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  1. Moodle
  2. MDL-61495

Improve Moodle's Core Forums by incorporating features from Moodleroom's Advanced Forums

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    • Affected Branches:
      MOODLE_35_STABLE

      Description

      THIS IS AN MUA PROJECT PROPOSAL THAT WILL BE OR HAS BEEN SUBMITTED FOR POSSIBLE MUA FUNDING.  ANY EXISTING TRACKER ITEMS THAT THIS MIGHT DUPLICATE SHOULD BE LINKED TO BELOW.  

      Overview

      On Moodle sites for distance learning, forums are one of the top activities used. Frequently in an online course, students are expected to interact with the same forum multiple times throughout the module or course, making forums the place where students spend most of their time. With that in mind, forums need to be looked at critically

      Following a lawsuit in 2012 that claimed that the core Moodle forums were inaccessible brought against the University of Montana, the University collaborated with Moodlerooms to create Advanced Forums, a fork of forums that maintained Moodle's core features AND redesigned the interface with accessibility in mind. Advanced Forums also improved the functionality of the core forums in several ways.  As such, the main purpose of this proposal is suggest that the Advanced Forums be adopted directly into Moodle core as the primary forum activity. The proposers and Moodlerooms have had productive communications about this idea, and Moodlerooms is supportive and willing to assist HQ with any technical questions during the adoption process. A converter process would also need to be developed to bring forward “old” forums.

      Advanced forums added accessibility features to the core Moodle forum for usability. Headings are defined differently so that a screen reader can differentiate between initial posts and replies. In core forums currently, who is replying to who is only displayed visually, through a system of indents, while in advanced forums they explicitly state who is replying to whom. Another major improvement is that, using AJAX, replies appear immediately on the page instead of loading a new page to do a reply, and the cursor automatically appears in the correct field. These changes were made based on research and testing of University of Illinois accessibility group led by Hadi Rangin. It's those types of adjustments that make Advanced Forums accessible and intuitive for people with disabilities, while at the same time providing a modern interface for everyone else.

      Beyond accessibility, Advanced Forums also incorporates features that have been requested in the past by the MUA, such as anonymous forums and private replies.

      Summary

      • Project size: Large
      • Audience: Distance learning programs, fully online programs, blended learning programs, and all United States programs that need to comply with accessibility requirements from the Office of Civil Rights. Universities, Workplaces – all users of the Moodle Forum activity
      • Target Users: Students, Instructors, Administrators

      Goals

      To improve the forum experience for all students as well as create additional and convenient ways for teachers to grade forums in a variety of ways. To improve the user interface of the forum. To provide tools for reporting and analyzing forum contents for teachers and researchers.

      The goals of this project include making some basic user interface design changes to the Moodle Forum Activity (which are apparent in the Advanced Forum Interface) and increasing the ways users can interact with forum posts and replies. These changes include moving the discussion title to a more prominent position in the forum discussion list; adding a simple and easy to understand discussion follow switch; and including customizable react icons to posts (i.e. Like, Emoticons, etc). 

      An analytics report showing student activity with respect to the number of posts, number of replies, words written, views, and a link to the student complete report is also part of this enhancement. The report will cover forums based on the context of being run – if it is run within a forum it will report on that forum. If it is run within a course, it will report on all the forums in the course. If it is run within the Moodle site, it will report on the forum activity site-wide. Custom filters are included in the report for items including specific forums, specific user profile fields (country, city, etc) and so on.

      Another goal is to add the function of being able to export the forum in a variety of forms. Forums are a rich source of data for research. Being able to export all the text/multimedia in a forum, just a particular (or some particular) user’s forum input, or a/some particular thread(s) of a forum, would enable researchers to do a lot. At the moment, the only way to do this is copy and paste which is extremely time-consuming. A simple method is required.

      Lastly, a conversion tool to migrate existing Moodle Forums into the new enhanced Moodle Forum format being proposed by this project should also be considered as an important part of this project. The details of how that should be done have not been deeply researched at the time of writing. However, this information is put here to make it known that this should be part of this project at some stage.

      User Stories

      As a student using a screen reader, I should be able to participate fully in the forums module. Information such as initial posts vs. replies should be marked in a way that a screenreader can recognize.

      As a teacher, I should be able to highlight posts made by students or myself to draw students attention to posts that move the conversation forward.

      As a teacher, I should be able to send a private reply to a student so that I can give feedback that is student-specific and not for the entire class.

      As a course participant, I should be able to make anonymous posts if the forum is set to allow that.

      As a teacher, I can turn on anonymous forums so that students can participate in the forum with their identity concealed.

      The hooks needed for Moodlerooms Grader should be included in the scope of work, for future development in grading forums.

      As a teacher, I should be able to better guide students' user experience in the forum activities I design. I will also be able to design forums which have reaction icons for posts. Also, reporting student activity across forums in my course will be made simpler thanks to the forum report that accompanies this enhancement.

      As a student, I should be able to easily determine to which discussions I want to read and contribute. I should also be able to easily subscribe and "follow" posts I want to follow. Lastly, I should be able to "react" to forum posts in the discussions so I don't always have to "reply" in order to be part of discussions.

      As an admin, I should be able to configure forums as normal with additional options described in the functionality above.

      Links to existing tracker issues, forum discussions, contrib plugins

      This issue has been in the Moodle backlog for over five years. An Epic tracker item was created in May 2013 to list the features in advanced forums and discuss feasibility in a more comprehensive way than this proposal.

      MDL-39707

      An additional MUA proposal requesting forum enhancements for this MUA project cycle was merged with this proposal. The old tracker item is https://tracker.moodle.org/browse/MDL-63286

      [Advanced Forums plugin|https://moodle.org/plugins/mod_hsuforum]

      https://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=343805#p1386144

      https://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=324225

      This is a view of how the forum looks with some of the enhancements: https://youtu.be/CCivVTgPiLk?t=6s

      Code used to develop Forum Report (https://github.com/nakaharatt/moodle-block_forum_report)

      Requirements

      See the existing screenshot of the current forum interface. Also, check the attached document giving some details on the initial forum UX enhancements. The MoodleRooms Advanced forum also has a lot of useful ideas to improve the Moodle Forum. Lastly, you can see the react forum plugin which offers a range of ways for students to react to posts.

      Adopt Advanced Forums as the official Moodle Forums module and create an upgrade helper that would convert old forums to the new forums style (like the conversion from the depreciated assignment module).

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