Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Increasing Class Participation in Moodle Forums

As we begin to move classes online, I have been thinking about how to increase student participation in discussion in forums. In my hybrid classes, I have begun to have independent learning tasks that I want students to share and discuss before our next in-class meetings. I use the "single, simple discussion" format so that students are all in one threaded discussion each week. Each week I have a different task and a new discussion forum.

Even when I graded the student postings or raised questions about their postings, students primarily only posted their answer to the question and didn't respond to others. This pattern occurred even when it was obvious that there were differences of opinions. According to Department of Education guidelines, online course content has to be interactive and should not simply be homework. I wanted to make our online discussions look more like inclass discussions.

The Moodle forum allows faculty to grade student postings by adding up all the points earned on each posting. Only the student themselves sees the faculty ratings. So I set a weekly forum with a maximum of five points. Students earn three points for a good posting  (A or B) that is on time and two points for an adequate posting (C or D) that is on time. A late posting earns only 1 point no matter how good it is and I don't accept any posting over a week late.  So I am requiring students to focus both on the quality and timeliness of their postings. Students earn another 1 point for each relevant, reflective response to another student's posting. Since the total score is set at 5 points, a student who earns only 2 points on their original posting can earn three more for their responses to others. Even someone who does not do an original posting can earn 5 points for the week with five good reflective, thoughtful responses (although no one has figured this out yet). This system seems to have generated some very good discussions. Some students are engaging in dialog and some responding to more than two posts. The total I set in Moodle allows me to not worry that a student will earn too many points as it will not give them more than five. My syllabi identify the value of their forum participation in their final grade.

My ground rules continue to be in process.  Do I want to allow someone to earn the full five points without an original posting? I also need to adjust the time frame, which currently required postings to be submitted before the next in class session, when I usually highlight and discuss the responses for the week. Some people were posting minutes before class so that no one, including me, could read or respond to their postings. And the same individuals were chronically late every week. Some were even posting during class and with students arriving late to class. For the future I am thinking about moving up the dates for original postings to two or three days before the next class and responses to the day before class.

I would be interested in hearing how others are using discussion forums in their classes.


  1. Great questions and thanks for the idea about grading the posts, which I have not used before through Moodle.
    I use discussion boards usually for homework, response papers, and have even used it for peer review of essays. Of course I have used it for discussion about class material outside of class, but I am finding that Twitter is more effective for that.
    I am also interested in how to assess the quality -- not just quantity -- of posts. It seems there should be a distinction between just responding and posting an original post. Furthermore if it's time sensitive, it does seem necessary that the forum not allow posts after a certain time period. I have in the past done the checking of posts manually, but if you assign a grade to them, the total for the semester could be tallied. Of course, we still hae to grade, but it could alleviate some of the number crunching.
    Thanks Adele!

  2. I tried closing the posts on a certain day, but so many of the students did not seem to submit the required posts in a timely fashion. I am thinking about trying it again, especially on weekly posts in hybrid classes. Late posts are basically worthless. Also, it seems that moodle allows the students to post after a certain date, but it doesn't let the faculty grade after the date. So the student comes to class and asks why they didn't get credit for their postings. I suppose being firm about the time schedule would help the students meet deadlines more consistently.

    Also, should I allow students to do the out of class work early? This might mean before we have discussed the topic in class or they have completed the readings. Although I hope that I have structure the discussions in a way that requires critical thinking about course materials. Right now I have all the out of class learning tasks posted on Moodle at the beginning of the semester. My thinking being that some students may have reasons for trying to complete work early. Only a few have ever been a week or two early. I actually think the open format requires students to develop their time management skills. The reality is that these are not online courses that students can complete at their own speed. There is a group process to make the discussions interactive. So that even if students do their own original posting early, they have to be involved in the discussion when others do their postings.

  3. Since I wrote this original blog, I have added additional items to increase the interaction in class discussion forums. For the CA, I ask students to post a question that they want to ask the other members of the class. In dimension classes I ask them to relate the forum discussion topic to their CA project. Both of these have generated interesting questions and meaningful discussions. The topics often reflect issues that I had not previously thought of and allows the students to have discussions that are meaningful to themselves.

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