Participation Forum


The Participation Forum module is a customized forum designed to engage students in a collaborative online discussion as a formative learning activity. It creates a required activity worth up to 10 points, which the students can earn by participating in the discussion. It has three primary features:
  1. The “Add a new group post” button creates “semi-private” areas for discussions by small groups of students (size 3 to 8 is recommended)
  2. It appends detailed task design instructions (below the forum topic questions) which describe the types of posts expected:
    • Group post
    • First post by each student
    • Questions
    • Answers
    • Reflective post
  3. It automatically generates a rating of participation based on the level of activity by each student (up to 10 points available) and stores it in the course Gradebook

Setting up Group Discussion Areas

The “Add a new group post” creates a “semi-private” discussion area intended for use by a given group of students, which can be labeled in the subject line of the Group post. The immediate result is that instead of students either posting as stand-alone individuals or replying haphazardly to any student, they know they should focus their discussion in their small group area. This greatly reduces the “noise level” of the discussion and the social barriers to asking questions. Note that no Moodle groups or groupings are required: the discussion groups are just ad-hoc groups (by table seating, or topic interest, etc), and can be re-organized for each forum activity if desired.

Once one member of the group creates the Group Post (without any content, but perhaps a list of the group member names), each member of the group Replies to that Group Post to put up their First Post. This first post is typically the initial perspective by the student after a short oral discussion. The rest of the activity in the Participation Forum is generally done as homework, and this asynchronous exchange of ideas over 1 or 2 weeks is where the students can socially construct a deeper understanding of the topic. Note that students are not limited to participating in their own group areas, but encouraged to go investigate what other groups are discussing, interact with them, and bring back fresh ideas or perspectives to their groups.

Task Design instructions

Figure 1 below shows the 5 steps of the task design instructions, including starting with the “Add a new group post” button, each student in that group replying with their first post, creating questions for groupmates, and then developing responsive answers. Over the rating period of the forum (1 or 2 weeks) this Q & A activity will raise the participation rating for each student. Students are expected to create a final reflective post about their learning process, changes in their perspective, etc. Figure 1 also shows the deadline date for the rating period (in red), which automatically defaults to 2 weeks from the date the instructor creates the activity.

Fig 1. The task design instructions of the Participation Forum plugin

Automatic rating of participation in activity

Figure 1 also gives information about the dynamically generated rating of participation the plugin develops and displays in the course Gradebook. The group post gets no rating, and the first post by each student receives a rating of 6 (out of 10 points possible). Students are highly motivated to at least put up one post, as they quickly realize the system will give them a zero grade for failure to participate if they do not. Once students have put up a first post, usually their initial perspective on an issue, they are asked to post a reply to another student’s first post and ask them a question. Useful templates of questions can be found in King’s Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning (1991, 1993, 2002). Posting this question will automatically raise their participation rating to an 8, and students can go check their forum grade in the gradebook to see the immediate reward. Now that all students have posted a question, they are prompted by the instructor to post answers to those questions within their groups, and those contributions raise their participation rating to an 8.67. Walking students through this process the first time in a face-to-face session is a good idea, although later work is typically done as homework.

A fourth post will raise their rating to a 9 out of 10 points possible. Additional student activity in the forum by posting further questions and contributing answers will continue to raise their forum activity grade, which asymptotes towards a 10. The final “capstone” post is expected to be a Reflective post, which helps them realize their change in perspective and structure the learning achieved.

Figure 2 graphs the relationship between the number of posts and the resulting participation rating of the forum activity.

Fig 2. Graph correlating the number of posts contributed by a student to the forum grade produced

The Participation Forum was designed by Brant Knutzen (Learning Designer for the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong), the plugin developed by Thomas Lextrait, and is released under the Creative Commons BY-SA license.

Video tutorials available:

Participation Forum + BushGrapher

Use the BushGrapher to plot Participation Forum graphs by checking the "group post" option in the settings page.
Visit the BushGrapher website for more information.