Forum user administration

My administrator style - but we get there in the end

A colleague wanted to support a wide range of classes (about 20) using a forum where students could ask questions and the local expert could answer them. Moodle can handle this but would have made it difficult for the expert to monitor the asking of questions and the ‘learning curve’ would have been high for students – especially as only a single function was needed.

We decided to use a forum running on some commercial Web server space with a blog on the front page for public announcements and so on. The requirements were as follows…

  • Private discussions with no public read or posting and no facility to ‘sign up’
  • Each broad group of classes have their own set of forums without having access to another group’s work – simply to keep things direct for the students
  • Students can post new topics in each of the forums – asking a question as a new topic
  • The forum administrator (and moderator on Discus Pro) can add new users and allocate them to groups
  • Users can belong to more than one group
  • Forums can be made available to more than one group (e.g. the chit chat forum can be seen by all students)

There is a lot of forum software out there – the Open Source phpBB being a popular one installed by default on many Web servers. Alas, many of these otherwise excellent forums do not appear to allow user creation by the admin – you have to allow people to ‘register’ and then use e-mail validation.

Two forums that do allow user creation by administrator ‘out of the box’ are

  • Discus Pro – the Pro version allows private discussions, the free version allows control over posting but public reading
  • The Gossamer Threads forum – free licence available for non-profit use

Discus Pro has a very polished user management system with the capability to upload CSV files derived from spreadsheets of user names and the ability to force new users to change their password on first log-in. Gossamer-Threads forum is less feature rich – users have to be created one by one unless you import a users table using phpMySQLadmin – but is cheaper for small projects.

A basic Web site using the Gossamer-Threads forum and WordPress as a front end blog can be put together over a weekend and will cost little enough to put on petty cash.

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