Saturday, January 21, 2012

How to increase forum participation exponentially with the New Forum Replies block by Niall Barr

Deep from the recesses of, is a year 2008 block that lists replies to your forum posts. It is called the "New replies to my posts" and is written by Niall Barr. What does it do? It is an alternative block to the Recent Activity block (see theAppendix section below). The strength of this block is that only displays new posts in threads that the current user has posted messages in, resulting in focused feedback to the user.

I couldn't resist installing this block. It was very easy to install on my Moodle 1.9.15 production site. I then logged in with a student account or two and used those accounts to make replies to my own forum posts. Here's what the "New replies to my posts" block displayed:

Now what you see may lack the pizzazz and graphics that you were expecting, but it really is exciting.
It  alerts and informs the forum creator and discussion poster of replies to his or her posts. Never mind that the output is fully text-based. This functionality cranks up the interactivity of forum posts and replies a notch or two higher. The net result is that your teachers and students will get the satisfaction of receiving attention to their thoughts and opinions via replies from others. If you have ever posted a comment on an online forum, and received a reply, the feeling is GREAT.
As teachers, we encourage (force!?) forum postings among ALL students in a class. Therefore, any tool that can motivate our students to post replies in forums, is greatly welcomed.

Here's a tracker link that mention this block. It currently runs only under Moodle 1.9.x, but it is due to support Moodle 2.x in March 2012 according to this other tracker link.

Comments and Word-Of-Mouth
Here are some comments from Moodlers who have used this block:

Our students do everything on Facebook because it has this kind of functionality. It makes online conversations easy. Moodle forums need this because it gives them a bit of the functionality of Facebook. Please put this into the core so that my administrators will install it at my school. Thanks. - Jonathan Andreas
Should definitely be core, if it is not already. Dynamite block and has increased forum participation exponentially! This block is AWESOME! Loaded on our test server and I LOVE IT. Thanks to all who contributed to it's development. ... Staff/Students will love it. ... a real time savor and assist me in tracking my specific issues. ... it has brought SO MUCH MORE interaction and engagement in forums to our course. I could not live without it! - Deb Burdick-Hinton

1. Download it from here.
2. Copy the folder new_forum_posts to the blocks directory of the Moodle installation
3. Browse to /admin/ to get it installed.

This block has three display modes available (set by the teacher).

1. Display a list of new replies to the current user's posts.
2. Display a list of all new posts in threads where the current user has already posted a message.
3. Display a list of threads which the current user has participated in thart have new posts (with the number of new posts).

See the image below:

The title of the block can also be customized. How cool is that?

So will this block really, really, REALLY increase participation exponentially for your forums?
The answer is YES, provided the environment is prepared right!

Try this formulae:

  1. Bake a stimulating Moodle forum title and explain the reason WHY the forum exists
  2. Stir in some thought-provoking and stimulating discussion topics and explain HOW they students will benefit from answering the topics
  3. Sprinkle some Q&A type forums so that students can only see the posts of others only after they have    posted their reply
  4. Season the forum well with a reward system like the David Mudrak's Stamp Collection activity. Reward each student with a gold star for every deserving post
  5. Add a dash of "New replies to my posts" block for extra goodness. Aha! That's the X-Factor right there!
  6. Let it simmer for 48 hours
  7. Makes for 100 servings of knowledge sharing goodness
  8. ;-) Thanks, Martha Stewart!!!

I can see the benefit of this block for my Moodle courses. Students will receive useful feedback and I will be able to monitor forum replies in a very personal and structured manner. So give this block a try today and see if it won't increase your forums participation a whole lot more.

Frankie Kam
Melaka, Malaysia


I am sure that you are familiar with the Recent Activity block. This block does what its name indicated, which is to list recent activity, most commonly, forum posts. You can also get a full report by clicking on the link "Full report of recent activity". This is useful when you want to view recent forum posts.

Information Overload?
The Recent Activity block lists ALL recent activity, including forum posts in any and all forums by any and all users. Nothing wrong with this blockas it works as it should, perfectly.

However, if your students are every active, then the block can filled up with lots of data. In addition, if there was a lot of recent activity in the last 24 to 48 hours, then the block will take up a lot of vertical real estate on your Moodle coursepage right-hand column.

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