The CCLE Forums allow instructors, TAs, and students to engage in discussion via an online forum. The basic format of the CCLE Forums is similar to other forums found online (such as those employing the Vbulletin system). There are several different structures for the CCLE Forums, ranging from a basic free-form style to threads where each user is allowed only one response. All these options will be covered below, starting with a basic forum setup. Regardless of the particular style employed, all forums can be configured to email notification of new posts to either all course users or to a restricted subset of users.
Use of Forums
Forums can be useful for a wide variety of purposes. The standard use is to engage students in discussion of a certain topic. For example, students may be required to post a short opinion statement based on a week’s readings. An instructor could also use the forum to test knowledge acquisition at a particular time in the course by establishing a “Q and A” forum where users see an initial question, which must be posted by the instructor, but cannot see subsequent posts until they submit a post of their own.
Despite these specialty formats, a forum can also be a straightforward platform for discussion with few limitations, where students and users alike can start their own topics, post responses to any topic, and engage in ongoing conversations.
Using this documentation
It is recommended that the reader of this document uses a CCLE site (either a course or collaboration site available to you) to follow the steps outlined below. This will reinforce the how-to steps of forum creation and also allow the reader to see the CCLE environment first hand.
How to create a basic forum
With Editing On, click the orange “Add an activity or resource” button, and choose Forum. Forums can be added to any individual section of a course site, such as “Site Info” (where participants first land when going to a course site), an individual week section, or any other section created by the instructor.
After clicking “Add”, the main settings page will be shown. At this stage, we’ll stick with basic options (all settings are described later in this document). Give the Forum a name and description on the Adding a New Forum screen. This description can be displayed on the course page by clicking the checkbox below the text box. Keep the forum type as “Standard forum for general use.” Scroll down and click Save and display to see your new forum.
There is also an option to make forum posts anonymous. Use this option if you want students to be able to make posts without revealing their names. Scroll to the ‘Anonymize posts?’ and select from the ‘No, never’, ‘Yes, Always’ or ‘ Yes, let the user decide’ depending on what works best for your particular activity. If this option is selected, the posts will be anonymous to the course instructor as well.
Below you can see how an empty new forum appears. We’ll need to create a discussion topic to get things going. Remember that Forum is a top level term – forums show up on the CCLE page. Within any Forum can be any number of Topics.
Click on Add a new discussion topic. The next page you see has various settings for the topic, as seen in the below image.
Note: Two sections must be filled out, the Subject and Message. Next is a checkbox that allows you as the discussion creator to be subscribed to the forum and receive notifications any time someone posts. (Enabling a discussion subscription may result in a large amount of notifications in the case of a large class or a situation where users are highly interactive).
You can also add an attachment, such as an image or pdf, or pin the discussion to the top of the Forum listing. Finally there are options for display period. When activated, these settings control the visibility of the topic. The topic creator can enable a display start and end. An example is if on a Friday evening you want to create a forum for the next week, you can set the Display start to the following Monday.
We now have a discussion topic! Topics can be edited up to 15 minutes after they are created. The default display of topics in a forum is seen in the below image. At the forum level view, we can see the Discussion Topic name, who created it, how many replies are present, and when the last post was made.
At the forum level view, there is a column on the far right that displays subscription information. An open envelope indicates the user does not currently subscribe to the topic, while a closed one indicates a subscription. Clicking this envelope will toggle the subscription.
Below is an example showing the same view but with a pinned topic. This topic has a pin image in the first column and will always appear at the top of the topic list.
Our basic forum is now ready to go, and users can start posting responses. The basic forum has a relatively fluid and open setup, so within a given topic people can respond to the opening comment as well as respond to comments other users have left. The screenshot below shows a topic with various responses. Note here that our display uses indentation to visually indicate response paths. An indent means that the comment is in reply to the comment above it. If instead we were to see three comments with the same alignment after the opening post, we’d know that all three were in response to the original post.
The display of the forum can be modified by any user to one of a number of options. These selections can be found in a dropdown box at the top of any discussion topic. The default seen so far is “Display replies in nested form.” The list of all options is as follows:
Display replies flat, with oldest first
Display replies flat, with newest first
Display replies in threaded form
Display replies in nested form.
The two “flat” display options remove the indentation. The threaded form greatly reduces the amount of information seen on the main topic page. When this option is selected, instead of having all the responses fully visible, only their titles are displayed on the main page along with post date (indentation is also shown). A user must click on each response title in order to see the actual response.
Congratulations! We’ve set up a basic forum and covered how users can alter the display of the forum.
Enable Email Notifications
You may wish to receive notifications of when new responses are added to a particular discussion. This feature can be enabled in one of two ways. We’ll begin at the Forum level, a view of which is seen below. We’ll go over a few different areas on this screen where subscriptions can be managed.
On the right side of the forum screen is a gear symbol. When you select the gear symbol a drop down menu of several administrative options becomes available to people with the necessary rights. Remember, subscription results in a notification of each and every new posting.
Subscription mode is the primary universal setting. You can set this to Optional, Forced, Auto, or Disabled. Optional allows each user to modify their own settings for either the forum or individual discussion topics, whereas Forced will subscribe everyone to the entire forum. Auto will subscribe everyone initially, but users can choose to unsubscribe at any time. Disabling subscription prevents any subscriptions from taking place.
Subscribe to this forum will subscribe you to all the discussions in the current forum.
The far right column of the discussion topic list is where a user can subscribe or unsubscribe from individual discussions. An open envelope indicates that the user is not currently subscribed to the individual discussion, whereas a closed envelope means they are.
Unsubscribed user (below)
Subscribed user (below)
Finally, one can change the subscription status of individual discussions from within each branch. After clicking on a discussion title in the main form screen, a user is taken to the particular discussion. Here, at the top of the page, just under the title, will be either Subscribe or Subscribed. The former indicates that a user is not currently received notifications while the latter means they are.
The above sections have outlined the initial steps in creating a basic forum and adjusting subscription settings. These steps will often be all that is needed to set up a forum for most instructional needs. There are, however, many other settings for a forum. These settings will be detailed in this section one by one. Settings can be viewed upon initial creation of a forum or can be accessed by an administrator later via the gear icon on the right side, visible while in a forum, and clicking Gear Icon> Edit settings.
Forum Type: The different types of forums will be detailed below.
Attachments and word count: The maximum size of individual attachments as well as the number of attachments can be changed. Word count can be turned on or off. This is a useful setting if students are required to submit a certain amount of words in a post.
Subscription and Tracking: Subscription can also be modified in the settings page. Often at the beginning of the term it is useful to set this as Auto, which will initially subscribe users but allow them to change settings later. Read tracker enables participants to easily check which posts they have not yet seen by highlighting any new posts. If set to optional, participants can choose whether to turn tracking on or off via a link in the administration block. (Users must also enable forum tracking in their forum preferences.)
RSS: Enable and set feed to include posts or discussions as well as setting the number of articles to be included in the feed. The default is 5.
Discussion locking: Enabling discussion locking allows you to lock a discussion after a period of inactivity.
Post threshold for blocking: Enabling a time period for blocking tells the system to block a user for a given amount of time if they post more than a set number of replies. A block as well as a warning threshold can be set.
Turnitin settings: It is possible to send forum posts through the Turnitin plagiarism checking service by enabling this option. Doing so will generate a similarity report for each post after a processing period, viewable by instructors on the post itself.
Ratings: This settings block allows a kind of grading to be assigned to individual responses. Note that only individuals with certain supervisor/teaching role permissions will be able to assign ratings unless permissions are changed in the administration block.
The aggregate type defines how ratings are combined to form the final grade in the gradebook.
Average of ratings - The mean of all ratings.
Count of ratings - The number of rated items becomes the final grade. Note that the total cannot exceed the maximum grade for the activity. This is useful where the sheer count of posts is what is in question. Thus if a student is required to post 4 times a week, the maximum setting could be 40 (4x 10 weeks) with each rated item counting toward the total. Essentially a quantity over quality setting.
Maximum - The highest rating becomes the final grade
Minimum - The smallest rating becomes the final grade
Sum - All ratings are added together. Note that the total cannot exceed the maximum grade for the activity.
Administrators can also set the kind of rating to be utilized. The scale can be set to either point or scale, the former involving a maximum grade number and the later utilizing grading scales included in a particular CCLE page (ie. Default competence scale).
When ratings are enabled, a box will appear beside each post.
The last setting for Ratings involves restricting ratings to posts within a date range.
Common Module Settings: Assists with group mode settings, but this is something that will likely not be utilized for forum activities.
Restrict Access: Can be used to restrict forum access to a particular group of students or only a number of individual students. A scenario where this may be useful is in a large class where only students in a particular section should be given access.
Alternative/Advanced Forum Styles
Throughout this document, we’ve used a standard forum intended for general use. There are, however, several other styles of forum that can be utilized for specific purposes. This section describes each available type.
The forum type is changed under General Settings. Here there is an option titled Forum Type with a drop down box beside it. The five types of forums are:
A single simple discussion - A single discussion topic to which everyone can reply (cannot be used with separate groups). Clicking on the forum brings the user to the initial discussion paragraph, and each participant can make a reply or reply to other replies.
Each person posts one discussion - Within the forum, each participant can post exactly one new discussion topic, to which everyone can then reply. Participants are only limited to the one initial discussion post but can make an unlimited number of replies to each topic.
Q and A forum - Once instructors post an initial question, which requires both a subject and message, course participants can respond. Students can see that replies have been posted, but the subject, author, and content of each reply is hidden until they themselves have posted a response.
Standard forum displayed in a blog - like format - An open forum where anyone can start a new discussion at any time. Unlike the standard format which lists discussion subjects in a table , the ‘blog-like’ format features the author’s information and avatar and displays both the subject and initial message. To the bottom right of each post is a “discuss this topic” link that takes users to a page where they can view and create replies.
Standard forum for general use (default) - An open forum where anyone can start a new discussion at any time. Discussion subjects and authors are listed in a table that also shows the number of replies and unread posts. Users must click on the subject to see the discussion’s initial message.
General Notes on the use of Forum Types:
Note that the Standard forum — which is the default — or the Standard, blog-version work best as a sort of “discussion area” for a course site where anyone can start new topics, each topic functioning as the start of a discussion thread. Because of the free-for-all nature, this type is not the best format for weekly graded discussion assignments that may require a more rigid format.
Many instructors prefer to use the Single Simple Discussion as they want to offer a single prompt to which everyone should reply on the same thread. Such a format works better in situations where an instructor wishes to offer weekly discussion assignments.
The Q&A type is a variation on the Single Simple type in that each student would be required to post before being able to read or respond to other posts. Therefore this would also be an option for a graded forum assignment.
Permissions may need to be adjusted from time to time. For example, while a Q and A forum by default does not allow students to post questions, an instructor may wish them to do so.
Permissions can be accessed on the right side of the page after accessing the drop down menu from the Gear Icon.
The permissions page, seen below, lists various abilities with roles allowed to do each. It is important to note that there is an allow column as well as a disallow column. The arrow button circled in green in the screenshot ADDS rolls to the allow list, whereas the one in red puts rolls on a disallow list.