Communication with your tutor and fellow students is an important part of most online courses. For fully online courses the discussion forums will form the heart of the study experience and will be the tool you use most to communicate with your tutor and other students. Even on courses where most communication happens face to face the discussion forums can still act as an important way of disseminating course information and sharing news. If you have a problem with the course materials, or if you wish to speak to your tutor privately, you can also use email to contact your tutor.
Activities using discussion forums can be identified on the course website by the forums icon, which looks like this: . You can also access discussion forums by clicking ‘Forums’ in the ‘Activities’ block on your course homepage. Depending on how your course has been set up, you may also be able to link to a specific discussion forum from within the course materials.
Most courses will include two special discussion forums, the ‘News forum’ and the ‘Common room’, that will be used throughout the course. Other discussion forums will be used to discuss specific topics.
The News forum
You can access the News forum by clicking on the ‘News forum’ link at the top of the course content area on your course homepage. The News forum will be used by the course team, your tutor and the IT Helpdesk to make important announcements about your course. Unlike the other discussion forums, you can only read messages posted to the News forum and not reply to them.
One other important difference about the News forum is that messages posted to this forum will also be automatically sent to you via email. Please note that the email messages are only sent as reminders and you cannot reply to them.
The Common room
You can access the Common room by clicking on the ‘Common room’ link at the top of the course content area on your course homepage. The Common room is a discussion forum that is available throughout the course for informal social chat which relates to the course in general terms. The Common room discussion forum works in the same way as the subject-specific discussion forums, which are discussed in more detail below.
Using discussion forums
With the exception of the News forum, all of the discussion forums work in the same way. Each discussion forum is identified by the forums icon. Each forum will look similar to the image below:
Finding your way around a discussion forum
At the top will be a box with the title of the discussion forum and a brief description of what the discussion forum is intended to be used for. In the main part of the window, you will see a table with the following column headings: ‘Discussion’, ‘Started by’, ‘Replies’, and ‘Last post’. If you have set the Forum tracking setting in your profile to highlight new posts you will also see an ‘Unread’ column.
The ‘Discussion’ column lists the different discussion topics. To read one, just click on its title.
The ‘Started by’ column shows the name of the person who started the discussion topic. Click on the person‘s name to read their profile.
The ‘Replies’ column shows how many messages have been posted in response to a discussion topic. To read any replies to a message you first need to open the original message by clicking on its title; you will then see any replies listed below the original message.
The ‘Unread’ column shows how many messages have been posted to a discussion topic since you last viewed it. This is particularly useful for keeping up with long discussions.
Finally, the column ‘Last post’ records the name of the last person to post a reply to the discussion topic and the date and time they posted their message. By default, the discussion topics are listed in order of the last post, with the most recent at the top.
If you have read something in a forum but now can no longer locate it, you can use the ‘Search forums’ block on the course homepage to find it. To use the search, simply enter the text you are looking for in the ‘Search forums’ box and then click the ‘Go’ button. For a more specific search, click on the ‘Advanced search’ link. This will display a form with more options, enabling you to carry out more detailed searches. For help on search options, click . Please note that the search facility only searches the discussion forums and not the course resources.
Replying to a discussion topic
To read message posted to a forum open it by clicking on the post title in the ‘Discussion’ column. The first message posted to the discussion topic will be displayed in full at the top of the page. If someone has replied to a message in the discussion topic, you will see any replies listed below. The default setting is to display replies in ‘nested form‘. You can change how messages are displayed by using the drop-down menu at the top of the page. We suggest that you experiment with the settings to see which option you prefer.
If you wish to reply to a message in a discussion topic, first open the message and then click ‘Reply’. The reply form will then appear:
At the top you will see the first message posted to the discussion topic and any replies listed below. If there are a lot of replies to the message, you will need to scroll down the page in order to see the text editor in which to type your reply. By default, the ‘Subject’ of your reply will be ‘Re:’ followed by the title of the message you are replying to. If you wish, you can edit the ‘Subject’ field.
Type your reply in the ‘Message’ box. You can use the formatting features of the text editor to format your message. Hovering your mouse over the buttons in the text editor will bring up a description of the function of that button.
You may like to use the emoticons such as to make it easier for others to ‘see’ when you are intending to be funny or ironic. As a general guideline you should try to keep the length of a message to a maximum of one screen, and ideally no more than a few lines. If you plan to write a longer message, we strongly recommend that you write your entry in a text editor, such as Notepad, on your PC, and then paste in your completed message to the discussion forum when you have finished. This is because the system can ‘time out’ if you take a long time to compose your message or reply to another message in the discussion forums.
If you wish, you can choose to receive an email copy of posts made to the forum using the ‘Subscription’ drop-down menu. See the ‘Subscribing to a forum’ section for further information about this.
If you wish, you can attach a file to your message using the ‘Attachment’ box. The ‘Attachment’ box works in the same way as the other file upload boxes (see the ‘Uploading files’ screen for further details of how to use it).
When you have finished, click on the ‘Post to forum’ button to post your message to the discussion.
Editing forum posts
Once you have posted a message to a forum you can edit the content for up to 30 minutes from the time you posted your original message. Do this by clicking the ‘Edit’ link underneath the message. Make the edits you wish to make and then click the ‘Save changes’ button at the bottom of the page to re-post your updated message. Note that you must finish editing and re-post your updated message within the 30 minute time period; otherwise any changes will not be accepted.
Starting a new discussion topic
In most cases, you will be able to start your own discussion topics within a discussion forum. To start a new discussion topic, click on the ‘Add a new discussion topic’ button, which you will find underneath the description of the discussion forum.
Seeing new contributions to discussions
If you have set the ‘Forum tracking’ setting in your profile to ‘Yes: highlight new posts for me’, each time there is a new contribution to a discussion you will be able to see this on the course homepage, as illustrated below.
Subscribing to a forum
When you post a new message or reply to a message in a discussion forum, you will see a field called ‘Subscription’ located immediately below the text editor. If you are ‘Subscribed’ to a forum, you will receive an email notification each time someone posts a message to the discussion forum (note that email messages are sent approximately 30 minutes after a post has been made). The emails are notifications only, so you cannot reply to the discussion topic directly from the email.
As default the form is set to ‘I don’t want email copies of posts to this forum’ but, if you do wish to receive these, use the drop-down menu to select ‘Send me email copies of posts to this forum’. If you wish to receive email notifications from any other discussion forum you can either select to subscribe to the forum by changing the setting when you send your first message to the forum, or you can click on the ‘Subscribe to this forum’ link which is displayed in the ‘Settings’ block when you are in that forum. (You can also use the option detailed below to automatically subscribe to all the forums you post to in a particular course, although this is not an option we would recommend.)
You can also choose how you are notified of new posts. You have the option of being emailed every post, receiving one email that collates all of each day's posts, or an email which collates only the titles of each day's posts. Click on your name (which is displayed just below the course title at the top of the page). Then click on the ‘Edit profile’ link in the ‘Settings’ block and make your choice of digest format from the ‘Email digest type’ drop-down menu. You can also use this form to set your subscription preferences for forums across an entire course using the ‘Forum auto-subscribe’ drop-down menu. The default option is: ‘No: don’t automatically subscribe me to forums’. If you change this to ‘Yes, when I post, subscribe me to that forum’ you will automatically be subscribed to all forums you post to and receive an email every time anyone posts to it. This is not an option we would recommend.
Changes to your profile will only take effect after you have clicked the ‘Update profile’ button at the bottom of the page. If you leave your profile without registering your changes in this way then your most recent changes will not be saved.
Unsubscribing from a forum
If you have subscribed to an individual forum or set the ‘Forum auto-subscribe’ setting to ‘Yes, when I post, subscribe me to that forum’ and change your mind, you can unsubscribe. To unsubscribe from an individual forum, open the forum and click the ‘Unsubscribe from this forum’ link in the ‘Settings’ block. To change the ‘Forum auto-subscribe’ setting, open your profile and change the ‘Forum auto-subscribe’ setting to ‘No don’t automatically subscribe me to forums’. If you change your settings remember to click on the ‘Update profile’ button at the bottom of the page to save the change.
Contributing to discussion forums using an iPad
If you are experiencing problems creating or replying to forum posts using an iPad, help is available on our Contributing to discussion forums using an iPad page.