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  3. Forums
  4. Forum activities

Forum activities

Before jumping into a forum for the first time, make sure you know what activities it welcomes. For example, your module may separate a forum for discussion of study topics from one for social conversation, to make it easier for users to find what they are looking for.

"Forums give me the chance to think about what I'm going to say - so I find it much easier to make a worthwhile contribution."

Social conversation

Some forums are designed solely for social conversation or discussing leisure interests - social chat does help a group to 'gel'. If you meet your fellow students at face-to-face tutorials this happens naturally - you chat, discover things you have in common, find out who knows about what, and have a moan together and so on. The same kind of thing can happen among an online group within a forum.

Getting and giving help

Some forums exist solely for the purpose of getting and giving help. In a module study forum you may find that there may be quite a lot of questions about the module material, or study skills problems.

If you need help, send a post to the forum explaining clearly what you were trying to do and what went wrong in plenty of detail, and include any error messages or references that might help.

If you are offering answers, try to draw people out and help them express themselves clearly. Avoid jargon, don't patronise, and do consider whether the person might get more long-term benefit by being shown how to find their own answer rather than having it spelt out for them.

Group work and projects

Generally this kind of work has a defined timescale, and an end product such as a joint document, a website, or a plan. For group work to go well it needs everyone's participation and commitment, and a feeling of shared responsibility.

Forums can provide a very effective environment for group work as each individual can take part at a time that suits them. There is time for each individual to consider what others have said and decide how they can best contribute. Otherwise it works in much the same way as traditional group work, with the same requirements for planning, allocating tasks and commitment from all members of the group. Everyone needs to take responsibility for doing their bit of the work and for keeping to any policies or rules the group has agreed.


Discussion can help you understand the module material, give you practice in academic debate, and possibly to feed into an assignment. Participating in an online discussion takes effort, but it can also be the most rewarding type of activity in a forum.

There are two main benefits of engaging in discussion.

  • By pooling everyone's expertise, insights, knowledge and sources of information you end up with a much better understanding of a subject than you could alone.
  • By articulating your ideas, challenging other people's views and being challenged yourself, you modify and refine your views. You can explore ideas much more thoroughly in a discussion than you can individually.

As long as you use the netiquette principles of checking you understand what the other person said, and criticising the idea not the person, then it's fine to disagree (see current Computing Guide and new Computing Guide).

A discussion typically starts with a question or topic. Generally one or more people offer their views on the question. If it stops there, that is not a discussion, just a list of opinions.

  • The way to move on is to draw each other out, by asking questions like "What evidence is there that...." or "Why do you think that..... " or "What do you mean by ...."
  • The next thing is to find areas of agreement or disagreement. Don't be too defensive if people disagree with you.
  • Aim to build on what other people have said, to separate opinion from fact, and to look for areas the group has not covered.

News and keeping in touch

Some forums are used primarily as a place to post news items, such as announcements on a module forum or notices in the computing help forums about viruses or software updates. A forum can also provide an opportunity to let people know about events that are coming up.

Consider the forum aims and audience to see whether it is the right place to post such information.