Using Moodle 2.0 discussion forum for language teaching

The discussion forum continues to be my favorite Moodle tool for supporting my EAP (English for Academic Purposes) course because it’s great for promoting

  • transparency
  • interaction
  • collaborative, student-centered learning
  • fluency in writing
  • reflective writing and critical thinking

Also, its course management features make evaluating students a lot easier.

Suggested activities

1. Post listening and reading questions

  • Embed lectures or insert links to readings for students; have them answer reading or listening questions. (note: check the copyright policies if your Moodle course is hosted in a university.
  • This helps to promote greater transparency when students can see one another’s answers and evaluate their own against others. Note that the discussion forum can be set up so that students can only view others’ answers after they post their own. (see “course management features” below)
2. Have teacher or student-led discussions
  • On Moodle 2.0, it’s easy for students to share video or other files. The students can add a video and post discussion questions for other students. This allows the students to take more control over their learning.
  • Given the asynchronous nature of the forum, students are often more capable of providing more reflective and in-depth comments.
3. Peer reviews
  • Have students to post their assignments on the forum
  • Assign them in pairs or small groups; and have them evaluate each other’s assignments based on a rubric.
4. Ask questions and socialization
  • Have students to post their questions on the forum, so that the teacher doesn’t have to answer the same question many times on email
  • Some students socialize and provide supportive comments to one another online. This facilitates cohesion as well as language use.
  • Some students have a different persona online and it’s quite interesting.
  • Also, as in classroom discussion, if conducted properly, teachers can participate with students on a more equal footing.

Course Management Features

1.  The General Forum VS the Q & A Forum
  • There are different types of forums. If you want to set up the discussion in a way that students can’t see other students’ answers before they post their answers, use the Q&A forum. If it doesn’t matter whether the students see others’ postings before they post, then use the General Forum.
  • Depending on what you want to do, sometimes using the general forum shows that you have more trust in the students; it gives more support for the students as weaker students can see other postings before they post. However, if the stakes are high, i.e., a huge percentage of students’ marks depend on it, it may be better to use the Q&A forum.

2. Assigning Grades

  • You can assign grades (qualitative or quantitative) for individual postings. The grades are recorded directly onto the Gradebook. This makes it easier to evaluate students’ participation at the end.

Final words

Should students be required to participate?

There are different views on this. Some believe that required participation (especially for an online course) takes away learner’s autonomy and may not be appropriate for learners who like to learn independently.

But as far as using the forum to support an EAP class, my view is that the discussion forum should be the front and center of the course, and participation (both in quality and quantity) should be graded. Some learners are not familiar with the technology; and they will not use it unless they are required to. In my experience, many students enjoy using the forum and find that it helps them to improve their writing.

How can I correct students’ grammar on a discussion forum?

You can always copy and paste and use highlights and etc. The forum is relatively dynamic that any conventions can be established.
But actually, I think using the discussion forum can help those language teachers who can’t help correcting students’ grammar in writing focus more on meaning.
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