Instructional Material using Moodle 1.9: Part 2

Moodle Teaching Techniques


September 2007

$23.99

Creative Ways to Use Moodle for Constructing Online Learning Solutions

Keeping discussions on track

One of the biggest challenges in using forums for an online class is keeping discussions focused on the topic. This becomes even more difficult when you allow students to create new topics in a forum. Moodle offers two tools that you can use to help keep discussions on track—custom scales and splitting discussions.

Use a custom scale to rate relevance

Moodle enables you to use a scale to rate student's work. A scale offers you something other than a grade to give the student as feedback. Scales can be used to rate forum postings, assignment submissions, and glossary entries. The following screenshot shows a feedback on the relevance of a posting, given in a custom scale by a teacher:

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

To create and apply a custom scale, follow these steps:

Users with the roles Administrator, Course creator, and Teacher can create custom scales.

  1. From the Administration block, click on Scales. This displays the Scales page.
  2. On the Scales page, click on the Add a new scale button. This displays the Editing scale page.
  3. On the Editing scale page:
    • Enter a Name for the scale. When you apply the scale to the forum, you will select the scale by this name.
    • In the Scale box, enter the items on your scale. Separate each item with a comma.
    • Write a Description for your scale. Students can see the description, so use this space to explain how they should interpret the scale.

      Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

  4. Select the Save changes button. You are now ready to apply the scale.
  5. Create or edit the forum to which you want to apply the scale. The key setting on the Editing Forum page is Allow posts to be rated?

    Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

  6. When you review the student postings in the forum, you can rate each posting using the scale you created, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

  7. When you finish rating the postings, click on the Send in my ratings button at the bottom of the page to save your ratings.

Split discussions

Users with the role Administrator, Course creator, or Teacher can split a discussion. When you split a discussion at a post, the selected post and the ones below become a new topic.

Note that you cannot take a few posts from the middle of a topic and split them into a new discussion. Splitting takes every post that is nested below the selected one and puts it into a new topic.

Before the split

 

After the split

 

Topic 1

             Reply 1-1

             Reply 1-2

                      Reply 1-2-1

                      Reply 1-2-2

                      Reply 1-2-3

             Reply 1-3

             Reply 1-4

                      Reply 1-4-1

                      Reply 1-4-2

 

 New Topic 1-2

              Reply 1-2-1

              Reply 1-2-2

              Reply 1-2-3

 Topic 1

               Reply 1-1

               Reply 1-3

               Reply 1-4

                          Reply 1-4-1

               Reply 1-4-2

 


Will splitting change the meaning

Splitting a thread can rescue a conversation that has gotten off topic. However, it can also change the meaning of the conversation in ways that you don't expect or want.

Note that in the preceding example, after the split, the new topic is moved to the top of the forum. Will that change the meaning of your forum? Let's look at an example. Following is the screenshot showing the fi rst topic in a forum on the October Revolution of Russian history. In this topic, students discuss whether the revolution was a coup or a popular uprising:

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

The teacher made the first posting and several students have posted replies. Some of these replies, as shown in the following screenshot, favor the theory that the revolution was a coup, while others favor the theory of revolution being a popular uprising:

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Note that the posting by Student2 is a reply(Re) to the posting by Student1. You might have missed that because the reply is not indented. That's because the teacher has selected Display replies flat, with oldest first. If the teacher had selected Display replies in nested form, you would see Student2's reply indented, or nested, under Student1's reply. We can tell that Student2 is replying to Student1 because the subject line indicates it is a reply to Student1 (Re: My vote: popular uprising).

The first two postings are pro-uprising. The last posting is pro-coup. It occurs to the teacher that it would facilitate discussion to split the forum into pro-uprising and pro-coup topics.

The teacher scrolls down to the pro-coup posting, which just happens to be the last posting in this forum, and clicks on Split, as shown in following screenshot:

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

This will make a new topic out of the pro-coup posting:

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Will splitting move replies you want to keep in place

In this example, the teacher was lucky. Under the pro-coup posting, there were no pro-uprising replies. If there were, those replies would have come with the pro-coup posting, and the teacher would not have been able to make a topic that was completely pro-coup.

As the split function takes all of the replies nested under the split point, when a discussion has gone off course and come back on course, you should consider whether you really want to split. Consider the following example. In Reply 1-2, the conversation went off topic. For the next two replies, it remained off topic. But then, Reply 1-2-3 brought the conversation back on topic. Should you split the conversation at Reply 1-2? If you do, you'll move Reply 1-2-3, which is on topic, out of Topic 1. When it's taken out of Topic 1, will Reply 1-2-3 still make sense?

Before the split

 

After the split

 

Topic 1

                  Reply 1-1

                  Reply 1-2 (off topic)

                           Reply 1-2-1 (off topic)

                           Reply 1-2-2 (off topic)

                           Reply 1-2-3 (back on

                           topic)

                  Reply 1-3

                  Reply 1-4

     Reply 1-4-1

     Reply 1-4-2

               Reply 1-2 (off topic)

                           Reply 1-2-1 (off

                           topic)

                           Reply 1-2-2 (off

                           topic)

                           Reply 1-2-3 (back on

topic)

  Topic 1

                 Reply 1-1

                 Reply 1-3

                 Reply 1-4

                           Reply 1-4-1

                 Reply 1-4-2

 

Before splitting a forum thread, consider these two issues:

  • How will rearranging the topics change the meaning of the forum?
  • Will splitting move any replies that you want to keep in place?

Monitoring student participation in a forum

One of the most important tasks that you face when managing a forum is determining which students are participating, and which are not. Moodle gives you several ways to get this information.

Who has posted to a forum

Moodle's log files can tell you who has participated in an activity. We will look at how useful log files are in determining which students have posted to a forum.

In order to view the list of students who have posted to a forum, follow these steps:

  1. Enter the course for which you want the report.
  2. From the Administration block, select Reports.
  3. Under Choose which logs to see, select the settings for the following:

    Course: It will be set to the course you are in, but you can choose a different course.

    Participants: Leave this set to All participants so that you see the log for all students in the course.

    Dates: To see who has ever posted to a forum, leave this set to All days.

    Activity: In this case, it is the forum named Using a Custom Scale.

    Actions: In this case, it is Add a posting to the forum.

    Display: In this case, I will display the report on screen. You can also download it as a text or Excel file.

    Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

  4. Click on the Get these logs button. The students who have posted to the forum will be displayed.

What postings has a student made

In the preceding section, we started with the forum and displayed which students have contributed to it. You can also start with the student, and see what that student has posted to any forum.

To see the postings that a student has made to all forums in a Moodle site, follow these steps:

  1. Enter the course for which you want the report.
  2. From the People block, select Participants. A list of the students, teachers, and course creators for this course is displayed.
  3. Select the student whose forum postings you want to see. The student's public profile page is displayed.
  4. Select the Forum posts tab, as shown in the following screenshot. Under this tab, you will see two subtabs: Posts and Discussions.
  5. The Posts subtab displays all the replies the student has contributed to forums on this site. The Discussions subtab displays all the new topics (new discussions) the student has contributed.

    Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

  6. The Activity reports tab displays all the activities the student has engaged in on the entire site. It has several subtabs. The Outline report is easier to read, and also shows you all the forums that the student is enrolled in, and has posted to.

    Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Summary

Forums are one of Moodle's strongest features. You can use them as building blocks in which you organize the instructional material for the entire course.

So, don't be limited by the traditional notions of forums, just as a place for group discussion. You can use the forum for creating a template for future courses, and for developing a logical and easy-to-follow sequence. Finally, you can also use the forum for one-to-one discussion between a student and an instructor.

We saw how a custom scale can be used to rate the relevance of postings; you can also use custom scales to have students rate any other aspect of a forum posting. For example, suppose your class was writing a play. You could have students contribute story ideas and character sketches to a forum. Then the class could use a custom scale to vote on whether to include them in the play.

In classes that require student participation, Moodle's log files can quantify a student's participation in class discussion. Splitting a discussion can bring it back on track, when it has been taken over by an unintended subject.

Whenever you need to involve students in a discussion, a Moodle forum offers a place for students and teachers to have a productive discussion.

Books to Consider

Moodle 1.9 E-Learning Course Development
$ 18.90
Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques
$ 14.85
Moodle 1.9 Testing and Assessment
$ 26.99
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