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Forums are common features of online courses. The software is usually provided by the institution. It is in everyone's interest to make a course forum useful, maybe even lively; generally we want more posts rather than fewer, and more interaction between those posts, rather than a bunch of individual observations.

Using the forum is sometimes counted as part of students' grades. There are a great number of ways of measuring participation, though; I previously asked How to score class participation, correcting for natural outspokenness?

That said, making forum activity part of student grades is not necessarily key to making the forum useful. What is the most effective and practical way of getting students to post in the forum?

  • What is your reason for wanting students to post more in the forum? I'm not very familiar with online courses, but in ordinary courses, it is my experience that forums in VLEs are somewhat superficial. – 101010111100 Jan 14 '17 at 2:07
  • @101010111100, using the forum means more engagement with the material and cross-fertilization of ideas between students. They're not perfect but they're a major communication channel, built for threaded discussions rather than, say, announcements. – Aaron Brick Jan 15 '17 at 5:20
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I think the key to a forum being somewhat lively, at least from my experience, is a blend of the following:

  • There needs to be instructor/TA participation in the forum itself. This is both a boost to the "signal" of the forum.
  • Incentivize interaction not just posting. If you're requiring forum posting, require not only an original post, but also one or more replies to existing posts.
  • Start broader topics early and help keep them running. Many forums are organized by chapter, assignment, etc. which kills any participation (even if you have it) the moment people click 'Submit' on the assignment.

That being said, I cannot yet think of an instance where I was actively glad to have the forums for an online class.

  • 3
    I want to add a caution to the first item: my limited experience (and the consistent advice I've gotten from specialists) is that one has to be careful not to have too much instructor/TA involvement (especially responding rather than starting discussions) because it can turn it into a lot of dialogs rather than having students interacting with students – Henry Jan 14 '17 at 3:26
  • @Henry I agree, though my experience is that without some involvement, it's students interacting with no one. – Fomite Jan 14 '17 at 22:48
  • Your suggestion of broad, long-running topics is a very good one. – Aaron Brick Jul 20 '17 at 5:37

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