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Set up Forums

Why Do This

Forums are one of the most powerful and versatile activities in Cougar Courses. A well-run forum can stimulate a thoughtful exchange of ideas, motivate students to be involved, give the shy students a voice, or act as a team workspace. In online courses, the forums may be the primary method by which you, the Instructor, build that sense of community which is so crucial to retention. Forums can be set up with groups, forum posts can be graded, and students can submit attachments to forum posts and replies.

See the About Forums help guide for a thorough introduction to the different ways to use forums, how to write effective forum questions, and a description of the 5 forum types and when to use each.

Jump to:

Create a Forum

  1. Log onto Cougar Courses and go to your course.
  2. In the Contents area at the top, click on the topic where you would like to add the forum.
  3. Once selected, scroll to the bottom of the topic.
  4. Click the Create Learning Activity link at the bottom left of the topic.
    create learning activity link

  5. In the list of Activities, click on Forum.

    select forum from the list of activities

  6. Type the title of the forum in the "Forum name" box. Type the instructions in the Description box. Choose the forum type (see descriptions below) from the drop down menu.

setting for the forum topic, prompt, and type

NOTE: Include specific instructions for the students in the description section regarding the subject of the forum, the grading criteria and number of initial posts and replies you expect, as well as the due dates for the initial prompt and any responses.

Forum Types

  • A single simple discussion

    Instead of multiple discussion topics (aka threads) within a forum, this only has one. Whatever you put in the description becomes the first post. Students can only reply to this post or the other replies. All posts are on one page.

    This forum type does not work with groups.

    Example: Sam wants to find out what computer equipment the students own. He posts the first question and students respond to him. Everyone can see all the responses on one screen.

  • Each person posts one discussion

    Visually similar to the Standard forum. The difference is each person can only start one discussion topic, though they can reply to an unlimited number of posts.

    Example: Sam wants each student to start their own discussion topic and use it to post their favorite movie. They will put the title of the movie in the subject line and explain why it is their favorite in the message box. Students will respond to a movie that interests them. Each student will have one initial post.

  • Q and A forum

    The instructor posts the questions. Students reply with their answers. Students cannot see any other answers until AFTER they have posted themselves and the 15 minute editing window has passed.

    Example: Sam wants to make sure the students have watched a movie and can answer a specific question about a scene in the movie. He posts the question "After watching The Godfather, what would you have done different after Sonny learns Carlo has beaten his sister again?" The students reply to the question without seeing what anyone else has answered. After they post, they must wait 15 minutes until the editing window has passed until the can view and reply to the responses of their peers.

    Note: When using the Q & A forum type, you must start the forum by using the Add a Question button. The students will read your question and click the reply link in the bottom right to post their answer.

  • Standard forum for general use

    The default forum type. Anyone can start new discussion topics or reply to existing posts at any time. Discussion topics are displayed in a table with the following information: subject of topic/thread, who started the thread, who posted last in the thread, and how many current replies in the thread. To view a thread, click on the subject.

    Example: Sam asks the students to reflect on the movie and which emotions they felt as they watched it during specific scenes. Students post their reflection by starting a new discussion topic. They can also respond to another student's post. They do not have to wait before seeing the responses and can create multiple discussion topics.

  • Standard forum displayed in a blog-like format

    This forum type works like the standard forum, but instead of the table the first post of each discussion is displayed fully so students can read it and then choose to respond by clicking the "Discuss this topic" link in the bottom right of the post.

    Example: Going back to Sam's discussion on the movie, he could use this format so the students could see the full text of everyone's favorite movie at a glance without having to click into each discussion topic.


 Forum Settings and Options

There are ten different sections of settings when creating a forum.

 *indicates new for Fall 2020

  • Availability*

    To set a Due Date, check the box for Enable. Then set the date and time. The due date will show in the calendar, Deadlines section on the students’ My Course page, and near the top of the page when in the Forum. Students can still post and reply after the due date. The Cut-Off Date, if enabled, is the date and time when students can no longer post or reply. Unfortunately the cut-off date does not show in the calendar or deadlines section, but it does display in the forum once the cut-off date has passed. Once the cut-off date and time has been reached a message will display at the top of the forum that says “the cut-off date for posting to this forum is reached so you can no longer post to it. “

     availability section

  • Attachments and word count

    By default students can attach files to their posts. This can be useful if students are sharing their work. Note: if students are sharing audio or video files they should not attach them to their post. Instead they should upload the file to Youtube and then paste the link in the text of their post.

    If you do not want students to attach any files, set the Maximum number of attachments to 0.

    If you want students to see a word count when they compose their post, set Display Word Count to Yes. Currently there is no way to set a word limit.

    attachment and word count settings for forum

  • Subscription and tracking

    When a user is subscribed to a forum it means they receive an email when anyone posts in that forum. There are 4 possible Subscription Modes. We recommend keeping the default, which is Optional Subscription. This means each user can choose to subscribe to the forum. If set to Forced Subscription, every user in the course is subscribed to the forum and there is no way to unsubscribe. So every user will receive an email for every post. For example, the Announcements Forum is set to Forced Subscription. While this works well for the Announcements forum, we do not recommend it for any other forum. If set to Auto Subscription, everyone starts out as subscribed to the forum but can choose to unsubscribe to stop receiving emails. If set to Subscription Disabled, no one can subscribe to this forum.

    Read Tracking highlights the number of unread posts in the forum for each user. We recommend leaving this set to Forced.

    subscription and tracking settings for forum

  • Discussion locking

    This section allows you to automatically lock discussions (prevent any further posts) after a period of inactivity.

    discussion locking after a specific period of inactivity

  • Post threshold for blocking

    This section allows you to automatically warn and block students who post too many times in a set time period.

    post threshold for forum

  • Whole Forum Grading*

    If this is an ungraded forum, you can ignore this section and the next. If it is a graded forum, there are two ways to grade a forum: one student at a time, or one post at a time. One student at a time means you give one grade for each student’s entire contribution to the forum. One post at a time means you give a grade for each post, and the system determines the total for each student. If you wish to grade one post at a time, skip to the next section called Ratings.

    If you wish to grade one student at a time, here change the Type to Points. Then set the Maximum Grade. Next, set the Grading Method. Most likely you will keep the default Simple Direct Grading which means you will manually enter the grade for each student. If you have a rubric or grading guide you wish to use when grading, you can choose that method. Keep in mind you will need to build the grading guide or rubric after setting up the Forum in order to grade with that method. Please see our help guide on how to add a rubric to a forum.

    If you have categories set up in your gradebook, you can choose the desired Grade Category for this Forum. If you do not have any categories in your gradebook you can skip this setting.

    Finally, in the grading area for each student there is a setting to “notify student” that a grade has been given. This setting here determines whether the default for that setting is Yes or No.

    You can skip the next section.

     whole forum grading section

  • Ratings

    If this is a graded forum and you wish to grade one post at a time, first set the Aggregate type. The Aggregate Type sets how the final grade for this forum for each student is determined.

    • Average of ratings - The mean of all ratings for the student in that forum.
    • Count of ratings - The number of rated items becomes the final grade.
    • Maximum - The highest rating becomes the final grade.
    • Minimum - The lowest rating becomes the final grade.
    • Sum - All ratings are added together.

    Next, set the Maximum Grade.

     If "Restrict ratings to items with dates in this range" is enabled, it prevents you from grading a post that was posted outside of the set time range. It does not prevent students from posting, and students cannot see this date range. So students can still post outside of this range, but you will be unable to rate their post in the forum. Therefore, we recommend leaving this unchecked.

    Finally, if you have categories set up in your gradebook, you can choose the desired Grade Category for this Forum. If you do not have any categories in your gradebook you can skip this setting.

     ratings section

  • Common module settings

    Forums can be set to groups so that each group gets its own space within the forum. The groups must be created before they can be attached to a forum.

    1. Set the Group mode:
      • Separate groups - Each group member can only see their own group, others are invisible.
      • Visible groups - Each group member works in their own group, but can also see the posts of other groups. Students cannot reply to posts by other groups.
    2. Select a Grouping. See our help guide on creating groups and groupings for more information.

    group forum settings

  • Restrict access

    See our help guide on restrict access for more information on this topic.

  • Activity completion

    See our help guide on activity completion for more information on this topic.

When finished setting up the forum, click "Save and return to course" to be taken back to your course homepage. Click "Save and display" to view the forum.

If you chose the forum type Standard Forum, Standard Forum Displayed in a Blog-Like Format, Each Person Posts One Discussion, or Single Simple Discussion, your forum is then ready to go. If you chose Q&A Forum, you will need to add your question(s). See below.

Using the Q&A forum

  1. Create the question using the Add a new question button.
    Q and A forum type

  2. Give your question a Subject and enter your prompt in the Message box. If you click on Advanced at the bottom, you can attach a file or set a Display Start Date. We do not recommend setting a Display End Date as when that date and time is reached, the Question (and every reply) is hidden from students.

    When finished, click Post to Forum at the bottom left.

 subject and message boxes

  • Students select the discussion, read your “Question” and click reply to “Answer”.    

Using the Q&A forum with groups

When using the Q&A forum with groups, you must create the initial question for every group.

  1. Click Add a new question.
    Q and A forum type
  2. Give your question a Subject and enter your prompt in the Message box. Then, click the Advanced link at the bottom.
    subject and message boxes, and advanced link
  3. If you want all groups to answer the same question, scroll down and check the box "Post a copy to all groups". If you want to post a different question for each group, select the specific group for this question. Note: If you skip this step, while students will be able to view your question, they will not be able to reply. You must check the box "Post a copy to all groups" or select a specific group in order for the students to be able to reply.
    post copy to all groups, or select specific group

    You can also attach a file or set a Display Start Date. We do not recommend setting a Display End Date as when that date and time is reached, the Question (and every reply) is hidden from students.
  4. Click Post to forum. If you are posting a different question for each group, repeat steps 1-5 for each group.
    post to forum button
  • Students select the discussion for their group, read your “Question” and click reply to “Answer”.  If the question was not posted to their specific group, they will not be able to click Reply.