5 things to do with a forum

I’ve been using a simple robust Web based forum with a number of students studying an ICT module on an Applied Science course – students include 16-19, mature full time and mature evening class students. Teaching is primarily face-to-face but with online follow up.

I used the Gossamer Threads forum as it is free to non-profit organisations, offers the choice of threaded or linear display of responses to topics, easy to use, relatively secure, and not amazingly popular (less hacking). Gossamer Threads forum uses PERL and MySQL, an unusual combination but it seems to work fine on basic commercial Web space. The forum also offers ‘private messaging’ and attachment upload.

At present, I have found…

  • Students are happy to use forum topics as link repositories
  • ‘Set Piece’ discussions work reasonably well with a summarisation task to follow up
  • Social malarkey helps me get to know students and students to form groups with each other
  • On one forum, I prevented anyone except the moderator from starting new discussions – that forum is focussed but with less interaction
  • Forums where participants can start new topics proved more involving but harder to follow and less ‘on task’
  • Some students find being able to pass me Word files as attachments by ‘private message’ very useful – as well as being able to store work online (one student has a laptop with no floppy disk but with an Internet connection – she uses private messaging on the forum as upload space)
  • The next phase is to get students to work in small groups in the forum to research a topic
  • Main performance indicator is posts out of lesson time – ie will people use the forum to support work between lessons?

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