Using Discussion Forums

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Last updated: January 13, 2023, 3:47 p.m.

Online discussion forums, also known as discussion boards, are an environment in Moodle where students have the opportunity to engage with their classmates on course content in a series of messages that are visible to everyone in their class or group.

Moodle allows for the option to put students into groups, which can facilitate group work activities, and allow them to collaborate and build on each other’s ideas. Discussion forums:

  • Allow for equal opportunities for all students to participate
  • Promote a discussion with different perspectives
  • Give students the opportunity to think about topics and provide more thoughtful answers
  • Give the teacher feedback about students’ thinking
  • Promote peer learning

Moodle Forum types

Moodle has several types of Discussion Forums that you can choose when setting up for forum, but the two most popular types are as follows:

The type of forum you choose will depend on the task. Refer below to different kinds of tasks to determine which type of forum is most appropriate for the activity.

How to use Discussion Forums in your Course

Here are some ideas for using Forums to facilitate online learning activities. (Refer to the video Using Discussion Forums for a more in depth look at some of these.)

  • Reading responses (Single simple discussion)

Students to respond a reading in their own words. Provide optional guiding questions to help students frame their thoughts

  • Lecture/reading Key take ways (Single simple discussion)

Students identify one or two key points from the reading or lecture. You may also consider asking them to identify one question or "fuzzy" concept.

  • Reflections/Applying Content to own lives or real-world (Single simple discussion)

Students reflect on course content and identify ways that the content applies to their own lives/their jobs/communities or future jobs.

  • Predictions (Single simple discussion)

Provide scenarios and ask students to make a prediction. Students must justify their predictions by referring to course readings, lectures and other sources.

  • Scenarios (Standard forum)

Develop some case studies or scenarios for students to choose from and populate them into separate threads in the forum. Tell students to choose a few to respond to.

  • Contentious topics/debate (Standard forum)

Identify a series of contentious topics (they must be polarizing for this activity to work) and populate them into separate threads in the forum. Ask students to choose one they agree with and another they disagree with and defend their answer in the corresponding thread. At the end of the week ask students to go back to the threads and read all the repies and reflect on the responses of their classmates. After reading all the responses for and against, what have they learned? As them to write a brief reflection in a separate thread, forum or as an assignment.

Variations: Ask students to respond to hypotheses

  • Jigsaw Activity (Standard forum)

In a jigsaw, you ask groups of students to become experts on a topic and then go and teach it to others. To use this in a forum, you can either set up the forum using groups and assign each group a topic, or you can manually create threads for each topic in the discussion forum and students work within the thread. One student in each group is responsible for summarizing their group's contribution and presenting it to the class. The presentation can be: in another thread of the forum, in a shared document (i.e. google doc), during a virtual lecture, etc.

For example, on a given topic, each group is assigned a different theory. Each group presents its assigned theory to the rest of the class.

  • Peer Feedback (Standard forum - separate groups)

You can use a forum in group mode for students to share their work (either by copying and pasting text or uploading files) with each other and giving each other feedback. (Be sure to allow for attachments in set up of the forum)

  • A Course Q & A Forum (Standard forum)

In order to reduce the number of emails, you can create a course Q & A and pre-populate them it with topics into separate threads. For example, you can create a thread for questions about the final exam, a thread about a particular assignment, a thread for logistical questions, etc.

Encourage students to read through the Q & A before posting a new question in case the answer is already provided and encourage them to answer any questions they can.

Tips for using Discussion Forums

  1. Have clear protocols: A protocol is the goal of the discussion with step-by-step instructions on how to complete the task.
  2. Design questions that require critical thinking: discussion forums are an excellent opportunity for students to develop and demonstrate higher-order thinking skills. In the face-to-face classroom, students do not typically have the same opportunities to think deeply and respond thoughtfully to questions and make this thinking visible to the instructor.
  3. Be present: It is important for the instructor or TA to be part of this discussions by checking in regularly and adding comments, posing questions to get students to dig deeper and clarify any misconceptions. Set expectations early so students know how often to expect you to check in.
  4. Use one forum for each topic: Discussion forums can have replies and multiple levels of threads, but they should all be focused on the same overall question or topic. Create separate forums for new tasks or topics.
  5. Allow opportunities for personalization: Design questions so that students can draw on their own background and experiences to relate it to course content.
  6. Use small groups: Designating groups of approximately 4-6 (but no more than 9) means that students can have meaningful dialogue with one another. You can use the Groups function in Moodle to set this up.
  7. Provide options: Provide a list of questions and let students choose which they respond to.

Setting up a Moodle Discussion Forum

Follow the instructions below or, refer to How to Create a forum in Help for Instructors on Moodle. (You will need to log in to Moodle to access this page). 

Resources for using online Discussion Forums

Further resources


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