place. But not when just asking a question. Then again, vocabulary assignments are regular, while asking questions is sporadic.
So now I’m starting to add a general discussion/homework help forum in each new unit. This takes the place of both homework help and the off-topic/coffee klatch forums I’ve experienced in many online courses for adults. Kids just start their irreverent conversations wherever (in f2f class, too, of course). I don’t participate in these discussions that much, because these are side conversations that can get quite silly. As long as students are civil, that can be their spot.
Since I know my students also converse via Facebook and online gaming and texting, I don’t feel as strong a need to provide a “special place” for them. Wherever they are online is “their” place. But I am tickled they feel comfortable in the class Moodle.
Once again, kids handle their work and their play differently than adults, so the way I organize the course has to be different, too.