Lessons about forum design from EDCMOOC

It seems clear that the Coursera forum tool was built to facilitate factual questions and answers, not conversations or connections. Our EDCMOOC participants are trying to push it much further, and the cracks are definitely showing. Here’s my shortlist of things that Coursera could do to make their forum tool more conducive to networking and conversation. We’ll be passing these on to the Coursera team. Many of these points are pulled from suggestions in the EDCMOOC ‘feedback to Coursera’ forum, and additional suggestions or comments are welcome. I’ll probably add to this post over the next few days, too.


Implement a ‘follow’ button so people can keep track of others they want to read more from.

The profile page should show all of the posts from that person.

Need to be able to favourite and link back to particular posts and store those favourites.


Results need to indicate which subforum a thread is in.

Subforums should be searchable.

Need the ability to search within a particular thread.

Need to be able to search by member of the class including yourself and see all of someone’s posts.


Should be collapsible for easier reading.

It should be possible to reply to a comment.


As many threads are very long, subscribing to just a post and its comments would be useful.

Daily summary of forum post threads to which you subscribe.

When a new post notification arrives by email, the link should take you directly to that post (not just to the thread).


Sort across a forum or all forums to see posts in date order.

The ability to sort by top votes.


an optional grouping mechanism, where randomised groups of any size (determined by the teachers?) can be either automatically created, or people can choose to be allocated to one.

a mechanism for people to create groups (geographical, topical and so on) and invite others to join.


24 thoughts on “Lessons about forum design from EDCMOOC

  1. wondering also if people think there should be an optional ‘grouping’ mechanism in Coursera, so that if people choose to they can be allocated to a small group (say 15-20 people) with a dedicated forum? I can see reasons why this would be helpful, but also reasons why it might cut people off from exploring wider discussions and branching out…

  2. i would like comments to a post to stay where they are in relation to later posts rather than being displaced…the “where are the professors” thread is a good example of what is wrong…for example when i post a comment it should appear in a heirachy below the original post…and if someone responds to my comment that should appear below my comment rather than as a reply to the original post. learning management software like moodle (open source) does this with ease, or Blackboard (not open source).
    would also like to be able to link to a particular post if i want to send it to someone else rather than being thrown to the beginning of the thread.
    and ( sorry if i am repeating something already on the list) …it would be useful to see a list of all my posts …perhaps from the profile page.

  3. i also think being able to be grouped by a forum would suit some personalities very well..those who like to explore arent going to be constrained by having one forum as a “home room”

    • yes, good point – I’m sure there must be a way to help serendipity continue to happen even if people are sometimes focusing on a smaller, defined group’s activity.

      • i found a post by a teacher who uses moodle (open source) and apparently it doesnt allow for subgroups within the main group…http://digiteacher.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/the-mentored-mooc/
        i think its a case of getting some developers to experiment…however that would happen….take the australia study group forum as an example…people seemed to be trying to make that a subgroup using the forum as a meeting place but apart from one meetup arranged at queensland university it turned into a place where people just listed their names and “can I join” type of comment…and that was the sum total of the activity. Facebook seems to be much more popular as a place for people to arrange collaborations and ask questions, g+ too. So maybe its a problem about what people do when they realise how big the community is. Maybe just giving an option to people and facilitating it for those who want to form deeper connections with the same people over the time of the mooc. These are just my half baked thoughts…there must be someone who would know more about this kind of thing? …i hope

  4. actually i just checked and comments on posts are indented slightly from the original post…but there is no way to comment on someone else’s comment…also visually its very difficult to distiguish between posts and comments, and i am wearing glasses. Also the search box doesnt work very well

  5. i also think it would be a nice idea for a help forum for the digital beginners amongst us….where all the help desk refugees can congregate and answer questions. people might still prefer to ask their questions on facebook ……

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  7. Hi edcmoocteam – agree that Coursera’s discussion forum technology is lacking (actually, it sucks.) I’ve been moderating ‘forums’ since signing up for my first listserv in 1981 (yes! listserv was alive then!), in other words, I know something about forums. My feeling is throw out the old listserv technology in implement facebook/google+ idea of posting on a wall. I don’t believe that is a difficult programmatic problem. I created ‘Our EDCMOOC 2012 study group’ on Google+ and invited no one. 25 others found and joined. 4 post on regular basis. Thanks for guiding us through course!

  8. Yes, all of the above, but anyone who uses Google, Farcebuck, or Twitter is clearly NOT part of the emergent ‘digital culture’.

    Moreover, it is well nigh impossible for me to interact in any meaningful way with this course, due to the hopeless design of the interface.

    I have set up a blog, my first called iteratedsnowdrift on wordpress specifically to run this course.

    Added the RSS, commented on your blog under this soubriquet, recieved ZERO feedback.

    The current state and future of so-called “E_Learning” under these circumstances is little more than voluntary surveilance and confirmation bias.

    You cannot have ANY education without a safe and secure class-room !

    • hi iteratedsnowdrift. While I appreciate the obvious experience and commitment informing your take on digital culture, I’m not sure it’s all that helpful to make declarations about who is and isn’t “really” part of it. I don’t share your view, anyway. I do strongly agree that surveillance is one of the defining issues of our time in relation to mediated education and socialisation. It seems to me that it is complex, though, and that refusing any possibility of engagement in any environment that is compromised is problematic.

  9. Not sure whether this is the right place to put this comment, but the entire EDC course content on Coursera, is it under Edinburgh University’s copyright or does Coursera own it now?

    • hi Maddie, thanks for your question. The University of Edinburgh owns, wholly, all course material created for our MOOCs – Coursera is the delivery platform but we own the rights.

      We don’t have copyright of materials created by others, of course (like Youtube videos and readings), but we own the course scaffolding.

      Hope that helps!

  10. @Jen, let me re-phrase that for you. “…..clearly not part of the aware emergent digital culture.”

    The thing about education is …it’s ‘helpful’ to challenge others statements and methods, either for you or for the other, or both.

    Socialisation and education have come to be dirty words, at least in my lexicon; largely due to the machinations of the surveillance state.

    Did you know that the U.K. Communications act now seeks to “require details of everyone’s emails, web use and social media messages to be recorded” ?

    That’s why I use decentralised distributed and open source social media….

    @Maddie, Good point. Consider all my maunderings copyleft …..

  11. I would have to disagree with you iteratedsnowdrift. Google, Facebook and Twitter are very much part of the emergent digital culture among other platforms. I am not sure whether you are taking any active part in it but if you would dig deeper, you will notice some very stimulating discussions taking place and strong connections between the participants . The forum on Coursera could be designed better I agree and am sure it will be in future once they receive the feedback.

    As for the copyright issue about the content, I am only curious to know since am wondering what keeps coursera from offering this course over and over again and using the content with the help of a moderator instead of the instructors of this course.

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  13. @M, your disagreement is appreciated and encouraged !

    Of course, Google is, I believe, the most widely used search engine, and what with it’s acquisition of Youtube and offerings like gmail and G+ it now scans a vast ammount of your private materials, including emails to or from any google account, even if the recipient or the sender is not using google.

    Farcebuck is in a similar position, harvesting terrabites on a daily basis.

    Twitter has made some efforts recently to protect it’s users from governmental spying, or at least to infornm its users when this is happening, but they will basically roll-over on command still.

    Yes, I made extensive use of fb in the early days, but killed my account with extreme prejudice when they started to get evil; likewise all my google accounts.

    I even briefly had a G+ acc, but since much of the design was ripped off from my network of choice’s developers, I stuck with the original. The question became irrelevant after Google started all this evil snooping and filtering.

    So how does all this relate to the header topic of this thread ?

    Firstly, as a general principle of educational philosophy, I hold that a primary requirement for courses is a secure environment. One may attract many participants by using these malicious platforms mentioned above, but one is depriving the community thus generated of input from those who hold privacy sacred, and excluding them from the discussion. Ironically, amongst these individuals are some of the brightest and well informed minds actually developing the emergent digital culture ! This is, after all a *University*.

    Second, I believe it to be of fundamental importance to resist anything that curtails one’s freedom. Using any of the forums mentioned above ammounts to complicity in this giant corporate boon-doggle and theft of data. The Coursera sign-up made no mention that it would distribute my real name attached to any interaction with the forum, when I noticed that it has done so, I immediately deleted my posting. I can interact with this course only via the wordpress blog I set up for that purpose, iteratedsnowdrift.

    No doubt you saw this article in the Grauniad yesterday, remember Raytheon, those nice folks who brought you drones and election machines ?

  14. Hi Jen,

    I like the idea of being randomly allocated to a smaller group – which could be voluntary and in addition to the broader all-in forums. I’m sure many of the groups that were set up by students, such as those for people living in the same area, working in the same field, etc, were no doubt useful for those involved who had some sort of shared experience. But I felt that to be part of a small study group including people from very diverse places, backgrounds and viewpoints etc would have made for really fascinating discussions and enabled some more focused collaboration. It would certainly help those who felt overwhelmed or alone, or frustrated at expressing themselves in various places without gaining feedback etc. Plus it would challenge students more to listen to others and engage in deeper debates. It would also utilise a strength of moocs – the involvement of such a broad range of people – which tends to be negated by the sheer number of students and the chaos this produces.


    • Thanks, moocurious. I agree with you, and am increasingly thinking this is something that it would be good for the coursera platform to support. As long as it didn’t disrupt people’s processes, but was available for those who were clear it was what they wanted, I think it would be a really good thing.

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