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The forum tool is one of those aspects of Moodle that is so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible. Yes, you can use it to send announcements to the whole cohort, or highlight important news items. But can you teach with it?

The answer is yes, you absolutely can. You know you can communicate with students, but the forum tool is also a great way for your students to interact with – and learn from – each other.

Danilo Venticinque, lecturer in Magazine Journalism, wanted his level 4 students to get used to writing for an audience and to receiving criticism.

Students are, naturally, quite apprehensive about opening themselves up to criticism from their classmates, so Danilo introduced the task during the last 15 minutes of every session, giving him the advantages of oversight and persuasion. He asked them all to share their work and to read and comment on each other’s posts. Once they got used to the process, he could gradually transfer this out of the class and into their own time.

Danilo can see benefits to both himself and the students. The main one for him is that the forum begins to act as an FAQ for the whole unit and has reduced his email load. Instead of answering the same question in several individual emails, he simply posts it on the forum and everyone can see the answer.

He has also enjoyed seeing how the students react to each other’s work, giving him a window into their thinking processes.

For the students, the benefit lay in realising how useful constructive criticism could be, from both lecturer and peers – and not just their own. They now have access to a whole bank of writing, with the responses to each post. It’s become a valuable resource and they make use of it ever more frequently.

Best of all, it’s incredibly easy to set up, and can go a long way in helping your students get access to answers, and you to following your students’ writing development.