I am Xiaoyun from University of Nottingham, Ningbo China. I have a superb interest in contributing to moodle as it's the online learning platform I have been using for three years in our uni. I have also felt its continuously development throughout my usage, and so largely my impression about moodle is from a user's perspective.
A brief about the discussion forum usages in our uni
One thing I really want to see improvements on moodle is its discussion forum. I am not sure whether other universities have the same hassle, but in our university its rarely used by students (though it has been `promoted` by school's IT services and professors, like questions on moodle's discussion forum will answered first than any other media). As I noticed some modules that were taken by more than 200 students for half a year, their discussion forum may still contain 0 posts or ones posted by professors. Nearly all students prefer writing an email to professor and get answer directly from them.
My intention and apologize
I asked some of my friends thought on why they don't use the forum. The answer is a mixture of privacy issues and disappointment about forum design (sorry about that). Again, I am not sure about whether this situation only happened in our school, or if it is culture related that does not apply to the majority users of moodle. As English is not my mother tone, I am sorry if anything sounds unfriendly to you. My intention is just to be honest and help the development of moodle sincerely.
Perspective from students about the forum
As moodle will automatically send an email for every new posts and threats to every student inbox, some of my friends just fear to ask. Let's assume if you asked a question, and then it's sent to 200 other students inbox. If your question is okay, then there might be no problem. But in the case of the following three situations:
- What if you asked a dumb (sorry to use this word, but it did happen) question or even made a typo, won't you feel embarrassed.
- Or in another case you are a good students and frequently asked questions (of which problems are really hard that only you and professors can understand the discussion) on forum, then other people would assume "oh, its xxx student, a hard-working folk, or biased assuming this person only knows doing school work).
- There is another problem that might specifically applied to our uni. As it's a branch from the University of Nottingham, meaning courses are taught in English (same reason that's why we are using moodle in China), students whose english is not polished maybe more unlikely to post questions on forum, because doing this way everybody will know "this guy's english is so poor ".
These might be the main factors that (in our school) the forum is rarely used. Think from students' perspective, there is no benefits for an individual student to ask in the forum compared to using email, why should s/he bother using it (additionally students need to taking the abovementioned risks/prejudices).
Perspective from professors about the forum
On the other hand, let's look at the scenarios of professors in our school.
They know they should persuade students to use the discussion forum as best as they can, so any QA will be publicly accessible by anyone, which is the main downside of using emails (both time consuming and contains many repetitive works). I still remember there are times that professors complaining about they received hundred emails after a night :P, in the case if something needs urgent clarity on a task, everyone will send an email). Just two weeks ago, one professor said she spend her whole Sunday just for replying students QA's on emails and eventually she got annoyed.
Some professors made WeChat Groups (FB groups) for a module to avoid the above situation (but it's neither a good solution for both parties). One professor that I know have recorded all the QA conversations from Email into a PDF file and nicely organized it by modules lectures. So if anyone has any question, s/he will check the PDF file before asking a question. This solution is okay but still not optimal.
My proposed ideas
So I'd like to propose the following:
- Each post should have labels (at least indicating which lecture's question is about, so it's both easier for students looking answers during studying and reviewing for exams). So students can filtering posts by labels and checked the ones they are reviewing rather than going through all the posts again or guessing a possible keyword to search for! This function is implemented by many QA websites, like in edX every individual lecture has its own discussion, so the work for grouping QAs is nicely handled by default. The other popular QA website like piazza has the function to let professor determine what labels can have for each class, and the result is pretty nice: every posts have its own tags/labels, making future learners very easy to search relevant answers!
- Students and Professors can upvote and downvote or even make a post irrelevant or marked it as a spoiler. This need more discussion on how it should be implemented. Say, a professor's upvote cannot have the same effect as an individual student. Thus the posts do not need to show in chronologically order, which is the case now. It can show the most voted QA on the top. If students know they can get something important at the first minute by using the discussion forum rather than seeing a bunch of random QAs cluelessly, chances are students will become regular users of the forum.
- Professors can pin a post, in the case if important announcements need to be made. For example, we had a CS coursework which contains additional restrains on dependency version. This results hundreds of students failing to run their coursework successively. So everybody again were trying asking problem by email and a few on forum. Then the professor made a post on how to fix the problem. But as I can see there are still a few asking the same problem even though there is an answer already (This may be resulted from students not familiar with the forum, so they just jumping into asking than checking the previous posts). But anyway, if there is a way to pin a post (add some red exclamation marks in the title), people definitely won't miss!
- Students can ask questions anonymously (but not anonymous to professors). The motive for this is the very first three factors I mentioned before. In some other forums designed for learning, like edX and piazza, I know both of them has this function and there are a number of people using it! I also would feel much more engaged if I can ask QAs anonymously and become more active of course! I have checked it is included in the moodle 3.8 plans.
- Students can favorite a posts. As I see this is already in WIP according to moodle 3.7, I am not sure if I am eligible to work on this anymore.
- Emoji tab for the rich text editor and many other small improvements on the discussion forum.
I have attempted search moodle but didn't see my ideas on the list except for the last two. After looking through the development roadmap, I think it should be a good integration for future planned projects. The proposed ideas are just my general suggestion (also part of the drafted proposed idea) from my point of view for the discussion forum. Depending on the tasks complexity, I may need to select more/less if hopefully being selected. Moodle is already a very very good platform for learning, but from my point of view as a user, what's missing now is user interaction. I couldn't image how 'study life' would be easier if we have a well organized forum. It will dramatically decrease the time for students seeking helps and professors answer questions. The greatest thing might be to see this feature come to true (hopefully it would have my contributions there :p) before I graduate next year!
Thanks for reading this far!
Don't hesitate to post if there are any question. I would like to discuss the above proposed ideas in more detail in anyone interested