Establishing a Discussion Forum

Online learning can occur through collaborative asynchronous discussion forums in a learning management system (LMS). The purpose of a discussion forum is to share ideas and information for a distributed community. This may be an organisation or an online course with a group of about 20 people who have a shared interest communicating with each other on specific topic when they are located in different locations.

First the moderator or facilitator sets up the discussion forum, on a platform with this communication feature. Typically, this may be an on a course page that also has areas where resources are kept, including shared documents and links. Once the forum is established, the facilitator or moderator adds users to the forum. In this situation the facilitator manually adds users or participants because it is a closed community environment. An open community means that people may join at any time by self-enrolment.

This is an asynchronous feature within the LMS. An asynchronous discussion forum means that people make comments at different times, that is, not in real time. This means that a person can add a post to a forum, and it is read at a later date by participants within the forum. Synchronous is the term used for real-time and asynchronous not in real-time. The facilitator adds the title to the forum heading along with a description about the forum. This may include who is participating and enrolled in the forum, how long the forum may continue, and expectations of participants within the group and how they might respond. The facilitator adds a topic and a paragraph about it to set the scene.

The facilitator begins an activity by asking the participants to introduce themselves by adding some information about themselves, their context and something of interest. They encourage each person to add a comment about themselves. This means they click on a button to add a post and they add a comment and then submit it. If other participants are subscribed to the forum, they will receive and email either one by one or a digest once a week. The facilitator chooses when they will add comments. As in a face-to-face situation, the facilitator wants to encourage others to interact with other participants with them the group.

The facilitator chooses when to add a comment. Sometimes their role is to email people in the background encouraging them to add a comment. It is important for trust and respect to be built up at beginning and for people to get to know each other. If people are going to work in a collaborative manner, they need to have an idea of who they are interacting with. Therefore it is a good idea to set some interactive activities as the first initial activity, often equated to icebreakers in a face-to-face situation. Once people understand how to use the tools in the forum and know who is in the forum and a little bit about them they will feel happier to participate and not browse or watch from the sidelines.