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1 How to set up a forum
2 How to run a forum
1.1 Technical aspects
To set up a forum, it not necessary to have one¶s own website. It might be easier to ask an internet provider or the operator of a known site (e.g. of one¶s school, community, local university, etc.) to allocate some webspace and/ or set up a forum. This, however, is usually not free of costs, and it makes a forum operator dependent on other people and organisations, which may lead to difficulties in the process of designing and organising a forum. If changes or adjustments to the technical design of the forum become necessary, the provider may be unable to do all the changes as required. In other cases, time-consuming exchanges and discussions with the provider¶s staff may be necessary to get the changes done. Setting up a forum on one¶s own, on the other hand, will require a more than basic knowledge about computers and programming languages, and a forum needs the right hardware and server capacity. It will not run on any kind of personal computer. So it is advisable to look for some professional help at least until everything is running smoothly. There are numerous software packages available on the Internet ? and some of them are free as well as easy to manage once they have been installed successfully. Examples are vBulletin ? or phpBB ? .
1.2 Types of forums
Before establishing a forum, a choice has to be made as to the structure and organisation of such an internet platform. Depending on the contents and topics, the forum may take the form of a simple bulletin board, for example if there is just one topic and/ or if the number of users is small. Or else, if there are many different themes or groups of users, the forum will be less confusing if it has a kind of tree structure with the necessary number of subdivisions. Postings may be shown either in chronological order or piled into threads, which means that only the last in a series of postings and replies is shown and previous contributions can be traced back from there.
that these instructions did not always reach their addressees.3 Designing a forum Once the aims and purpose of a forum have become clear to its initiators.g. And they should be aware of how they can help to make the forum function in the way it was intended. Generally speaking. a forum software should ask users to enter the data needed for a header into a form before they can send a contribution. content-free postings. you should try to make it as simple and foolproof as possible. Ideally. only teachers were given usernames and passwords. or that they were simply ignored by a number of students. Just as the headlines of a newspaper help readers to find their way through a maze of information swiftly and easily. It would probably have been useful to offer a kind of user¶s manual on the site. Third. This would probably also prevent entries from being posted in the wrong sub-section of the forum. these contributions should have headers that can facilitate a user¶s orientation within the forum. registration alone is not a suitable measure to keep out web-clowns. such a requirement may keep too many people from entering the forum. Some sites also have a section where FAQs (frequently asked questions) are answered. For example. They should have a clear concept of what the forum can do for them and what it is good for.Another decision that has to be taken at the start concerns the accessibility of the site. what kind of identity validation should be required? In the GULLIVER project.. Second. if you can influence the design of your forum. In the GULLIVER forum. It seems. replies to postings were often posted as a new contribution instead of being added to the existing entry. however. If there are several sub-themes. So.) were not immediately clear because there was no headline. 2 How to run a forum . the themes and topics to be discussed on the forum should be defined as precisely as possible. class etc. Should the forum be open to everybody? Should users be required to register (using a password). it became clear very soon that it was not possible to have all 15 questions on a single bulletin board. and if yes. the project team sent letters to the teachers and participants with instructions on how to use the forum in a more organised way. If they hadn¶t been split into separate sub-forums some time after the beginning of the project. where to post correctly and how to add headers to their postings. During the GULLIVER project. the conclusions from the GULLIVER experience are that. for example to a certain topic. 1. the purpose. it would have become very difficult to search for specific contributions. It would have to be combined with some kind of identity-check. e. But soon some students found out that they could also get access simply by registering on the site. First of all. registration by choosing a username and filling in a valid e-mail address will suffice. The participants of GULLIVER were instructed by their teachers. use and aims of the forum should be communicated to all users. if a forum was created in order to collect and document interesting contributions (rather than for establishing an ongoing discussion). On the other hand. it is better to create subsections for each one of them than to include them all in one discussion. The outcome was a number of useless. forum postings should be labelled in a way that would enable a user to see at one glance what its origin and contents are. much is to be gained or lost by the way a forum is organised and presented. Evidently they succeeded well in communicating their knowledge. Later. who had contributed to planning that forum and thus knew very well what it was about. the origins of numerous postings (country. For most forums.
in the real world. audio-files. for many participants.. coffee-break conversation may even be more interesting than the more ³serious´ lecture-hall stuff. During the initial planning sessions for GULLIVER. for which we prefer something like a coffeehouse. bar or lounge. Teachers could be trained or instructed accordingly. more formal and elaborated styles) and different physical settings (e. i.2. an alternative solution may be that the users exchange e-mail addresses. And. especially young and inexperienced ones. classrooms) than in private intercourse. but it in many cases it is not. however. In real life.g. and the fact that many students asked for class photos indicate that. it seems advisable to combine a forum and a chat-room on the same platform or website whenever this is technically possible. tend to mix up chat and forum. but the latter will then be more clutterfree and easier to work with contentwise.2 Technical opportunities and potential pitfalls Once it is clear that a contribution to a forum should contain information of some public interest. Personal contacts and exchanges between participants may of course be of some interest to other forum users. there is a clear distinction between public communication. Another problem that may arise after some time is that a forum which contains a lot of chat-like clutter might become a rather unwieldy and confusing source of information and as such unsuitable for class work. they are perhaps too many. e. In such a case. links to websites.1 Chat or forum? One of the main differences between a chat-room and a forum is that a chat is basically a private exchange of personal information and interests.g. a speech or a conference. Technically. web cams and so on and so forth.e. Since we have no such clues in cyberspace. students and teachers should be made aware of the differences between forum and chat. 2. On the other hand. the users of a forum. my name is XY and I like Z. conference rooms. real persons are more interesting than abstract opinions or facts from an essay. whereas a forum should. how are you. Therefore. ³PowerPoint´-presentations. a frequently applied tool ensures that a mouse-click on the username will open an e-mail window addressed to that user.´ and entries that responded to certain ideas and pieces of information from an essay somebody else had written. who are often slow readers. as at a typical conference. Technically speaking.g. we normally use different language levels (e.. the setting and environment help us choose suitable and consistent contents and language levels. there are many ways of presenting this information to others. For public communication. as in the original sense of the Latin word ³forum´. Secondly. Pupils. and private conversation. rather be a public ³marketplace´ of opinions and knowledge. may then find it very difficult to extract interesting information from a chunk of forum entries with mixed contents. A possible solution to this dilemma consists of two elements: First. or their internet connections were too . there was often a mixture between entries like ³Hi. was that the technical equipments of participants from over 20 different countries were so different that many teachers and pupils were unable to open and read what their fellow participants had elaborated. just like every conference has a seminar room and a coffee corner. private exchanges and discussions that would be of interest to others. the problem for other users of the forum is that it may get a little tedious to skim through numerous entries when it is not clear whether they contain interesting facts and arguments or only private exchanges designed to establish some kind of personal contact. or there should be a set of guidelines that list and explain the dos and don¶ts of a forum. Either they didn¶t have the necessary software. it was always seen as an integral part of the GULLIVER concept that the forum should serve as a start-up for personal contacts and exchanges between classes and individuals. If it proves too difficult to include a chat-room in a forum-site. On the GULLIVER forum. What we didn¶t take into account. there was a lot of enthusiasm for the manifold possibilities of multimedia presentation: videos.
So it might be more advisable to try and get some control over the contents. In many cases. forums are designed. some participants expressed frustration about the fact that they had to wait for months until there were replies and reactions to their postings.slow. Although these cases constituted a minority and did not stop the forum from working as it had been planned. teachers reported that the students. On the other hand. which cannot always be taken for granted. since many classes wished to continue the project and since the number of entries was still manageable. The shortcomings of this idea are that it requires extra work as well as some basic knowledge of software and data management from the users. without having to ask other persons to do that for them 3 Timelines Think about a timeline for your forum. since the school years start and end at different times in various participating countries. there are two ways of doing this: the organisation that set up the forum can demand some kind of identification from the people who want to log in.RTF-file. e. This. should be able to delete such postings easily and immediately.3 Content management and personal resources The easiest way to run a forum is to leave it unmoderated. It is. managing a forum will ensure that the moderator is always informed about what¶s going on. e. as a text-only file posted directly on the forum or in a format that has proved to be readable for most users. The remedy seems simple: A set of guidelines for the use of a forum could state that each contribution should be posted both in its elaborate (original) form and in a simplified version.g. who were enthusiastic at first. Moreover. the forum manager. On the other hand. set up and run by third parties. however. or they contained letters or signs that other computers did not have so that the text came out partly distorted. or the files were too big. the fact that the forum was open for a long period ensured that all classes had the opportunity to work on several topics. such as specialized companies or a school¶s internet administrator. It may therefore be more advisable to ask a moderator to manage the data. that are counter-productive because they spread racism and prejudice. (MS)Word file or . Therefore. or even worse. In that case. there were internet links to sites that were inaccessible or that contained pop-ups or flash-players which other computers wouldn¶t open because of their security settings. During the GULLIVER project. and since GULLIVER had to be integrated into the school curricula. can make it hard to keep a newsgroup focused on a particular topic. they are certainly a hindrance to the flow of information on a forum. tended to lose interest after a certain amount of time. or the moderators employed by the manager. it is important for a forum manager to insist on having more rights than common users. however. In other cases. 2. In all forums. possible to share that task with others. subject only to "peer pressure" from other participants. . Anybody who wants to act as a moderator should be aware that this task requires some time and energy on a regular basis. Setting up closing deadlines may intensify the discussion and help to keep up interest. there will occasionally be postings that have been sent twice or that contain information that is irrelevant or unsuitable for other reasons. and there could be contents that are not politically correct. and/or regulation by his/her own internet service provider. and one that can be diminished. Basically. In other cases. or it can employ a ³forum administrator´ or ³moderator´ ? who examines all the postings before they appear on the forum. which means that anyone can participate and can post anything he/she wants. GULLIVER stayed open longer than we had planned originally.g.
In short. but the better the design. the decisions concerning the time frame for a forum should take into account both its users¶ interests and the actual development of the forum itself. poor design and sloppy organisation of a forum will almost inevitably lead to problems and end in a more or less chaotic heap of texts. The following guidelines represent the most important points to consider . Contrarily. structure and organisation are. GULLIVER was certainly a success. the greater the outcome will be. Conclusions To sum up the conclusions we have drawn from the experiences with the GULLIVER forum: It is not difficult to run a forum. but some things could have been designed more clearly and organised more efficiently. Generally speaking.
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