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The Blog on Emerging Academic Technologies


Moodle 2.0 Guide: Forum

The Forum is a tool for asynchronous communication. The forum is a widely used tool that comes in five types:

  1. Standard forum for general use allows the most unrestricted use of Moodle forums and students may create and post however many topics or comments they wish;

  2. Single simple discussion is a very focused discussion with one topic;

  3. Each person posts one discussion allows each student to post one topic and no more;

  4. Q & A forum requires students to first post an answer to a question or topic before they can view other students' replies. NOTE: Typically the instructor should be the one posting the original question/topic; and

  5. (New) Standard forum displayed in a blog like format with responses displayed in reverse chronological order (latest post appears first).

Uses for Teaching, Learning and Research

  • Foster conversation: The forum is a place where instructors can get conversations started with individual students and for groups. The instructor can monitor the conversations to see the nature of the discussion, participating as appropriate.

  • Organize conversations: The forum allows for topics to appear in an organized manner. Responses can appear in a variety of formats depending on the preference of the instructor.

  • Display replies flat shows all of the posts with the newest or oldest first and does not indent replies;

  • Display replies in nested form shows all posts on the same page with replies displayed and indented; and

  • Display replies in threaded form shows posts indented, but only displays links to replies.

  • Track participation: Instructors may choose to have students respond to questions ahead of class time to check for comprehension and/or completion related to course content.

  • Collaborative space: The forum is an excellent tool where students can engage in a common task and construct shared meanings, experiences, and concepts. One example is to use the forum as a place where students contribute "Frequently Asked Questions" (FAQs) about the course and concepts.


  • As stated in the description, the forum is limited to asynchronous communication. Real-time responses depend on the availability of the instructor and/or the notification settings used by the instructor in the forum.

  • Time limits. The default time for one to respond to a forum is 30 minutes unless changed. The frequency of notifications (emails) from Moodle can be changed. Instructor may recommend to the students to change the default setting there from Complete to No Digest, since that will help them to stay most up-to-date with the course progress. Details can be found here: Frequency of Email from a Forum:

Related Tools

Campus Resources
OIT pages


When I'm teaching a workshop, providing a consultation or otherwise involved in discussion about teaching with technology, I often come back to a comment my former colleague Chris Greenhow made during one of our many conversations in the office. When observing students working together or engaged in discussion, teachers will often say, "they're so excited." But as Chris pointed out, excitement is not enough. How do we know students are actually learning? An article I re-read recently, "Critical Thinking, Cognitive Presence and Computer Conferencing in Distance Education," raises related issues, provides a few answers and raises yet more questions.

In terms of the communities of inquiry model, in which the article is grounded, for me Chris' comment was a "triggering event," or a starting point for practical inquiry where "an issue, dilemma or problem that emerges from experience is identified or recognized." Or rather, when I hear someone say "they're so excited" in conversations about teaching, that phrase is a triggering event that causes me to reflect on what happened in a different way. Students' excitement (or engagement or enthusiasm) might be more of a milestone than an end, or perhaps a beginning of rather than a sign of success. A lively discussion is energizing, but what happens after that? How do we know what insights, if any, students have gained from that discussion, especially when everything is moving so fast? Do students engaged in a lively discussion now know how to use those insights as they move towards higher order learning outcomes? And what about the quiet student who does not appear to be engaged? Is that student reflecting on what is said, or is that student tuned out? Is that student shy, or perhaps not as quick, or perhaps not confident about their language skills, and therefore more hesitant to jump in? While online, asynchronous discussions may not be as exciting as a face-to-face discussion, they do present many advantages. More reflective students, or students who for different reasons may not feel confident enough to speak up in class have more opportunities to participate. All students, as well as the instructor, can take the time to compose more thoughtful responses and feedback. And as everyone involved in discussion develops their ideas, they can refer back to what has been written online.

As Garrison, et. al. explain, the "triggering event," is only the first of four phases of inquiry, followed by exploration, integration and resolution. Once the issue to explore or problem to be solved has been identified and defined, students and teachers together brainstorm ideas, share information, and ask questions. Integration involves testing the applicability of ideas, identifying misconceptions, revising ideas. In the final, resolution phase, those involved implement solutions to problems or perhaps test a hypothesis. In their research on online classroom discussions, Garrison, et. al. found that students were most active in the exploration phase, and hardly active at all during the resolution phase. I wonder if they would have produced the same results in an investigation of face-to-face discussion, and if the excitement of discussion happens mainly during the exploration phase. After all, it's much easier--and much more fun--to brainstorm, and to bounce ideas off of each other. Evaluating and critically examining those ideas and formulating some kind of solution to a common problem is much more difficult, and much more work. What can teachers do to make sure students are successful throughout the full process of inquiry, and how do they know their students have succeeded?

Moreover, how might technology be integrated into successful practical inquiry during a course? What kinds of tools, what kinds of learning activities and what strategies might be most useful to students as they further develop, test and apply their ideas?

Garrison, D. Randy, Terry Anderson and Walter Archer. "Critical Thinking, Cognitive Presence and Computer Conferencing in Distance Education." (2001) American Journal of Distance Education.

Below is an info-graphic on research done by the Babson Survey Research Group. The numbers suggest that social media permeates the academic working environment, though we should be cautious to extrapolate from these findings simply because we don't know how social media is used much less how effective it is in learning. Even the term "social media" can be a bit meaningless when it includes viewing YouTube videos. In a recent article in InsideHigherEd, and also sponsored by Babson, 73 percent of instructors " said they thought YouTube videos were either somewhat or very valuable for classroom use, regardless of whether they use them currently."

While these are intriguing numbers, we should spend more time investigating the specific uses of social media. The Babson survey reports, "Nearly two-thirds of all faculty have used social media during a class session, and 30% have posted content for students to view or read outside class. Over 40% of faculty have required students to read or view social media as part of a course assignment, and 20% have assigned students to comment on or post to social media sites. Online video is by far the most common type of social media used in class, posted outside class, or assigned to students to view, with 80% of faculty reporting some form of class use of online video."

The survey report further suggests that faculty are concerned about the "lack of integrity of student submissions" to social media, and student privacy issues. This reinforces the importance of helping instructors and students understand the complexity of these issues. This might be challenging since despite the rosy picture the graphic paints, only 19% of faculty disagreed with the statement that "Social networks take more time than they are worth" (p.14).

(Thanks to Christopher Brooks for tweeting the info-graphic.)

Addendum: For a reflective post on one instructor's attempt to use social media in the classroom, see the 3-part series, Using Twitter to Teach.

Reading professors like an open facebook, or how teachers use social media
Courtesy of:

In a previous post I asked educational technology consultants to share their thoughts on preparing faculty, staff and students for using mobiles in teaching, research and work at the University of Minnesota. Kim Wilcox wrote about mobile equity and other matters. Here is an exchange between Keith Brown and Paul Baepler, both educational technology consultants in OIT's Collaborative for Academic Technology Innovation:

Keith: So to 'fess up right up front, I don't own a cell phone, smart phone, iPod or any other mobile device. I use a laptop (owned by the U) but seldom use it out of the office except at meetings.

On the practical side, I really see small format mobile devices as great for consuming information, but perhaps not as practical for producing things. Finding if my flight is on time on the mobile device is much different from writing the app to do that using a mobile device. Or, think of emails written from a phone versus emails written from a computer with a keyboard. In my experience, one or two line responses on a mobile device would be pretty long. I definitely wouldn't write an email in response to your question on mobiles with this much detail on a mobile device. If we're looking for interactivity and active learning, devices that don't make it easy to create, as opposed to consume, may limit their usefulness in education. I believe there is a niche for them, but we'll have to be creative.

Paul: I guess I'm in agreement with a lot of what Keith has said. Currently, it seems like mobile really works best for consuming content and potentially for interacting in specific ways--delivering feedback like a clicker, creating a backchannel such as Twitter, taking cursory notes on an iPad.

But I also think there will be major advances in particular disciplines depending upon how a course is taught. For instance, I think we'll develop really strong apps for using mobile in identifying features of natural objects--planets, plants, rocks, etc.--in their natural setting. An app that can give even a cursory translation of a foreign language text could really advance reading skills, particularly for lazy language learners like me who hate looking up every other word in the French or Spanish dictionary. While finding information on natural objects or looking up words in a dictionary involve consumption of information, we might also put those actions in the context of solving natural problems in an authentic, real-world environment.

In the end, I think we'll probably discard the idea of "mobile learning" and return to concepts like problem based learning that happen to use mobile devices. That is, I think we'll take "mobile" and connectivity for granted very soon, at least on campuses with expanding wireless access. But that will probably be after the singularity when all of us have given up any hope of winning a round on Jeopardy against our mobile overlords.

In my previous post I asked educational technology consultants from OIT's Collaborative for Academic Technology Innovation for their thoughts on how we might prepare faculty, staff and students to use mobiles in teaching, research and work at the University of Minnesota. Kim Wilcox, Senior Educational Technology Consultant, writes:

Parry's piece makes clear the conceptual hurdles that may exist for any number of us--especially those of us rapidly approaching geezerhood--attempting to reach "mobile literacy." Preparing to teach and learn in a mobile world will mean learning to think in very different ways, to imagine differently how we might use the capacity of mobility to achieve specific learning outcomes.

I am still concerned on some practical levels. How will the University ensure some form of mobile equity? Will all students have access to web-enabled mobile devices? There are still inequalities among devices themselves. For example, not all mobile devices have Java and Flash capabilities, or high-resolution cameras. There will be design challenges for creating assignments.

Nonetheless, there will be no turning back. In the past, early adopters did cool stuff but few others knew about it. Today, the channels of communication are much better and sharing is much more a part of the culture. So for me, the challenge is getting up to speed enough to consider how we might approach faculty development in this area, as well as considering how to help faculty prepare their students to use mobile devices in ways that may be new to them.

The topic for tomorrow's 20 by 20: An OIT Pecha Kucha Event is mobiles. As it turns out, this is a timely topic. Designated as a technology to watch in the 2011 Horizon Report, mobile technology is the focus in the latest Educause Review. In his contribution to that issue, Mobile Literacy, David Parry identifies three "literacies" we ought to teach students (and perhaps everyone else): 1) understanding information access, i.e., not only how to find relevant information, but also how to use and evaluate it. 2) understanding hyperconnectivity, i.e., how to use mobile devices to "engage in hypermediated experience" without being distracted from "directing full attention the event." 3) understanding a new sense of space, i.e., "the massive amounts of data that we are going to be layering on top the physical world and that will substantially alter how we can interact with space." This short article lays out substantial challenges with exciting possibilities.

Mobiles have been a topic of conversation within OIT's faculty development team. We talk about the potential of mobiles in higher education, and of course how we might help faculty, staff and students prepare to use mobiles in teaching, research and work at the University of Minnesota. I asked educational technology consultants to share their thoughts, which will appear in subsequent posts.

The latest publishing sales figures show a sharp rise in the sales of E-Books at the same time that the total number of book sales on all platforms took a minor hit. In their just released January 2011 sales report, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) noted a 115.8% increase in net sales of e-books from the previous year while overall book sales dropped by 1.9%.

In higher education, one of the pressing questions will be how might this change in reading affect the textbook market? Will students and instructors embrace digital texts? The social learning platform Xplana projects that by the end of 2011, 3% of the total textbook market will be digital and that growth will be explosive over the next five years. By the end of 2016, they expect the total sales of digital textbooks to reach 26% of all new textbooks.

The advent of new reading platforms suggests the possibility to develop new ways of interacting with learning material. While some publishers might simply settle to replicate a print product in a digital form, other more innovative developers might embed assessments or opportunities for reflection within the text. User-controlled multimedia might help students replay presentations or simulate experiments. Books that are built for collaboration might help students jointly annotate a text or read annotations by their own instructor. There are many ways a new textbook could evolve, and let's hope that with such stunning sales figures and projections, publishers and authors seize this moment to reinvent rather than replicate the text.

Academic Honesty Online

"How can you be sure your [online] students aren't cheating?" Michelle Everson, Department of Educational Psychology, a current Faculty Fellow, and a regular contributor to ELearn Magazine, responds to this question in "Academic Honesty and the Online Environment.". One option might be to more closely monitor students when they take exams, but Everson decided to formulate a different set of strategies instead. As you'll see when you read the article, Everson prevents cheating by engaging her students in their learning and with the concept of academic honesty. Another article in this issue of ELearn, Dorothy Mikuska's "Promoting Information Processing and Ethical Use of Information for Online Learning," offers similar solutions for preventing plagiarism. Through student-centered learning and active engagement, both Everson and Mikuska support rather than enforce academic honesty.

(I learned about this article via the Digital Campus Facebook feed, an excellent source of news on education and technology.)

Educational technology consultant Farhad Anklesaria devised an easy, low cost solution for a faculty member who wanted to set up virtual office hours but also needed to go beyond simple chat or instant messaging. As he explains:

It was important that she be able to hand-draw diagrams and write out equations that the remote student could view as they talked. One low-cost solution (proof-of-concept hack?) involves clipping a webcam to a desk lamp, aimed down on a writing pad. Using Skype, writing or diagrams on the page were adequately viewable. A newer webcam such as the Hue HD (, $40), still inexpensive, should yield better images (and lose the DIY flavor).

Click here to see how it's set up

Mobile on My Mind

Mobile learning is the topic for the next 20 by 20: An OIT Pecha Kucha Event. Wireless access and a plethora of devices, including tablets and smart phones, provide many opportunities to access information on-the-go and on-demand. That is no small convenience. But beyond that, how might mobile computing enhance teaching and learning?

An exciting development in mobile learning is Purdue University's DoubleTake, an authenticated mobile video system that allows professors and students to shoot, share and critique video using a smart phone or computer. An article in today's Chronicle explains how DoubleTake is being used in some classes at Purdue.