Conducting a Seminar Online through a Moodle Discussion Forum
This is one of our series of guidance notes to ensure the continuity of education and the student learning experience during the current rapidly evolving Coronavirus situation. Its focus is on suggesting basic ways a seminar can be run online using a Moodle discussion forum.
You can download this PDF and add it to your Moodle discussion forums as a reminder for students and staff to collaborate professionally and politely. Etiquette guidance.pdf
Part 1: Converting a seminar plan to an online seminar
A seminar plan is often made up of questions for students to discuss, or activities for students to complete. The simplest approach to delivering this online is to keep those same questions/activities, and use a Moodle discussion forum to:
ask the question or give instructions for the activity to the students
gather in the student outputs
comment on those outputs and/or ask students to comment
From your existing seminar plan, choose the questions/activities which
are possible to complete in written form, both in terms of discussion and outputs.
require significant time and thought. (Quick responses to simple questions work well in a seminar but are harder in a written online space.)
Using these questions/activities, you can vary how students engage with them.
Ask all students to work on the same thing, individually.
Ask different students to work on different tasks, individually. You can let students choose which task, or ‘clump’ them – for instance, A-J by surname answer question 1, J-Z answer question 2.
Ask students to work on tasks in small groups, moving to a different virtual ‘location’ to discuss. You should provide the other ‘location’ for each group – this could be:
A Moodle Chat (the Moodle discussion forum is poor for quick conversations)
An outside platform with which you are familiar, if you are sure all students can access it
For any of these activities, you should request a specific output, for example:
Request one comment/output from each student, or each group, to be posted in the same forum. Specify a rough word-length, and a deadline for submission.
When the activity is complete, you can:
Allow time for students to read each other's contributions after the deadline.
Summarise and elaborate, yourself: identify a couple of points of specific interest from the outputs.
Encourage interaction: Ask students to work with things previously posted by other students. Again, this could be through:
Each student posting one response, in the same forum or on a different platform
Students returning to their small groups, in other 'locations', to discuss the first set of outputs. They share a group response.
Part 2: Further considerations for online seminars
You can prepare questions or instructions in advance and paste them into the forum.
In wording your prompts, avoid open-ended questions ("What did you think about…?"). Ask specific questions and/or use precise terms for activities ("Find three quotes that interested you and explain why.")
You could also prepare some short summaries or closing remarks that you intend to include. You could add to or edit these on the basis of student contributions.
You can also ask students to prepare specific things in advance to contribute: to write something or to bring a question, find an interesting online resource, take a photo.
If asking students to respond to other students' contributions, be explicit about what they should contribute. You could try
Jigsaw prompts: ask students to identify something that is currently missing
Snowball prompts: ask students to build on an existing contribution, e.g. add another example that supports it.
As well as written responses, you could allow students to share images. This allows them to draw, write freehand, annotate an article, or share a photograph.
The session may feel 'cold' compared to a normal seminar, without audio or video. Be explicit in writing: thank students for contributing, use positive words where you can (interesting / useful / great).
Publicise seminar timings – when students need to be online.
Explain in advance how much time are student expected to be online and participating. For a shorter seminar, the whole period; for a longer one (see next page) maybe checking at specific times.
Seminar 'location' – where students should be at the start of the session. If they need to be viewing a particular Moodle forum, circulate the link in advance. If you set up a new forum in Moodle, the forum should send an email announcement out to all users of that Moodle area.
Communicate a ground-rule expectation that students will engage constructively with one another, as is expected in face-to-face seminar.
If you respond to every student post early on, it will set expectations that you may find hard to meet. Aim to comment on the overall contributions – summarise the discussion or extend it, draw out one or two interesting comments.
This guidance does not dictate the duration of the seminar. You could run a seminar:
As a shorter, more synchronous seminar carried out over the time of an ordinary seminar, or slightly longer (to allow for slower communication and familiarity with the technology). Pros: This more closely follows original seminar format, and the timeslot is as expected for students. You would be able to moderate all online discussion. Cons: This could be difficult for students in different time-zones. There is less time for students to learn the interface and fix technical problems.
As a longer asynchronous seminar carried out over a day or longer. You would join the forum at specified times to give instructions and respond to student contributions, but are not continuously 'present'. Fore example, you could also post three questions in separate forums, and leave students to discuss for 24 hours (possibly with additional instructions re: length of posts, number of posts per student, or a requirement to respond to one other person's post). Pros: Students have longer to think and post and respond to one another. It may help students in different time zones to participate, and there is more time for students to understand the interface and fix technical problems. Cons: There is less concentration of student interaction. The forum could go unmoderated for long periods while you are not present. Students may not be available for a longer period.