What is it?
Moodle's discussion forums allow students and staff to communicate, ask questions, receive answers, share ideas and resources.
There are three types of Discussion Forums on Moodle:
- The Announcements (or News) forum enables tutors and course administrators to send one-way messages to students (they can't post or reply).
- Learning forums can also be added to a Moodle course to allow students (as well as staff) to post questions and reply to other posts. Learning forums is the name for any forum that is added to Moodle by a course editor, e.g. not the Announcements (or News) forum.
- Advanced forums have similar functionality to standard learning forums, but have the following additional features: search bar, anonymous posting, the teacher can mark posts as substantive, staff can view an aggregated report on the number of posts and replies made in a forum, and how many substantive posts.
Why use it?
There are many potential benefits to using discussion forums:
- facilitate peer learning,
- keep students active and engaged through debate and discussion,
- help build a community of support amongst and between students and staff,
- support student satisfaction e.g. when students have their questions answered quicker by their peers, or find them already answered on the forum,
- help staff reduce the number of emails they receive, and
- provide a running record of student engagement which can facilitate reviewing a course, or building a FAQ resource.
The Announcements forum it allows simple one-way communication with enrolled students. Many staff use the News forum to announce exam dates and times; changes to exams, lectures or seminars; important information about coursework; and special announcements relating to events. The "Latest news" block if used will display recent discussions from the news forum. All students and staff on a Moodle course are forced to be 'subscribed' to the News forum. This means that when you post a message in the News Forum it will be emailed to their UCL email.
Learning forums can be used to facilitate asynchronous discussion and learning activities that take place before, after, or as a supplement to face-to-face or live learning. They enable both staff and students to post and reply to posts and are usually are set to allow students and staff to choose whether or not to become or remain subscribed to a forum. Question and Answer forums are often set up for students to ask questions about the course work or assessment processes.
Advanced forums are essentially the same as Learning forums, but they added features; search bar, reporting tool, and the option to enable anonymous mode. Anonymous discussion may encourage students to post more freely or ask more questions without the fear that their lack of knowledge will stand out. Staff can also post anonymously to seed debate and discussion. There is a known issue with anonymity in Advanced forums whereby emails sent out to forum subscribers allow the recipients to discern the identity of 'anonymous' posters. Where advanced forums have been set to allow anonymous postings anonymity can be maintained by setting 'Subscription disabled' in the forum's settings.
Who can use it?
Announcements (or News) forum
- Only tutors and course administrators can post in the Announcements forum.
- Students can read these messages in Moodle and in their email alerts.
Learning and Advanced Forums
- Any participant can post and reply to messages in a Moodle Learning forum, including students and staff.
- Forum posts can be starred and this will move the discussion to the top of the discussion list, under any pinned discussions.
Before I start...
Be clear in how students are expected to participate in a discussion forum activity, and identify how to develop their motivation for doing so. It is possible to embed discussion forums as a participatory requirement, but clearly mapping an activity to a module’s learning outcomes and providing explicit instructions for how to engage in discussions is also vital.
Consider your own availability to moderate the discussion, how you can incentivise students to use the forum, and how you can integrate the forum into your student's learning activities.
For practical tips and example welcome posts, read the Teaching and learning with discussion forums case study.
Consider the size of your cohort. If you have 400 students on your course, students might be more likely to post if they are in a smaller group, e.g. you could allocate students to Moodle Groups that correspond to their tutorial group.
Meet the Baseline
- Make the purpose of every discussion forum clear , including how students are expected to engage with it and how often staff will reply to posts (if at all).
- Include a Q&A forum for tutors and or students to pose questions and receive answers, which students can choose to unsubscribe from (if automatic subscription is selected).
- Use learning forum(s) for moderated discussions related to specific course activities. These might be discrete forums or topics within a forum. Automatic subscription then allows students to choose which forums or topics they wish to unsubscribe from.
- Track student participation and send reminders to those who have yet to contribute to activities or submit assessments.
Overview of a Moodle forum:
Discussion forums have the same overall user interface, which is shown below (click image to expand).
When you open a Moodle forum, you'll see the description of the forum. Moodle forums are then organised into topics with more recent topics appearing at the top. You can star topics to pin them to the top of a forum. Each topic that may have one or more messages.
Most administrative tasks such as editing forum settings, changing subscription mode (i.e. if students automatically receive emails from posts made), or unsubscribing from a forum can be found in the Administration block on the right of the page.
How do I...?
Edit the Announcements (or News) forum that already exists on the course
The Announcements (or News) forum is a special forum for one-way communication to students, that is automatically created when a course is created. A course should have only one News forum.
If you are using a course that has a News Forum, the name can be changed to something more appropriate, such as Announcements or the like. New courses will automatically have a news forum called 'Announcements'.
- To start using your News forum click the Turn editing on button in the top-right of your page.
- Click on the edit dropdown and then Edit settings and change the Forum name and add a Description, to explain to students what the forum is for.
- Tick Display description on course page to make the description show on the course page.
- Leave the other default settings, then Save and return to course.
Add Learning Forum for students to contribute
You may now wish to add other forums in which the students can ask questions and reply to messages.
- To add a new forum, Turn editing on, then click the Add an activity or resource… drop-down menu in the topic where you want the forum to go and choose Forum or Forum (Advanced)*.
- The Advanced Forum provides additional features such as anonymous posting (optional - see 'Caution' below), the ability for tutors to mark posts as substantive and a 1 page report that shows a list of students alongside how many posts, replies and substantive posts they have made. Select Forum (Advanced) for the sake of this exercise.
- Give the forum a name that will be meaningful to your students e.g. Module Q&A
- Indicate in the Description what the forum is for; how often you or your colleagues will look at it; and how you expect your students to use it. For social forums like Student Café you might want to emphasise that you may never look at it!
- Keep the forum type as: Standard forum for general use.
- In Post Options you can Allow anonymous posting if you would like to allow students to have the option of posting anonymously.
- Under Subscription and tracking, you can set Subscription Mode to
- Forced Subscription if you want to enforce subscription.
- *Auto Subscription if you want everyone initially subscribed (they can unsubscribe later). *Recommended!
- Optional Subscription if you want everyone initially unsubscribed (they can subscribe later).
- Subscription Disabled if you want no email messages sent out.
- You can also set a forum to use groups. Under 'Common module settings' in Group Mode choose your grouping.
- Separate groups will only enable students in the same group to see each other's posts. Posts will be hidden from students that are not in the group.
- Visible groups allow everyone to see each group's posts, but only those in the group can post and reply within their own group/s.
- Click the Save and return to course button.
- It is essential to add a welcome message to any new forum explaining its purpose and how often students can expect a response from their tutors. This may only be once a week, but it is important this is stated up front.
- Discussions and posts can be manually locked and privately replied to. Please see the Using Forum: For Teachers moodledocs page for more guidance.
Add a discussion post
- Open the forum.
- Click on the Add a new discussion topic button. This should open the message options, as shown below.
- Give your forum topic a Subject, then write and format your Message. Click the Post to forum button.
- By default, Moodle waits 30 minutes before sending your message to all forum subscribers.
Go to Advanced options to send your message without delay, to set a specific period for your post, to add an attachment to your topic, and toggle other settings. Click here to find out more about Advanced options.
If you wish to send your message immediately, go to Advanced and tick the 'Send forum notifications with no editing-time delay' box.
Please note: If users have enabled email digests in their forum preferences, the notification is NOT sent immediately to them. These users will receive your message and all other forum post notifications once a day, at about 5pm, UK time.
The additional setting "Display period" allows you to display your post within a specific time frame and also send a notification at the chosen time.
To select a specific date and time, please tick the Enable box next to the "Calendar" icon and choose the relevant date for your forum post to appear.
Please note: If users have enabled email digests in their forum preferences, the notification is NOT sent at your chosen time to them. These users will receive your message and all other forum post notifications at about 5pm on the chosen day (UK time).
- Click on the News forum to see how the message is displayed.
- Click on the name of the Discussion topic to open it (e.g. Lecture on Tuesday 17 th -- CANCELLED).
- You can Reply to this message (keeping the message within the same topic) or you can Add a new topic by using the breadcrumb to go back to the News forum.
Replying to a discussion post
- To reply to a discussion post, navigate to the discussion post.
- Click on the Reply button. This should open a new template in the page.
- Write and format your Message. Click the Submit button.
- Press Advanced to add an attachment and toggle other settings.
- Unless you check 'Email notifications without editing time delay' (which sends the email immediately) Moodle waits 30 minutes before sending your message, so you can make changes.
- Click on the discussion post to see how the message is displayed.
- You can Reply to this message (keeping the message within the same discussion post).
- The Private reply tickbox allows your post to only be viewed by the author of the post you are replying to.
If you find any inaccurate or missing information you can even update this yourself (it's a communal wiki).
If you have a specific question about the tool please contact the Digital Education team.
Set up an Anonymous Forum
Forums can be set up to allow staff and students to post anonymously. A user will only see their name next to their own posts, or names of users (both staff and students) where the user has chosen to reveal their name. Otherwise posts appear under the name 'Anonymous User'.
Creating an anonymous forum is similar to creating a standard forum, with the following key steps:
- To add a new forum, Turn editing on, and in the section where you want the forum to go, click Add an activity or resource.
- Choose Forum (Advanced). Make sure you select the Advanced Forum, as the standard Forum does not allow for anonymous posting.
- On the settings page, under Post Options, click the checkbox next to
- Under Subscription, change Subscription mode to Subscription disabled. This is vital as there is a known issue with anonymity in Advanced forums whereby emails sent out to forum subscribers allow the recipients to discern the identity of 'anonymous' posters.
- Click the Save and return to course button.
View Forum engagement
As of Moodle 3.9, Tutors and Course Administrators can generate a report on student engagement with Moodle Forums.
- Open the Forum you want to review.
- In the Forum Administration Block, click Forum summary report.
- Select the forum or all forums from the drop down menu.
If you hide a forum the email alerts won't be sent, regardless of the subscription mode.
There is a known issue with anonymity in Advanced forums whereby emails sent out to forum subscribers allow the recipients to discern the identity of 'anonymous' posters. Where advanced forums have been set to allow anonymous postings anonymity can be maintained by setting 'Subscription disabled' in the forum's settings.
Examples and case studies
- Forums work best when they are utilised within a broader e-tivity, or online activity with a purpose, a ‘spark’ to provoke discussion, opportunities for students to respond to the prompt either individually or as part of a group, and a wrap-up by the tutor or summary task. Examples include critical debate, case study analyses, and role-play exercises. See Asynchronous discussion wiki for guidance and examples.
- Tim Neumann, a lecturer from the IOE, demonstrates how he runs online activities including critical readings, peer feedback and a debate using the Moodle forum, and also explains how he monitors student engagement using Moodle's Activity Completion tracking in the video: Practical Online Teaching Tips 4: Keep it Manageable (27m 34s).
- Teaching and learning with discussion forums case study report.
- Dr. Stacey Prickett, from the University of Roehampton, motivated students to participate in her course's discussion forum by allowing students to integrate their posts into the course's summative essay. Read the case study to find out more.
- Using forums effectively - ways to improve engagement by Kitty Horne from the University of Sussex, provides great tips.
- How to best use Forum in Moodle courses: Ideas and tips by professionals provides broad ideas and a number of use cases.
- Post an announcement to let students know that a lecture is cancelled or a service isn't working.
- Offer an icebreaker activity where students and tutors introduce themselves and share personal experiences or reflections.
- Provide a wellbeing space or student corner, where students can share experiences and resources that aren't necessarily directly related to the course.
Questions & Answers
Q. How do I avoid a deluge of forum emails?
- In the top right of Moodle, click on your profile image
- In the drop down menu, select Preferences
- Under User account, select Forum preferences
- Go to Email digest type and choose Complete (daily email with full posts). You will now get just one email per day, at about 5pm, UK time.
Q. Why are students and staff not receiving my forum posts as email alerts?
A. There could be a number of reasons email alerts are not being sent:
- Usually, the forum has been hidden, which means students cannot see it and no emails will be sent for any posts added.
- The subscription mode is not set to 'forced' (no one can unsubscribe - this is default for new forums) or 'automatic' (initial subscription, with unsubscribe option).
Q. How do I remove or add the Announcements (or News) Forum?
A. On some courses the news forum may not be appropriate/useful. To remove the news forum, go into the course settings and under Appearance set News items to show to zero. Save settings, go back to the course and delete the news forum. Set it to any number above zero to show it again.
Q. Can I grade forum posts?
A. It is possible, although in some cases this may deter students from posting as frequently as you might like. Moodle Learning Forums allow for whole forum grading where all the posts of a student can be viewed with a grade then assigned using direct grading, a rubric, or a marking guide. If you do want to grade a forum, you can enable grading in the settings options. For a Learning Forum:
- Open the Forum.
- Click Edit settings in the Forum Administration Block.
- Under Whole forum grading, select point or scale grade.
- Complete the settings are required, and click Save and display.
For an Advanced Forum:
- Under Grade, set Grade Type to Rating.
- For the Grade value, enter the total possible marks or select an appropriate scale.
- Under Ratings, set Aggregate type.
When grading is set up as above, a drop-down menu will appear under each student's post for the teacher to select a grade or scale value for that post. Grades are automatically calculated and appear in the Gradebook. You may want to hide the forum in the Gradebook before you start marking posts otherwise marks will be immediately visible to students.
Q. How do I mark a student's post as substantive?
A. Advanced forum only. Tutors can mark a post as substantive by clicking the star icon. Substantive posts are recorded in the View posters report which can be seen by both student and staff members. Note. A student would see the number of substantive posts they have made, but not which specific posts were marked as substantive.
Q. How can I gauge student interaction with a forum?
A. Advanced forums only. Advanced forums include a quick report which shows the number of student posts, replies, and substantive replies. To access the report, Tutors or Course Admins just need to click the View posters option in the Forum Administration block. The report looks as follows (note. names have been obscured):
Alternatively, you can enable completion tracking for a forum. The forum will be marked as complete to you and the student only when certain participation criteria are met. Criteria available include:
- A certain number of posts made.
- A certain number of replies made.
- A grade being received.