I decided to start a new thread after Googling, Search Moodle.org and reading Sam's OU blog. (http://learn.open.ac.uk/mod/oublog/view.php?user=11)
Tracker itme http://tracker.moodle.org/browse/MDL-21538 is still there.
Who is old fashioned, and likes a good forum at the heart of a course, partly because I dislike email.
Dan, what a question and what an opportunity!! A complex, deep and hard question. Probably why it has been put on ice for several years. Ramble follows. I try to avoid the term Thread. I'm assumng we have multiple attachments and non-teachers inserting images in posts.
Philosophical preamble: where I am coming from
Where Moodle is concerned I personally work in the areas of course design, staff development and teaching with Moodle. Staff development includes online teaching generally, helping staff become good designers and helping with setup of Moodle sites (ie everything except tweaking servers). Recently I have had to work with hosted Moodle instances where it costs lots of money to get small items fixed, to install plugins or even get good themes.
Hence I have two specific interests:
- Improving the effectiveness of teaching tools and processes for teaching and learning online
- Advocating a Moodle core that does as much of this as possible.
I guess at the heart of all this I see the need for a good forum. Whether you have 6, 60 or 600 in a course. communication is critical: timely clear and accurate, and easy to find. As well as that, there is supporting online collaboration, groupwork and knowledge creation. I am not always agreed with here: some of my buddies wonder why Twitter, Wordpress.org, Wikispaces and Google groups are not enough, but that is another story.
What do I mean by a "Good Forum"?
Lets start with something like this:
- a forum that is easy to use (for students and teachers)
- supports learning, idea sharing, dialogue, knowledge creation
- supports routine and special communications
- Plus . . .
Taking a few aspects at random, listing here a few features that contribute to either ease of use or learning or good communication
- Forum views. If you have worked with the ForumNG, with the collapsed/them expand view is great. It is a time saver, and improves efficiency. See http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/mod/forumng/discuss.php?d=4025#p14888 for a quick look.
Think of a student working over several forums in their course (not to mention blogs).
I could point to a couple of other LMS systems.
Scenario: Trying to write and think over a couple of forums/discussions basically is easier if you need to point to other posts with a quick permalink. 2007: http://tracker.moodle.org/browse/MDL-12529
- Merge discussions (Split discussions) Useful tools for a moderator function.
- Sticky discussions. These would save a lot of time in Administration type forums in a course. (These could also save a LOT of time in Moodle.org) 2004: http://tracker.moodle.org/browse/MDL-1997
- Thread closed/resolved option.
- Subscribe at the discussion level. [One of the oldest tracker items. http://tracker.moodle.org/browse/MDL-1626]
With options: Mail to everyone all the NEW discussions only, Mail THIS post to everyone, Follow/unfollow Link.
- Export posts. Scenario: a student is posting regularly and wants to capture a bunch of material for inclusing in an assignment. A teacher wants to give feedback. NG has the option to export selected posts.
- Clean forum search.
- "Show all posts by person X" in this forum
- Save Draft. Obvious for a busy student/teacher. (Opps, need more info, save, then come back later with the data)
- Social side: "Me to" button. Voting.
- Tagging. This is a wider issue.
Scenario: you are scanning 35 incomng posts. Click "Read later" those you need to attend to in detail.
"Watch" . . .
- Mail NOW option for Admins.
- Link to show attachments. ALL the attatchments in a forum.
Scenario: Assignments are submitted publically. Click to see them all.
Scenario: "Where is the file I posted?" in a forum of 46 discussions and 1053 posts.
- Romantic stuff, what we had in 2004. "Promote this student to admin of forum".
- Plus?? list abandoned for now . . if you want to
Marginalia functionality (cut and paste from one forum to another) automatically adds a link to the source post.
I can be a lot clearer on a scenario for following threads (which can become a can of worms). The discussion in the tracker is great, but just abandoned.
ForumNG stuff is scattered all over the web: Sam's blog, OU Git, Docs (My attempt to focus the stuff in 2010), Forums Forum (eg Glenis's useful comparison here; http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=169857), Googe sites . . . OU now has their own wiki, their own blog and their own forum.
Conclusion for now: "compelling features in core"
I'm not a programmer, I'm a user and a designer. A lot of these features I comment on above are in ForumNG. It may be quicker to implement ForumNG with the new AJAX stuff behind the scenes already done than to fix current forums.
Ignorant non programmer optimistic stuff: We could treat forums as a separate item: "New posts" block quite separate from "other new material" ie a little less integrated may be easier to implement - except gradebook of course: Link Forums <> gradebook may be a problem, but on the other hand new code in 2.0+ may mean this is easier than we think.
Tim says it is good code, needs all the checks. it IS a big job I know.
As I said, keen on having a very good forum in the core.
Thanks Derek for the alert on ForumNG.
I fully support your argument for inclusion in core, without adding to your list.
We need to at least keep up with our students and there technology.
I like all of your proposals and agree that the forum module should be one of the main tools on the site. I am particularly concerning on how a forum can construct knowledge. That sounds theoretical, but it is not. A comment or post can be transformed into knowledge when it deals with a common problem and becomes commonly understood by all members of a group. That happens slowly and through several stages. This is how I see it happening:
Stage 1: group member posts a question. Other group members post replies which answer the question or expand the context. This stage might be called, Open Forum.
Stage 2: a group member summarizes what has been learned. This summary is posted at the top of the forum (it may need to be be also posted within the sequence so the commenting on the summary can continue. This stage might be called Sticky Forum.
Stage 3: At some point when what has been learned seems stable and needs to be preserved, the sticky forum summary is promoted to a 'knowledge wiki'. This stage might be called Wiki Preservation.
Stage 4: Not sure where the next stage goes, but it has something to do with passing on the knowledge to the next cohort group. Knowledge grows and should not die and have to be recreated after every course (semester). Some knowledge should pass on to the next generation.
Nice post Don. Two comments:
I cannot do without tools that support this function. They need to be 'easy to use'. A concept fraught with problems. We have had some experiences where conversations/dialogues (in forums and blogs) have assisted students to produce their final "black hat" assessments.
Stage 4: in a former life this process we called 'harvesting'. A caveat: each generation does need to do a certain amount of truth fnding and validating for themelves.
I definitely agree that the current forum module needs substantially beefing up if not replacing. In particular there are a few missing functions that make it very difficult to use with students:
- Lock topics: The only way to stop a bad thread is to move it to another forum where students cannot reply. This is confusing for user and adds additional work for moderators who have to message offending posters to let them know what has happened.
- Merge topics: Students will quite frequently post topics which have already been discussed. Without a merge option this is very difficult to clean up.
- Report to Moderator: This is very important as it allows regular users to flag inappropriate messages to a tutor or moderator.
Whether it happens in the form of ForumNG or not I think this is something that really needs looking at in Moodle.
I am not sure whether the following two features are compelling. As a teacher, I liked the option to mark a discussion thread as always on top in the list of discussion topics. I also liked the "edit ends" option for the entire discussion, i.e., how long it was possible for students to post their reply.
Before we upgraded to Moodle 2.0.3 in summer 2011, I preferred to use ForumNG in online classes. Now I am waiting and hoping that it will be implemented in Moodle 2.3.
With kind regards,
Hi Derek and everyone,
I'm still just as keen on ForumNG as I was this time last year.
From September 2011 to August 2011 it worked just fine. Unfortunately, in autumn 2011 there were problems in the then current version of Moodle 1.9 (messages not being sent as email) on two different servers. I had to revert to the standard forum - Sam Marshall did try to help but it's normal that developers can't spend a lot of time on versions other that 2.x. I only mention it to show I'm not some besotted Sam Marshall groupie - if he were perfect he would find the time. But ForumNG just is so much better. Going back to the standard forum is like going back to driving a Mini after a year of driving a Porsche.
Just don't understand why, because all the work's already been done, it's not standard in Moodle 2. What's holding it up?
Damn, still no groupies? Maybe I should have become a musician instead of a programmer.
Re what's holding it up - I definitely hope ForumNG can be included in core at some point but there are challenges beyond just 'uh you can install it' (which you can).
1. Some parts of ForumNG code probably need updating before including in core - particularly, the message-sending needs to be changed to use the new notification system.
2. There are several parts of core code that currently integrate with forum. These would need to be reimplemented which could be complex (see 3). Two examples:
a. When you go to somebody's profile and there's a 'forum posts' link
b. The 'news forum' that's automatically created (maybe we should release the OU's news block as well, or did we release that already? hmm).
3. ForumNG includes a 'convert from old forum' option, but apart from the fact that this probably has a few bugs at the moment as we haven't used it on 2.x, this is a bit of a challenge in general. Do we try to make Moodle 2.whatever automatically replace all the existing forums with ForumNG? Or do we leave users to convert them individually?
If we do it automatically, what happens if there's some kind of failure, or some minor features from the old forum that aren't included in NG, or the behaviour isn't identical? (Might imply new work on NG - work to add potentially undesirable features/behaviours, in some cases.) And how do we handle upgrade - upgrading forums takes time, and if you have a site with a million posts it could be, I dunno, hours at least - we can't just do that during an update step... Or could we increase performance of the conversion perhaps by using the existing tables instead of new ones?
If we let users do it manually, how do we educate them about this - probably needs a nicer new conversion interface (like every forum has a big 'convert this to NG' button for editing teacher+) AND probably something more complicated because in the next release, maybe we would remove the old forum, so would need some way to warn people about that and blah blah.
Basically even though the module already works in Moodle 2, putting it in as a new standard forum has additional difficulties. In terms of development time, HQ staff are usually busy and so are OU staff So scheduling it might be a challenge too.
There is a plugin that allows the standard forum to do this:
In my experience, most teachers' first intro to moodle is through the implementation of the forum activity. It is simple to set up, offers few features to confuse the novice user, is bullet proof and easy to conceptualize. I would be worried that forumng would be bit daunting for new users.
Finally, I'm not sure that you can make the case for it simply by re-stating its good features. Sure, it has nice features but it is not a new activity, it would replace an existing one. So, (again just in my opinion) it needs to be head and shoulders above the standard forum in all areas, not just features.
I didn't know about that Forum discuss subscription which "allows email subscription to discussions (threads) and not the whole forum". I haven't tried it but it sounds like a useful addition to the standard forum.
However, it's just one feature. ForumNG has that plus a whole slew of others. How many do you need before you can say it's "head and shoulders above the standard forum"?
What areas that are not covered by ForumNG (or the standard forum) would you like to see implemented?
It already has an awesome feature set, that's not in question. But what I meant is, is that the only criteria? Or should there be more?
Is it faster than the standard forum (or better)? Is it as easy to use (or better)? Is it as bug free (or better)?
I don't know the answers to these questions, but I think they should be considered, don't you?
Those are certainly the right questions to be asking.
The ajax interface makes many operations appear faster to the user than standard forum. In the first year ForumNG was running at the OU, there were more posts made on our VLE than all the posts ever made on Moodle.org (by a considerable margin) so it seems to cope with load.
Forum NG is certainly no harder to use than the standard Moodle forum. It intentionally tried to copy the good bits. On the other hand, Forum NG has more features, which means a few more buttons in the UI. Potentially confusing? For me, the biggest usability win is the fact you reply inline in the thread, so you can see all the other posts while composing your reply. I also like the fact there is a clear permalink link. I often have to use Firebug on moodle.org to get permalinks, which is definitely not good usability.
I think both standard Moodle forum and Forum NG have very few bugs, because they have so many users who are prepared to report bugs.
Like for Tim, "For me, the biggest usability win is the fact you reply inline in the thread, so you can see all the other posts while composing your reply." That's true particularly on these Moodle.org forums as a simple "user".
When I'm managing a real course, other functionalites become just as important.
John, have you ever worked online (seriously, with several different conversations/forums, a steady flow of input and having to engage with it) with the standard Moodle forum, maybe in a course or a conference?
Here are a few limiting factors of standard Moodle:
- If you want to reply, you ONLY see the post you are replying to.
- You cannot subscribe to a discussion, only a forum
- There is no collapsed view which gives post summaries, the scroll of death all over again.
- There is no drafts option (so you can go away and finish a post later)
- There is no way to find a post in a forum with a particular attachment
- There is no easy way to get a permalink to point to a post you are trying to respond to
- There is no (easy) way to "show all posts by person X in the forum"
- There is no way for an admin to push a post out to all participants and override an optional subscription
- There is no annotation tool for forums
- There is no export function for teachers who may have assessment needs
- There is no "search this forum" option
If you are unclear what I mean by any of these, just ask. These are both from the student point of view and the teacher point of view. I am working from "What I want to do" (post, mark, keep up with things, dialogue, respond, create new links, debate . . .) to "functionality - needed tools" (simple permalinks to another post, something between "threaded" and "nested" views, subscribe at discussion level etc). I want to use a forum for it's purposes and no more as I listed in my second post. I don't want it to manage Happy Birthday messages, do an analysis of word counts by student, manage automatic reminders of deadlines, or anything. Just the core. My belief: a few of these would vastly improve the power of the forum.
John, you say:
"In my experience, most teachers' first intro to moodle is through the implementation of the forum activity. It is simple to set up, offers few features to confuse the novice user, is bullet proof and easy to conceptualize. I would be worried that forumng would be bit daunting for new users"
Few features (yes) but it is not fair to assume new features = confusion. "Daunting"? Ask those who use it. Have you seen ForumNG?
"Finally, I'm not sure that you can make the case for it simply by re-stating its good features. Sure, it has nice features but it is not a new activity, it would replace an existing one. So, (again just in my opinion) it needs to be head and shoulders above the standard forum in all areas, not just features.
I'm not restating as far as I know. There are no other forum discussions that I know of looking at forum development. I'm trying to cast a view of some attainable features for a forum tool to make it really a 21st century tool, and so that the rest of us without the resouorces of the OU don't have to try to code out own. What I am trying to say is that ForumNG is "Head and Shoulders" above the standard forum. We can either improve the standard forum or add an alternative. I'm another huge admirer but non-groupie of Sam's - and the OU work. Why are they bothering with tyheir own forum? Because I suspect it works better.
Your other four questions: I quote: (1) Is it faster than the standard forum (or better)? (2) Is it as easy to use (or better)? (3) Is it as bug free (or better)? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I think they should be considered, (4) don't you?
- Yes. Thanks to AJAX.
- At lease as easy to use. Buttons are well placed. Descriptions and flow of actions is clear and nice. See the link to the forum to look at if you want to see for yourself.
- Is anything bug free? OU will deploy it for 351,023 students. It is stable.
- Of course.
Hence my question to you about whether you have used forums: I have seen these features in other settings DRASTICALLY improve teaching, administration, learning, save time; that's what Glenis means (moving from a porche (forumNG) back to a Mini minor (regular Moodle forum)). I'm postulating an improved forum as a really beneficial use of programming development time in Moodle, trying to describe something I suspect many people either have not experieinced or don't believe is possible, while trying to make this a relatively simple product.
Ramble again over. I appreciate the opportunity to post here, but I do wonder: is anyone who actually makes decisions actually listening?
You got me, I've never used forums ;) you are insightful. Look, I'm not trying to be argumentative, I love forumng and have it implemented. But (assuming it would replace the standard forum and not be in addition to it) it would be a huge change and asking questions is only fair I think. If not, let me know.
Domesticity calls, but a quick question.
Sam: you say
"Some parts of ForumNG code probably need updating before including in core - particularly, the message-sending needs to be changed to use the new notification system"
Why? What has Forum got to do with messaging system? Can't it be just a forum? I have some more questions for later once I deal with other stuff.
It's an API parity issue. In Moodle 2.x, all the core components are supposed to use the notification system; hardcoding just to send email is deprecated. It still works, but wouldn't be appropriate for a core component.
To put it another way - standard forum was updated to do this as part of the change to Moodle 2 - so ForumNG should also really be updated to do it.
We didn't change because it would have been more work and at the time (pre Moodle 2.0) we were a bit concerned about notification system performance (we regularly send tens of thousands of forum emails) but I think they have probably resolved the worst of those problems by now.
The only issue I have with it is, I think the facility in ForumNG where when you are subscribed it tells you your email address right there on the page is nice for usability as it makes it super-clear what 'subscribed' means, and also avoids helpdesk queries if people subscribe to a forum then don't get emails because their email address in moodle is some old one they don't actually read any more... However, maybe we could still do that (depending on the notification method the user/admin has chosen).
Regarding your message in http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=195094 the frustrations our students and tutors are having with the standard discussion forum are basically to do with the layout.
On our old learning platform the discussion takes place on one page so there's no need to click through to view initial discussion contributions and responses.
What would be great is if the whole discussion could take place on one page with all postings and responses visible if expanded. See screenshot below from our old VLE, this format works really well but I can't see how to achieve it in standard Moodle:
I'm not sure this can be achieved with ForumNG either as I understand students still need to click through from the Forum page to read initial posts and responses. I could be wrong though... If so I'd really like to know as we would be keen to solve this problem.
But it would be the other way up though (newest last) so you wouldn't like it. Basically the answer is, no that can't be done in ForumNG at present.
I think your users might eventually find, once they get used to it, that using multiple discussions each on their own page is a better way to organise a forum. Bearing in mind that it always tells you if there are new posts to read, there's not really a great hardship involved in clicking into a discussion.
The style you've shown looks a bit ghetto; it's kind of reminiscent of those Japanese-style (2ch, etc) BBS systems that are inexplicably popular for posting libellous gossip and pictures of under-dressed cartoon characters. It's probably had its day. I could be wrong though
I still like the concept of a window with two frames:
- on the left the document/website/animation for the discussion
- on the right the forum about the content in the left frame.
- I even had a prototype on CD for the moodle 1.4.6, but that got lost in the plane to Australia
Since that day I like this concept of having all what you need for your task in one screen together. (In the handbook for multimedia form Meyer - Cambridge Press- you find support for this approach: You can lower the workload for the student on a task by removing the navigation issues from the core task.
On this moment I have three versions of my wish:
1. I still like the old D3E/Ubiquitus: the resource on the left, the connected forum on the right. (in the Royal version there is a paragraph conncetion between left and right, but this time the links initiated by the forum user.)
2.When I want to discuss a timeline like the one from MIT, I can connect (dynamicly) the pages of a moodle wiki to that timeline, but it would be easier to have here also a window with two frames, but now a frame with the timeline on top and the discussion in the bottom frame. (Again: In the Royal version the student can connect timeline instances to threads of the forum below: a variation on this one: having a movie with a timeline at the top and the student can mark spots on the timeline and attach a comment in the forum below)
3. My last wish is for the forum off topic: I wish to have a kind of meta-module in moodle where I can select a two frame window and then choose the resource in the left frame and the activity in the right frame.. (or top/bottom)