DOWNLOAD:  Using Forums
 Using Forums

A. What is is a forum?

In this section you will find out what online forums are and what they consist of.
Online forums or Message/Bulletin Boards are meeting sites for discussion by people using the Internet. Their main aim is to promote interaction and communication via questions, answers and discussion (publicly visible messages: ‘posts’ from participants) on a particular topic. Thousands of online forums exist related to a huge variety of contexts: academic, professional, political, media, sport, health, social networking etc.

Forums in educational contexts can be used by students as social meeting places, a contemporary version of the Forum Romanum (7 BC; see Figure 1 above).

However, forums are used most frequently in relation to topics or information posted by the teacher as part of the course students are doing. For language learners, forums are especially useful for developing different types of asynchronous written skills. These can be developed through completion of a task set by the teacher and/or via discussion in a whole class forum or in smaller forums for groups of students working alone who then report back to the main class forum.

Forums usually consist of the following:

Users/members who post messages (‘posts’) there.
A moderator/teacher who manages/moderates the discussion and can edit or delete messages posted by participants.
Lists of messages, each including the subject title, the name of the sender and the date sent.
Threads: a collection of posts related to a particular topic, usually displayed from oldest to most recent.
Written, audio or video files attached to participants’ messages (‘attachments’)
Separate folders to store or archive messages.
FAQs (frequently asked questions).
An administrator responsible for technical aspects of the forum.

In many cases, academic institutions set up online forums for teachers, who then integrate these into their own courses. You will need to check if your institution is able to do this for you. If not, students will need to be directed to a forum set up in Moodle by the teacher (see Part B for more details), or a similar open-source learning web application, where a forum can be created as part of the course being offered.

B. Why would I want to use forums in my teaching?

1. Forums are a quick and easy way for teachers to pass on information and receive queries from groups of students regarding things like course schedules, work assignments, exams etc.
Posting this information on a class forum ensures that all students have access to the same information e.g. about assignments, submission deadlines etc.
2. Forums help develop writing and communicative interactive skills among students.
Students can draft, rewrite, and easily compare the original with subsequent versions. They can also see their peers’ work and be encouraged to comment on it and compare it with their own work.
3. They are flexible tools which can be used at different stages of a learning task
See section E: Practical suggestions for an example.
4. They can be used for whole class discussions or for students to work independently in small groups, moderated (or not) by the teacher.
Creating mini-forums for groups of students to work together to reach a common point of view for example, develops skills of collaboration and interaction.
5. They allow students time to reflect on and plan their posts and responses.
Students have time to revise their work before submitting it, referring to grammar reference materials for example and using the Spell-Checker. This can lead to improved, autonomous learning.
6. They are a way of ‘levelling out’ the participation of the more or less dominant members of a group
Shy students unwilling to participate actively in a face to face discussion can frequently feel encouraged to participate in an online forum discussion where they do not need to fight to get the teacher’s or fellow student’s attention.
7. They provide a semi-permanent record of what was said and by whom. This can be useful in providing back up evidence, for example, if students wish to review their own work later on.


This initiative is carried out within the framework of a cooperation agreement between the European Centre for Modern Languages and the European Commission, entitled INNOVATIVE METHODOLOGIES AND ASSESSMENT IN LANGUAGE LEARNING