Why you should join online forums

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Participating in an online forum is one of the best ways that you can maximize learning in your online class. It is an added venue to gather information and connect and interact with your facilitator and classmates. It can also ease the feeling of isolation the first time online learners might feel.

What are online forums?

In this article, we are focusing on online forums attached to an online class or course. Also called discussion forum or discussion board, an online forum is an “area where users share thoughts, ideas or help by posting text messages. Forums are different from chat because it’s almost never live and can be read at any time.” (Computer Hope). They are usually topical, meaning each forum is like a classroom where a single topic or “thread” is discussed.

They can be moderated or unmoderated. Moderated forums are those where messages are reviewed and approved before they can be published or posted. A person or computer software can moderate a forum and decide which messages can be seen or not depending on forum rules. Some moderators also answer questions and lead wayward discussions back to the main topic. Unmoderated forums are free-wheeling, meaning any member can post anything without having to go through screening.

Aside from forums attached to online classes, there are a host of forums on the internet for specific interests and purposes. Some of them are so large that they are called internet communities with threads ranging from video gaming to politics and religion. Examples of these are Quora, a question and answer forum; CanadaVisa Forum which discusses various topics related to immigration and settlement in Canada; and Discussions on eBrandon.ca which deals with various issues related to Brandon Manitoba.

Why joining is important

Forums are built for online collaboration. It is an essential tool when attending an online class because:

  1. You can learn more.It is an additional venue for learning. You can read other posts from your classmates and learn from their views, opinions, questions or through educational resources they share.
  2. You can ask questions. It is the right venue to ask questions if you’re lost in the class or if there wasn’t enough time to discuss your concern in the live (synchronous) class. You can also extend the discussion in the forum if you did not have the chance to speak or if you think that there’s more to be explored about the topic.
  3. You gain more skills. It is a great way to practice your writing and conversational skills in a safe venue with your peers. You’ll also have the opportunity to share your thoughts and formulate them better in written form.
  4. You learn digital skills. Participation hones your digital skills. You’ll learn more ways by which people interact online and develop your online etiquette. The more you participate, the more internet-savvy you will become.
  5. It facilitates networking. Participation creates a community with the same interests. It can even develop into a support group.
  6. Help improve classes. It can function as a venue for feedback. Insights from forums can continually improve the course based on learner interaction.

“Participating in an online forum is one of the best ways that you can maximize learning in your online class. It can ease the feeling of isolation the first time online learners may feel. It is also an added tool to gather information and connect and interact with your facilitator and classmates.”

What you should remember when joining a forum

  1. Follow forum rules. Stay courteous and respectful.
  2. Stay on topic. Don’t confuse others by bringing up opinions, question or concerns that are not relevant.
  3. Provide context. Provide a background or additional explanation when asking questions so that others will understand the concern fully. For example:
    • In the Coffee Chat this afternoon on (topic) some did not agree about _____________. In my culture, we believe that _______. This is why I was confused about the issue. Can you please explain a little bit more why they did not agree?
    • In the drop-in session on (topic), you shared a website for (topic). I could not find the link on the materials on the stated page. Can you please share it in this forum? Thank you.
    • It was an interesting session today on (topic). As a newcomer, I agree that it is important to know these matters to help us adjust. However, I did not understand the part about____.
  4. Review what you wrote before posting. Check your spelling, grammar and tone. Make sure that your message is clear and people will understand what you said.
  5. Participate. Comment, ask questions, share your opinions and answer questions if you feel you have the expertise. Help others to encourage a community of support.
  6. Connect with your teacher. Aside from emails, you can connect with your teacher/facilitator through a forum.
  7. Network with other learners. Forums are a great venue to connect with other participants who have the same interests and problems as yourself. Start conversations, share resources and other information with your classmates, you’ll be glad you did.

Sources: What research tells us about online discussion, John Orlando, PhD, Faculty Focus; Forum (definition), Computer Hope; Benefits of a discussion forum, Drs. Cavanaugh. Accessed May 31, 2019.

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