Saturday, 15 January 2011

Using Moodle Forums in Creative Writing Class


I did this with a group who are studying on our L2 Pre-Access Diploma in Progression, a new course which we are piloting aimed at students who were diagnosed as requiring a foundation year prior to studying @ L3.  We had been working on planning and drafting a piece of creative writing and this was pretty much complete with some excellent work from the students.  Definitely not for the faint-hearted  as their stories range from civil war in East Timor, to experiencing the Rwandan genocide as a child - but well-written & so, so compelling.

Using the Moodle Forums

So the writing was finished & I was wondering what we could do with it as the students had put so much into it.  I had used Moodle forums before for online discussion but not for showcasing student work & peer commentary and I thought this might be a good opportunity.

The first thing I did, before the class was to set up a forum on Moodle entitled "My Story" with very clear instructions / prompts for students.  My experience of using Moodle forums before has been that starting them off in class makes it more likely that they will access it outside the classroom.

In class, students clicked on 'reply' and then copied & pasted their stories into the reply.  So we ended up with a linear collection of threads - each one containing a story.  

The instructions then asked students to read and comment on at least 2 other stories & ask at least 2 questions.  I became involved at this point, asking questions of the first students to post, just to get the ball rolling.  Once learners had commented on at least 2 other posts & asked a couple of questions, the idea was that they went back to their own post and replied to the questions other students had posted.  I had already posted a few comments and questions just in case any student hadn't had their story visited.  So the forum threads which started off looking very linear began to look a bit more like a spider's web with comments & questions sprouting out of each thread & linking the stories together.

This final part didn't really happen in as much detail as I would have liked as we ran out of time, but I have encouraged students to do it at home and we will revisit for at least a hour in class next week so they can become more comfortable & confident using the forums, and also so they gain practice of sensitively giving peer feedback and of forming and asking perceptive questions.

Once students do get more familiar with this practice, I will use it again.  It is simple to set up, students enjoyed it, they were able to work collaboratively & get ideas from the questions posted by their peers and the Moodle threads can be used as evidence for the External Verifier (EV) of working together etc.  Also, I think if they get into the habit of adding to forum posts outside the class they will become more involved in the course in general and also create a strong group dynamic.  Other advantages would include being able to access from home if learners are unwell - not just accessing the materials & handouts, but also actually joining in class discussion & interacting with their peers.  It also makes their Moodle site feel 'alive' rather than just being a repository for handouts & power points.

Even though this is a mature group of learners without any 'trouble-makers', we still had a group discussion at the very beginning about the importance of respecting each other's work, of constructive, positive criticism & I think this is crucial with this sort of activity.  "Think before you post!", being very much the motto!

I'm looking forward to continuing it next week & hopefully when we return to it I will remember to allocate more class time to it!


  1. Really interesting way of incorporating Moodle into the course. I think one of the major problems with Moodle is the very linear feel. We really don't make the most of the interactivity that could be incorporated - although I'm not sure yet if blogging is the right format!

  2. I'd be really interested to hear if any of the students logged in and carried on with the activity outside class. I guess access to IT is a big issue for a lot of your students?

  3. Chris - it's interesting - when I posted this I was conscious of having not spent enough time on the commenting and reading critically part. There weren't many comments and those that were there tended to be of the "nice story - bye" variety.

    So I decided to re-visit and provide them with a more structured framework for analysing each other's stories and forming questions and answers - to get the initial dialogue going. When I returned to the forum however, I saw that there had been a little activity outside class - which was very encouraging and I was able to heap praise on these students in front of the rest of the class prior to getting them to sign in and work in a more critical and collaborative manner.

    This was last Friday & by the end of the lesson we had a total of 110 posts. Given that 18 of these were the original stories, that does represent a lot of critical reading & commenting by the students. On top of that, the students really enjoyed the lesson - with very positive feedback. I have never seen them read with as much attention to detail & as thoughtfully before.

    As of now there are 133 replies - so that is another 20+ that have taken place outside class. I am not sure that a moodle forum is necessarily the best way to facilitate this sort of online collaborative reading activity - but students have asked to do it again next time they do some writing - so I am going to work on refining it and on adding different learning activities to this. It has also got them into the idea of Moodle as a different-than-email means of communication.

    The link is

  4. And in answer to your original question, IT access is becoming less of an issue with my students, but we have tried to build in time in the Millstream outside class so they get into the habit of working online & keeping up to date on course-related matters. It helps, of course, that it's a good group . . . .

  5. Hi John,
    What an interesting activity especially for you creative writing class, this is the kind of thing I would like to incorporate within my sessions, as we have discussed before, wanting to move Moodle on from an inactive storage facility for handouts and Power Points from the sessions. I can see that you need a fairly long lesson enabling students to upload their own stories, reflect and comment on others, my sessions are around 90mins which could work. But I feel the continuation of the task out of the lesson may be an asset as this takes the learning into a different environment, making it mobile and giving the student time for reflection. I feel that the response and feedback from the students speaks for itself, the term collaboration you used in your comment is fantastic, I have been writing about this interactivity on my blog. I am not sure if my students would respond in the way yours did, but I would like to try it, I asked them today if any of them would be interested in Blogging and it seemed to fall a little flat, perhaps a structured task like yours on Moodle would be successful, I feel the topic would have to be well chosen!