Forums are one of the most powerful features of any LMS but getting students to engage can be a challenge. In my experience; issues within the platform (in our case Moodle) are secondary to:
- Mode of Study (distance students always use discussion forums more heavily than face to face students)
- Course / Content Design (does the content provoke and advocate discussion)
- Tutor Behaviour (some tutors actively promote the use of discussion forums, others actively discourage it in favour of face to face conversation)
That understanding to a point leads to complacency in terms of technical development. For me that changed when I saw a course moved out of Moodle into another platform where the level of discussion / engagement increased dramatically. In part, that was due to overhauling the content and encouraging more active discussion but there were some obvious technical advantages this platform had over Moodle, the main one being the ability to leave comments directly on content pages.
Here on MoodleNews (which uses WordPress) you can comment on articles in the comments section at the end of each page. In essence, that is what this other learning platform did that Moodle could not.
What have we done?
We have actually been working to improve communication in Moodle for some time through the use / development of plugins that are now all publicly available. You can see how these plugins work together to improve discussion in the video below:
The three plugins used are described (and linked to) below.
1) News Slider
The first plugin we released was a news slider (available on Moodle.Org) to highlight announcements made by tutors. Adding that has resulted in tutors making far better use of announcements because the announcements themselves are far more effective.
2) Course Discuss Block
This block allows forum posts to be made directly from:
- Course Sections
- Book Resources (including individual sub chapters)
- Pages Resources
Essentially this makes Moodle courses comment-able much like WordPress articles. This is not a separate comments plugin; it hooks into regular Moodle discussion forums. Any posts made from content pages appear in forums and can be replied to there. Using the core forum means email subscriptions, push notifications, reply from email or the Moodle Mobile app all work, as you would expect.
Adding this block made a noticeable difference to the use of discussion forums. Try it!
Course Discuss is pending review on Moodle.Org but once approved will be available here: https://moodle.org/plugins/block_course_discuss
In the mean time it can be downloaded from our GIT repository here: https://bitbucket.org/covuni/moodle-block_course_discuss/src/master/
3) Discussion Feed
After adding the Course Discuss block (making Moodle pages comment-able) we realised that although more posts were being made they were not surfaced as well as they could be.
The Discussion Feed aggregates all discussion from all a users enrolled courses on the dashboard page and allows users to reply to posts directly from their dashboard. At course level the feed becomes course specific and allows users to start new discussion threads directly from the course page.
Discussion Feed is pending review on Moodle.Org but once approved it will be available here: https://moodle.org/plugins/block_discussion_feed
In the mean time it can be downloaded from our GIT repository here: https://bitbucket.org/covuni/moodle-block_discussion_feed/src/master/
4) A Theme with Suitable Block Regions
As all of these plugins are blocks, you need a theme with appropriate block regions to position them. These have already been added to the Adaptable Theme (enable the additional block regions in the “course formats” section of the Adaptable settings.
We hope that other theme developers will add block regions appropriate for these blocks, if not adding a block region to a theme is surprisingly easy, only a few links of code.
How to Set Up
For the blocks to appear on all course pages we added them as “sticky” / site wide blocks on the front page of Moodle (you need admin rights to do this).
Set the blocks not to show on the Moodle front page itself.
Edit the blocks within a course page so that they only appear on “any type of course main page”. You only need to do this once in any course page and the change will apply site wide, as it is still a site wide / sticky block. This is necessary to prevent blocks loading in the background on other pages, particularly the dashboard page.
Add the News Slider and Discussion Feed blocks to the dashboard page.
This Moodle Practice related post is made possible by: eThink Education, a Certified Moodle Partner that provides a fully-managed Moodle experience including implementation, integration, cloud-hosting, and management services. To learn more about eThink, click here.