Comparisons and advocacy

History of the Moodle forum

 
Picture of Peter Seaman
History of the Moodle forum
 

Good day: I'm interested in the history of the Moodle forum and similar bulletin-board systems (BBS) that were integrated in early VLEs or LMSs. Perhaps this is a question for Martin and the other founders of Moodle, but I'm wondering why BBS were a central part of VLEs and LMSs from the very beginning (I didn't use Moodle 1.0 but I'm guessing it had a BBS - in fact the Moodle history document I found:

https://docs.moodle.org/25/en/History

says that Martin made the very first post in the first Moodle course, meaning it must have used BBS).

Back to my original question: Why was the BBS integrated as a central feature?

If I may hazard a guess, I'd say it must have had something to do with the way programmers used Usenet and other BBS in the 80s and 90s as they collaborated to write code and solve problems ("I just created this cool thing. Will you try it out?" etc). And since programmers created the first VLEs and LMSs (early WebCT and Blackboard, for example, and then Moodle), they thought it would be cool to put their own learning tool into the LMS? I'm just speculating here, so I'd really appreciate hearing from someone who knows more about the provenance of discussion forums in Moodle and other VLEs.

A related and interesting topic is how instructors today are "given" the VLE w/o really appreciating where the discussion-forum tool came from and how it can be most effectively used. Most instructors are not programmers and have no experience of collaborating in the way many of us would think is native to the BBS, so helping them to use it effectively is a challenge. But that's a topic for another day. Any insights into the origins of the discussion forum in Moodle I would be really glad to hear about! Thanks.  -  Peter

 
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Tim at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Re: History of the Moodle forum
Core developersDocumentation writersParticularly helpful MoodlersPlugin developers

Read https://docs.moodle.org/27/en/Pedagogy

That explains a lot of the early design thinking that went into Moodle.

 
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Picture of Peter Seaman
Re: History of the Moodle forum
 

Thanks, Tim, for referring me to the pedagogy document. It helps me understand some of Martin's early thinking about the design of Moodle, and it raises two further questions for me:

1) I'm guessing that the early version of WebCT had a discussion forum of some kind, so did Martin consciously say, "That's a really effective learning tool and I'll copy it"? I remember him telling the story of Moodle at a moot I attended, and he said something like, "I had used WebCT but I thought 'I can do better!'" So in what ways does the Moodle forum differ from the discussion tool in WebCT and other early VLEs? Was there a conscious effort to differentiate the Moodle forum in specific ways?

2) I fully appreciate the ideas of constructivism and constructionism, in which asking questions and building knowledge through negotiation are keys to effective learning. The discussion forum seems like a perfect tool to enable that sort of questioning and negotiation, and thus it's an obvious choice for inclusion in any VLE, including Moodle. But what I see in my work with instructors in higher ed is something altogether different: Most instructors do not approach the discussion forum as a tool for questioning and negotiating; instead they view themselves as experts in a subject area. Since their knowledge is in a fully formed state, they don't see how anyone would use the discussion forum to ask questions and negotiate and engage in the messy business of figuring stuff out - which is exactly the way that programmers use "message boards" of all types to work through issues and challenges they face. Hence I see a lot of discussion prompts like these:

  • Discuss the family structure in America.
  • Minimum wage vs living wage: What are the issues?
  • Introduce yourself to the class and then respond to one other person's posting.

The fact is, we simply don't have discussions like these in real life; instead we communicate to solve problems. But too many instructors, in my experience, use the discussion tools in VLEs to "discuss the course content." So my question: Since the Moodle forum *can* be used in this way (which is to say, used badly), what design features of the Moodle forum militate against this kind of mis-use? Is the potential for mis-use something that Moodle's designers have thought about and tried to defeat through design, or does Moodle's discussion tool behave like most such tools in VLEs that allow for mis-use?

Maybe these questions are beyond the scope of what anyone has considered, but I thought I would pose them. And BTW, this use of a discussion forum - to question, probe, negotiate, wonder, push boundaries of thought - is exactly what I hope to see but seldom see in online classes I work with. It's not a native behavior in most students, and - I'm afraid to say - in instructors. Thanks.  -  Peter

 
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Picture of Peter Seaman
Re: History of the Moodle forum
 

Well, I'm hearing nothing but crickets (besides Tim's helpful comment), so perhaps no one else is interested in this issue. Or maybe I'm trying to discuss it in the wrong place? The issue lives at the fascinating (to me) intersection of design and use of tech tools, so if anyone knows of a forum in which to discuss that issue, please let me know.  Happy Moodling! Thanks.  -  Peter

 
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Just wondering . . .
Re: History of the Moodle forum
Particularly helpful Moodlers

I saw your question Peter, but didn't really know how to respond.

The terminology has evolved to "Online forum" rather than BBS.

You say: "how instructors today are "given" the VLE w/o really appreciating where the discussion-forum tool came from and how it can be most effectively used" which is more like an assertion than a question.  We do not do that where I come from.

There is no reason to give teachers any lesson in history for them to be effective.

You also state that programmers created . . .  the first VLE's etc.  Teachers were also involved, and some were primarily teachers.

We can re-write history of courses - you are right to ask Martin direct.  Your choice of the word 'collaboration' is critical.  It is NOT mere communication.  In my opinion there are few better tools online for communication/ interaction/collaboration/ sharing/news/help than a fully featured forum.  Moodle does not have one yet.  Basic functionality that has been around for over a decade in other parts of the LMS/Forum world is only now being looked at to incorporate into Moodle.

Why are you asking?

Do yu have any clearer questions?

-Derek

 
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Picture of Peter Seaman
Re: History of the Moodle forum
 

Hi Derek: Sorry for the delay in replying - things got busy.

I am asking about the history of the forum in an attempt to discover whether the founders of Moodle (and possibly other VLEs) designed the forum from "first principles" - "We would like the tool to do x, so we'll design it in this particular way" - or just took an existing BBS and stuck it in the VLE. If it's the former, then we could possibly learn a lot from those intentions. But if it's the latter, then we're kind of stuck with how we got the thing, and we might have to do work-arounds to get it to do what we want.

If you are lucky enough to work in an environment where people are really thoughtful about using the online forum, then you are indeed lucky. But in many environments, instructors really are given the VLE and told to teach with it, without any deeper appreciation for how it could work. Here's one thing I've seen a lot of:

One really wrong thing I see instructors do with the discussion forum lies in the way they grade contributions - namely in grading the quantity and quality of postings, as if the discussion board were a "lite" version of the assignment dropbox. When instructors frame the learning task in this way, they force students into thinking of postings as assignments. But that's not the way early BBS, or even the best modern BBS, operate, where active minds use the forum to ask questions, test theories, figure out what they think, and so forth. This kind of "working out your thoughts in the forum" is anathema to some instructors, who just want to see fully formed, correct responses. So I would say to instructors, "Set authentic tasks for small groups of students to accomplish, with the discussion board as their place to talk about it. Don't intervene and don't evaluate the quality of the postings, but instead monitor them for process. You can grade participation but if you do, assign it a low weight to it, and find other ways to evaluate the learning in class. The discussion forum should be an active, messy place for learners to test and work out ideas, not a de facto assignment dropbox full of manicured postings, dressed up to look pretty for the instructor."

If none of this resonates with you, that's fine. You mentioned that the Moodle forum isn't very full-featured yet, so I would be interested in hearing what some of those other features are. Thanks.

Peter

 
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Just wondering . . .
Re: History of the Moodle forum
 
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Picture of Peter Seaman
Re: History of the Moodle forum
 

Thanks, Derek, for sharing the links. I now realize (not sure why I didn't earlier) that the Moodle forum is in a constant state of development (or re-development). So maybe I can glean some ideas not from the moment when the first forum started in the first version of Moodle, but from the here and now.

It appears that the ongoing development of the Moodle forum occurs as a result of a democratic process, where interested parties make suggestions about what they'd like to see in the forum (based on what is possible to program) and then people vote on those suggestions. Also I'm sure there's a "sweat equity" provision, where a feature becomes more likely if a programmer is willing to do the work of creating it, making it more likely people will say, "It's already done - let's include it!"

All of which takes me back to my original question, which may be unanswerable: Are instructional tools like the Moodle forum an incarnation of instructional best practices, or are they simply a collection of features based on what current technology allows us to do? It's probably a little of both, though maybe more of the latter and less of the former.

One more quick example: I see the "Like" button is a proposed feature. The "Like" button comes from Facebook, I take it, and is a popular way of showing support for a position, a photograph, etc. In many ways, a "Like" designation is necessarily vague: it can mean "I find your photo funny" or "I too believe what you believe based on your political comment" or "England is lovely in spring." In ruminating on the pros and cons of the "Like" button, we can then ask in what ways it aids or hinders instruction. I can see many teachers arguing against inclusion of a "Like" button, as it provides a means of NOT having actually to talk about an issue or articulate one's thoughts. And there probably are arguments in the other direction ("If a student is not going to participate at all, at least she can 'Like' something"?).

I understand the issue is messy, which is why it interests me and perhaps will interest others also. Thanks again.

Peter

 
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moi!!! it is what is is...
Re: History of the Moodle forum
Documentation writersParticularly helpful Moodlers

Hi Peter, I have been reluctant to reply here, for two reasons. First, being a literal type, I know little of the the history of Moodle forum and have little interest, and second, I do not work in higher education. Essentially this means I work with kids who's idea of critical examination and discussion starts and ends with "That sucks!" I keep telling them that is is OK to say something sucks, but they have to back their statements up with evidence. I will get glimmers of such provision, but usually, evidence stops at "Because it does."

Forums are for adult learners, great in unis and training colleges, not so good for middle or high schools. They can be for younger students, but whenever I have tried it, it has always been shutdown with varying degrees of acrimony. Perhaps I should stop doing this in the industrial rust-belt schools I have been working in and try for a leafy green school - but that would not be anywhere near as much fun. 

Forums have a place, but realistically, that does not need to be a Moodle Forum, WordPress, or Elgg may be just as useful for conversation, but then so is in-class discussion.  


 
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Picture of Visvanath Ratnaweera
Re: History of the Moodle forum
Particularly helpful Moodlers
Hi Peter

My answer is trivial, that's why I didn't write earlier. I don't think LMS developers just adopted BB (calling them web forum) because they were already familier with the concept through FidoNet, Usenet, etc. rather they want to reproduce the classroom discussion in their LMS and BB is the closest, in any case the simplest, way of doing it. The web forum has the added advantage that it could be combined with e-mail, or tarned as e-mail, for the User.

Yes, the second topic, helping the instructors to use the forum effectively, that's indeed for another day! I've just finished a learing activity exactly on this topic, I called it "Scaling the forum". I'm still tired.
 
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Picture of Peter Seaman
Re: History of the Moodle forum
 

Thanks, Visvanath. I do not find your reply trivial, but rather quite helpful, and I'd be interested in hearing more about "scaling the forum." If you have links to pages or other materials, I'd be happy to have them. There is, after all, a difference between getting the discussion forum to work technically, which the forum "Moodle in English > Activities and resources > Forum" seems to focus on, and using the discussion forum effectively for teaching. I'd like to know more about the latter. Thanks again.  -  Peter

 
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