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Speech bubbles with varying activities such as lines of text, video, and conversation

Reconsidering the Discussion Forum: How to Revamp Forums, or Try a New Tool

Mon Aug 26, 2019 at 07:30 AM

Faculty who teach partially or fully online love how online discussion increases class participation, rather than leaving discussion to the few who raise their hands in the classroom. Discussion forums are a staple learning activity, but they can fall into an unhappy routine for instructors and students. Consider these strategies and tools within and beyond Moodle for revamping online discussions.

Evaluate your Moodle forum design habits

Some consistency can help students focus on the learning at hand, especially the difficult but foundational learning tasks to course objectives. Within or beyond this consistency, take advantage of the full capacities offered in the Moodle forum, and when students may want to extend beyond the forum.

Set explicit discussion expectations. Depending on your teaching and learning context, students may not know what a good quality forum posts looks like, and your expectations may be different than others. In teaching first-year writing, I found providing clear directions at the beginning of the semester raised the quality of discussions (here are some directions I’ve used in the past).

Design of Traditional Forums
Scaffold, Role-play, Debate, Choice

Rather than posing a question and answering students to respond in a certain amount of words, with substantive replies to one another, change the dynamic and layers of discussion (Darabi et al., 2011). Examples of all of these are in the Example Forums in Hybrid Teaching and Learning eSpace, and see a forum planning sheet from a past CETL workshop.

  • Scaffold structures student content that builds toward a final product. This could be done many ways, such as asking students to synthesize class posts for patterns, translating the post for a different audience, and more.
  • Role-play requires answering a question or sharing ideas from a set perspective. Students might choose or be assigned to answer from one of multiple personas.
  • Debate has students provide evidence and other modes of persuasion to promote a specific argument.
  • Choice is a general structure that allows students to answer a question or complete a task from a menu of options.
Four “I”s Forum Types 

From the Designing to Learn blog, Dr. Judith Boettcher (2019) differentiates four purposes for a forum, and how to set them up accordingly. These four categories increase in difficulty and can provide not only a way to plan forum content, but also a method for evaluating the forum type you most often use in current forums.

  • Introductions and Community-Building
  • Initial Content Engagement
  • Investigation and Research
  • Integration and Documentation

Moodle Forum Tools

These three forum tools can help tweak the structure of forums. For more on how to set up and use these tools, see e-Learning and Instructional Support’s Help Library, or call and meet with e-LIS.

Q & A forum

This forum type forces students to post to a forum before they can see their peers’ posts. Fifteen minutes after they have posted, they will be able to see any previous posts. 

Separate Groups

This forum setting organizes student posts into groups, which can be set to be visible to other groups or set so that students only see posts from their group members.

Multimedia tool

In the tool bar where a student or instructor writes a forum post, there is also the option to add photos or videos. The multimedia tool also allows you to record audio or video right into the forum post. This can help break up the walls of text and increase engagement and motivation accordingly. 

NOTE: Since such media likely does not have a text equivalent, multimodal posts can pose accessibility challenges to students with computers that have difficulty viewing multimodal content or for students with visual or hearing impairments. Therefore, consider setting up the forum so that students have a choice in which posts they review and how they write their forum posts.

Beyond the Moodle forum 

There are many sound pedagogical reasons to encourage students to work beyond Moodle, such as creating work they can share with a wider audience or practicing tools they can use beyond their classes. 

Google Docs

Since OU email is Google-powered, all students and instructors have automatic access to Google Drive, which organizes Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and more. Google Docs allow easy, synchronous collaboration, as multiple users can access and edit the document at the same time. is a Google Chrome plug-in that allows users to essentially “annotate the web,” or facilitate a discussion on an article, website, or other web text. Discussions can be private or public. Requires an account, but is free and open access.


VideoAnt is a free video discussion and annotation tool produced by the University of Minnesota. Essentially, video content is streamed from YouTube and allows a group to add comments at certain points throughout the video, and allows replies to one another. See an example of this in the Hybrid Teaching and Learning eSpace.


Social media can be a great way to facilitate class discussions beyond the classroom, especially if students are to contribute to the conversation by incorporating other media, texts, and from specific places. While these discussions can be organized by creating a unique hashtag, Twitter Chats are more formal ways to facilitate discussions.

Considering all of the ways we facilitate important discussions in our professional and personal lives, it makes sense to open up possibilities to how class discussions are structured and facilitated.

References and Resources

Boettcher, J. (2019 April 22). Four Types of Discussion Forums in Online Courses. Designing for learning [weblog]. Retrieved from

Darabi, A., Arrastia, M. C., Nelson, D. W., Cornille, T., & Liang, X. (2011) Cognitive presence in asynchronous online learning: A comparison of four discussion strategies. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(3), 216-227.

Koblic, R. (2020 February 25) Discussion Boards Suck. LinkedIn.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

Written and designed by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University.  Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC View all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips . Follow these and more on Facebook , Twitter , and LinkedIn .