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Using Discussion Forums

Last updated: December 13, 2023, 9:16 p.m.

This content is for Moodle 3.9.

Online discussion forums, or discussion boards, are Moodle environments where students can engage with their classmates on course content through messages visible to everyone in their class or group.

With the forums, you can put students into forum groups to facilitate group work 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
  • Prompt students 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. The two most popular types are standard forums and simple single-discussion forums.

Standard forum for general use (default)

This forum type is suitable if you want students to interact with multiple classmates and expect a fair amount of back and forth. It facilitates numerous conversation threads.

Single, simple discussion

This forum type is best suited for tasks where the goal is a little student interaction to primarily check in with students and validate how well they understood the concepts. For example, you can use it for reading responses, quick check-ins or introductions.

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

Activity ideas to use discussion forums

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

Lecture or reading key takeaways (Single, simple discussion)

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

Reflections or applying content in their lives outside academia (Single, simple discussion)

Students reflect on course content and identify ways it applies to their lives, communities, or current 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 select a few to respond to.

Contentious topics or 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, read all the replies, and reflect on their classmates' responses. After reading all the responses for and against, what have they learned? Ask 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 teach it to their peers. To use this activity with a forum, you can either a) set up the forum using groups and assign each group a topic or b) manually create threads for each topic in the forum, and students work within a thread. One student in each group is responsible for summarizing their group's contribution and presenting it to the class. The presentation could be in another forum thread, in a shared document (i.e., Google Docs), or during a virtual lecture. For example, each group is assigned a different theory on a given topic and subsequently presents its theory to the class.

Peer feedback (Standard forum and 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 give each other feedback. Be sure to allow for attachments during the forum setup.

A course Q&A forum (Standard forum)

To reduce the number of student emails, you can create a course Q&A and pre-populate them with multiple topics as threads. For example, you can create a thread for questions about the final exam, another about a particular assignment, and a third for logistical questions.

Encourage students to review the Q&A before posting new questions and encourage them to answer peer questions if they can.

Tips for using Discussion Forums

  • Have clear protocols: A protocol is the goal of the discussion with step-by-step instructions on how to complete the task.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Allow opportunities for personalization: Design questions so that students can draw on their own background and experiences to relate it to course content.
  • 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.
  • Provide options: Provide a list of questions and let students choose which they respond to.


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