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Some ideas for improving forums - well Moodle 2.1 forum anyway

As a learner in a research methods unit that is delivered part face-to-face and part online via content and forums, my experience of the Forum in Moodle 2.1 has left me thinking how it could be improved. What would I like to experience or be able to do/know but cannot, given the current design of the tool.

In this short post I would like to list the things I as a learner (to be more specific, a social learner) would like to see. Here is a screenshot of a typical Moodle forum:

Problem No.1: I could stare at this screen for a whole day and it would never change - the system is not telling me if anything in the forum is changing. Why should I have to click refresh? Do any modern systems require me to click refresh to see updates??? Isn't this kind of dynamic/"intelligent" system behavior what students now expect? (refresh? what?)

Problem No.2: I feel quite isolated and alone - I cannot see people coming or going - who is in the forum with me, if anyone? This is like being in a room and seeing messages suddenly appear on a whiteboard - but not having any hint at all that someone is in the room with me - no wonder people take a while to get used to FORUMS!

Do current online forum really support engagement? Is this social construction of knowledge at it's best? I think it could be improved.

From a student perspective "trying" to engage with others online via a forum I would like to see the following improvements:
  • The unread and replies count should increase dynamically without my intervention. I want to see what others are doing real time. While I am multitasking with my weekly forum window open I want the system to tell me when something changes. If all I want is the forum digest I wouldn't even have this forum open unless I wanted to contribute. I have this forum open because I want to engage with my peers and teachers, and to know when others want to engage with me or even others in the group.
  • I am seeking engagement and social presence - I want to see who else is active in the forum when I am rather than others being invisible, the only evidence of their interaction with the rest of us being a fully constructed post. I would like the forum to actively tell me when someone is reading a post - when someone is writing a post - I want to see activity. I want to know when people are in the forum in real time so that I can also choose to interact with them synchronously by clicking on their name. I could do this because Moodle has shown me they are present in the learning space (not - moodle in general - the learning space in this context is the forum - we might call it "contextualized presence") at the same time I am. Moodle should help learners connect in these contextualized spaces as well as the "oh your logged in to" macro kind of contexts.

In my view forums as a communications medium and an information system need to move past the Asynchronous and into the mixed up world of both Asynchronous and Synchronous - these modes don't have to be mutually exclusive. In my view we need to do this in-order to better support connectivist and social constructivist approaches and learning styles and bring our beloved forums into the 21st century.


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