Discussion forums are truly the heart of an online course; the method in which most communication occurs. This is where you find most of the community building and interaction happening, similarly that you might find in a physical classroom using active learning strategies.
But how can the instructor/facilitator manage all the discussions happening?
Tips for moderating online discussion forums:
- Set expectations. In the syllabus, and in your first week/module overview, be sure to set expectations of both student and instructor. For example, state how often you expect students to post/reply, when, and what the value is. Also, give students what to expect from you; If you do not, you will find them emailing you and/or posting multiple times at 1:00 in the morning with the same question over and over expecting that you will be answering. Typically, expectations are around 24-48 hour response time.
- Be specific. Say exactly what you want to students to do in the forum. For example, one post answering the “question” and two replies to classmates’ posts.
- Encourage students to respond to classmates. Ask students to reply/respond to classmates’ questions if they know the answer. This has several benefits, including, incorporating more than one possible “answer” to a problem, builds community as students feel a “part” of the class, and helps to manage discussion activity in the forums.
- Create student moderators. Assign teams of students to each forum and enable ratings so they can rate posts based on a rubric to guide them. Rotate these roles each week.
- Create a discussion rubric. Students need a guideline as to what to post; this goes without saying. Also include proper netiquette as well as references to not accepting responses such as “I agree” or “good job”.
Tips for grading online discussion forums:
- Create a weekly discussion participation grade. Having one ‘location’ to enter students’ participation for the week/module can go a long way in the tedious act of trying to grade each and every forum. Let students know that this “assignment” doesn’t require them to do anything; it is just a placeholder that shows their discussion participation that week/module.
- Require a summary post. Each week/module/assignment, require a team leader to post a summary of the entire discussion with a list of contributors.
- Use the forum ratings. This provides immediate feedback for students and can be a method for instructors to quickly go down the posts in a forum and add a rating to each.
- Look at student user. To view forum post activity student user in Moodle, you can click on Participants/Student Name/Administration Block/Student Name/Forum Posts/Posts to see a thread of all their posts in given forum.
- Use the discussion rubric. Not only does the rubric help guide the students in the expectations of them, but it also helps the instructor to grade. It becomes very clear what points a student earned when looking at the rubric.