Moodle 2: Using Discussion Forums to facilitate students learning

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Why Discussion Forums?

One of the issues that universities face is the challenge of getting students to reflect on their own learning, particularly whilst off campus. Wenger et al. (2002) promotes the idea that groups who share their concerns and/or passions about a topic will be deepening their knowledge and expertise if they are interacting on an ongoing basis. To establish these groups (communities of practice) Wenger lists certain conditions that promote success and these are:

  • respected tutor/facilitator
  • commitment from students
  • Interesting topics that provoke reflection
  • Good professional relationships
  • Network building activities
  • Regular communication
  • Sustained support

Advantages of Forums

Discussion forums provide a place for ideas to be freely expressed. The open endedness of forums promote critical and reflective thinking. Students have great opportunities to learn from one another its not merely about what they can glean from the lecturer, but also what they can learn from one another. Students gain exposure to a variety of perspectives including awareness a diversity of thought. Often there are times in class where students feel shy or intimidated by a dominant personality and online discussions can provide them with equal opportunity for all students to participate.

Where do I go for setting these up?

Moodle has five kinds of forums each with a slightly different layout and purpose. For more detailed instructions of the types of forums please click here.

Forum use in City

Forums are used in a variety of contexts in all our schools at City. Debbie Dickinson from the School of Arts and Social Sciences in a short video (below), identifies how she engages her students on a discussion forum. More importantly she talks about how the discussion online is brought back into the classroom. Click on the screenshot below.

For those of you who may want to monitor their forums, Matt Lingard in his posting has identified a free software called SNAPP that can be used to generate Network Maps/Graphs showing who has posted to a Moodle forum, who has replied to whom, number of posts, etc. It seems to be an interesting way to see the engagement of students in forums and identify the proactive and reactive students. For details of the plug in go to this link.


Wenger, E.; McDermott, R.; Snyder, W.M. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. pp. 304.


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