How to best use Forum in Moodle courses: Ideas and tips by professionals

A compilation of good ideas for using Forum in a Moodle course, edited out of a discussion thread in Teaching with Moodle: An Introduction, which is a MOOC course offered by and attracted more than 9,000 participants.

Many course participants shared ideas and tips for how they creatively use various tools in a Moodle course. Some ideas/tips are truly valuable and I want to compile them into a series of blog posts, each focusing on one Moodle element.

Stay tuned for additional posts on good ideas for other Moodle elements such as book, lesson, database, questionnaire, label, etc.

This list is edited from an online discussion thread and several people might comment on the same topic (idea/tip); in this post the topics are separated by horizontal dividers with contributors’ name highlighted.

Kim Salinas: I create one as my virtual office and then create single member groups so it is a private area to keep all course related communication between the learners and myself.

Donna Hrynkiw: Our Community Health (nursing) teachers use a version of this configuration (single-user groups, forums set to separate groups) for student journals. Student can write about and reflect on work-study experiences and teachers can add private comments, visible to only the two of them.


Nacho Santa-María Megía: I use the forum for connecting with the students outside of the classroom. They normally have no questions during the explanation and ask them in the forum while at home trying to figure out the homework (the shy ones use the private messaging, it works great too). If I wasn’t able to answer before the next class, I start it from there.

Also, if they tell me that they couldn’t do the homework for whatever reason, there needs to be a message either in the forum or a private one of they don’t want to have a zero.

For me, the best part of the forum is when the students are confident enough to start answering each other the questions they have.


Helene Swaton: I posted a picture of a house and asked the children to write a story- who lives in that house.

Some children wrote about families- one girl about little mice living there.
And even children not very good in German wrote there story- because they liked using the forum. And I promised them- the idea would be much more important than their mistakes.

Glória Soares: In an adults course of Moodle, to get them familiar to the forum, we started a story and them each participant had too continue the story and pass it to another participant. It was very interesting seem the development of the story and the fun we all had.

Jasvinder Sahota: I have posed problems to entry level English learners (ideas to help me organise a party) and had very enthusiastic responses.


Thorsten Gross: In a “non-teaching” course we use the forum for a documentation. It’s great, every new topic is like a file. And all members write if they add or change something, add files like pdfs and hyperlinks for documentation and list informations in tables. It’s like a great changelog.

With the search-function you find everything absolutely quickly. For me the best if many people work together and are not always at the same time in the same place. I just love it.


Gideon Williams: Saw forums being used very effectively for “Subject in the News” links. For example in Geography the teacher would post up a Geography item that was in the news and get students to comment about them.

Forums work really effectively if you let students comment on and vote on entries.

Mark Drechsler: Easiest way I’ve seen to add ratings to forum posts is to:
– Create a custom scale (like ‘useful’ and ‘really useful’ or just simply a scale with one value called ‘like’);
– Make the Forum assessable (done through the Forum settings) and select the scale you’ve created;
– Override the permissions in the course to allow students to ‘assess’ others (you need to allow the Student role to the ‘mod/forum:rate’ permission).

Do this and learners will be able to view and select ratings for forum posts A bit fiddly, but works really well once you’ve got it set up. I assume this is how the ratings for posts work on the site.


Derek Chirnside: For many courses, we have three standard forums:
1. Welcome, Introductions, social. For text book selling, organising class parties, posting cartoons etc.
2. Help and questions. Moodle questions, admin questions about the course mainly.
3. “On task” forum.

I require a weekly post from everybody. I usually post something with a bit of a reminder, a bit of scaffolding, and sometimes a question like: Week four checkin: “How are your essays? How are you doing with topic choice?” and I encourage the students to click on reply to keep the thread on one topic.

I joke about “The minimum post being only one letter. Can you guess the letter?”

I try to get students to support one another. If I hear of anything interesting I’ll phone them up and ask them to post. In some courses, they know more than me in some areas. I’ll say “John went to the Rotorua Trades meeting, he’ll know more than me. John?? Can you reply??”

You commented sasha, “However, I am a little concerned whether a forum is the right place for this kind of activity (post-topic individual reflections). My opinion is that forums should be used mostly as a place for discussions/debates on a particular topic . . .”

I’m less worried about this use of forums. Reflection is always difficult to get right, and I struggle sometimes, the key for me is to make sure students have BOTH a private me<>them channel and a public Them<>class forum. In some courses I require 1 reflection and two responses.

Julian Cox: Not sure if I interpreted you correctly but, based on your comment about phone calls, I’ll often socialise an issue raised by one student, say via email, including the question in a support forum, either quoting the student, to give them credit, or anonymously, if the student is less comfortable. This means, rather than responding to individual questions, I provide the Q and A for the benefit of all (in a support-type forum) or simply post the question to encourage other students to assist, empowering them.


Jon Witts: I like to set a forum up with RSS enabled and then upload mp3 files to it so that it acts as a podcast for students!

Ann Morgan: I love podcasts especially if students contribute … using the forum is one way,
but there are other ways as well. I liked using the plugin module Pcasts


Antoine Monti: If students are not given guidelines for using a forum, and especially if they think they might need to write at length, their responses can be very rehearsed and likely copied and pasted from a word processor. Students who have not yet posted may be daunted by the extensive ‘coverage’ of the topic to date.

A solution is to adopt a Twitter-like approach: “Write no more than 20 words saying what…” This approach encourages quick, spontaneous participation and is more likely to be written straight into the forum text box! Students can not only quickly read others’ comments but can see that they can contribute just as easily as well, if they haven’t yet done so.

This type of forum doesn’t encourage reflection and considered response but does encourage engagement, interaction and a spontaneity that may be lacking otherwise.

On another level, writing short responses is a good test for conciseness and a catalyst for developing these short ideas further.


Ester Muñoz Aparicio: I have always told to teachers when I do training for them that forums are the heart of a course. We have used in courses where I used to work until recently (police and firemen training) to present a situation and solve it.

For example, police arrives to an apartment after a neighbour’s call, domestic violence. Students discuss about how to proceed, they can grade each other’s suggestions. In the end, they collect ideas from the thread and send as an assignment the result, conclusions and comments for grading.


Gavin Henrick: Use the forum as part of a peer review component in a group project. If the students are broken into groups and forum set as groups separated. They can group submit using the assignment and get graded. Then they can be required to post a reflection on their effort in the project and have their entry rated by the other group members
Using the gradebook categories you can then have the rating apply to a % of the grade received in the assignment.


Marc Matthes: After we have covered a topic I like to ask these 4 Questions
Please post your week summary/reflection here:
• What was covered in this week of class?
• What did you learn from the material?
• What are you still confused on in this chapter?
• How can you apply this to a real scenario?

It helps me find out what the students really did or didnt learn and help others if the read the posts refresh ideas that maybe they missed. Plus helps me find out maybe the areas I need to review before the test.

Sasha Keser: My opinion is that forums should be used mostly as a place for discussions/debates on a particular topic after the students have done some initial research. I would, for example, start a thread and moderate it asking questions and encouraging discussion. Students would research the topic and then post their thoughts and comments in the thread.

After we have covered the topic, I would ask the questions (and they are indeed excellent questions) from your list. For this purpose, however, I would use student’s own space for reflective practice. This can be a blog or kind of a reflective journal or whatever I agree with a student to be our private space for reflective practice. Individual student’s entries would be visible only to me and the student who post them. We can also agree if the entries would be graded. This way I would protect students’ work but also their privacy. We know that it is not the same if the students talk/write about the topic in private or in public.

Julian Cox: I have students produce an eportfolio in my course, using Mahara, with emphasis on the Journal for reflective practice. Like Marc, I use four ‘questions’ to prompt reflection upon what can be rather esoteric activities in the course.

They are:
• Describe the process of the activity (narrative)
• How did you feel about the activity? (affective dimension)
• What are the implications of the activity for you professionally? (professional practice, perspective)
• How does the activity relate to science? (professional perspective)?

Jenni Parker: I think a Q & A forum is a good vehicle for students to reflect on and share their understanding of the concepts covered in the unit.

For example: In my higher education unit for pre-service teachers (fully online) students have a number of recommended readings they should complete to help them understand the concepts of using technology as cognitive tools and the principles of authentic learning. They need this knowledge to complete the unit tasks successfully.

I use a Q & A forum for each reading so students can reflect and share their own understanding before they can read what others have posted to the forum. This gives students their own voice and the opportunity to see multiple interpretations and meanings derived from the texts. The readings and discussions are not assessed so not all students participate, but most do.

Sue Hart: I have used ‘private forums’ (i.e. only I and the students can use) for many years as reflective journals to support face-to-face delivery. By getting the student to reflect in a journal they know is private I have found they are more willing to open up and raise issues they would feel awkward about raising in a public forum. Lecturing in the IT field to teenagers and adults, I find many students feel more comfortable communicating with me electronically than face-2-face!

I think both private and public forums are great communication tools and can be used to encourage open communication and reflection in private, stimulate peer debate and build collaborative activities in public.

Megan O’Connor: A 5th question could ask students/participants to respond to other student posts to provide peer learning responses/encouragement. This enables peer collaboration/learning and support networks (like we are doing here).

About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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