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Group Communication & Collaboration Spaces in Moodle

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Student interaction is a key strength of Moodle.  While instructors can easily use activities in Moodle to deliver content and assess learning, Moodle also supports student-led activities and collaboration, especially in combination with using groups.  This document discusses some strategies and ideas for providing collaborative spaces for groups to work together.

Groups

Using groups in Moodle allows you to add an additional dynamic to interactive activities: giving groups of students a private or shared space to discuss and collaborate. Depending on the goals you have for an activity, you can set how public the actions of groups can be.

Moodle has three group modes that you can select when adding a new activity (for more information refer to Group Modes in Moodle):

  • No Groups - all students in the class participate in an activity without any restrictions.
  • Visible Groups - students are sorted into groups and can interact with group members and can read but not interact with other groups.
  • Separate Groups - students are sorted into groups and can interact within their group, but cannot see the activities of other groups.

For the kinds of group projects discussed in the remainder of this handout, Separate Groups will be used to describe how to set up activities.  You can also use Visible Groups when you want student groups to be able to read what other groups are doing.  You can always change group modes, so switching from Separate to Visible Groups would be ideal when you have groups working on a project during the semester, then publishing their work to the entire class at the end of the term. 

This handout assumes that you already have groups and groupings created for your course. If you need instructions please refer to:

Forums

A forum can contribute to successful communication and community building in an online environment. While you can use forums for many innovative purposes in educational settings. It is important to keep in mind that forums for teaching (sharing content) and forums for student interaction (creating content) require some different strategies.

Forums are well suited for students to communicate with each other as well as to co-create content.  Students can participate in threaded discusions, share files, collaborate and explore topics, and write together.  There are five built-in forum types, however some are more suited for content sharing and assessment while others work better for collaboration.

Types for Content Sharing and Assessment

  • A single simple discussion
  • Each person posts one discussion
  • Q and A forum

Types for Student Interaction and Collaboration

  • Standard forum for general use
  • Standard forum displayed in a blog-like format

 

Group Discussion

A forum is a great setting for groups to collaborate and co-create content by participating in group discussions, posting files, and responding to each other.  Depending on your learning goals, you might want to create a more structured activity (where you set the topic and/or control how people contribute) or leave things more open so that students can take the lead.  The most open forum discussion type is Standard forum for general use.  This forum type is useful when you want groups to have a space to plan projects, brainstorm ideas, or provide each other feedback.

To set-up a group discussion forum:

  1. Add a forum activity to the course with the following settings:

    • Forum Type: Standard forum for general use.

    • Group Mode: Separate Groups (Suggested to give groups privacy, and prevent confusion)

    • Assign to grouping: Optional, but necessary if you plan on using multiple sets of groups in your course

Group Blog

Forums can also be adapted to emulate the function of blogs where students can make posts that are listed chronologically.  This format is more conducive to group members contributing on a periodic basis, and having posts commented on by the rest of the group.  This is also a great way for groups to document their learning over the course of the term.

To set-up a group blog forum:

  1. Add a forum activity to the course with the following settings:

    • Forum Type: Standard forum in a blog-like format.

    • Group Mode: Visible groups (This is a good opportunity to promote sharing between groups, however Separate groups is also appropriate).

    • Assign to grouping: Optional, but necessary if you plan on using multiple sets of groups in your course.

Individual Blog/Journal

While Moodle does not have a traditional journal, you can adapt a forum to function as a journal where posts can be private between the student and instructor.  This would be helpful for when you want to provide students with an online space where they can write reflections about the course and document their learning process.  Please note that this process involves quite a bit of set-up for the instructor.  As an alternative, you can use Wordpress which is a blogging service supported by UMass. Refer to Blogs F.A.Q.

To set-up an individual blog/journal:

  1. Use the auto-create groups function and create groups with 1 member per group. 
  2. Place these groups into a grouping.
  3. Add a forum activity to the course with the following settings:
    • Forum Type: Standard forum displayed in a blog-like format.
    • Group Mode: Separate Groups (Required to give students privacy).
    • Assign to grouping: Journal grouping (with the auto-created groups of 1).

If you need additional instructions please refer to:

Wikis

A wiki page is a web page everyone in your class can create together, right in the browser, without needing to know HTML. A wiki starts with one front page. Each author can add other pages to the wiki by simply creating a link to a page that does not exist yet. It may be useful to think of a wiki's front page as a structured table of contents. Essentially, a wiki is organized by its links.

In Moodle, wikis can be a powerful tool for collaborative work. The entire class can edit a document together, creating a class product.  Groups can also have a wiki space to collaborate, or each student can have their own wiki and work on it with you and their classmates.

A wiki is an efficient, easy, and popular method for creating content on the web as a group. There is usually no central editor of a wiki, no single person who has final editorial control. Instead, the group edits and develops its own content. Consensus views emerge from the work of many people on a document.

Group Project Management

The most straightforward use of a wiki is as a tool for collaboration during group projects. A teacher assigning a group project can give students a place to work by creating a wiki with the group mode enabled. This will give each group their own space to record research, develop outlines, and create the final product. The teacher may create a submission date on which to turn off editing capabilities for students so that he or she can grade the final projects. Afterwards, the teacher may enable visible groups so that everyone can see each other's work.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a creative process in which group members are encouraged to give voice to any ideas they consider relevant to the group exercise. In a face-to-face meeting, a brainstorming facilitator will usually stand in front of a big piece of paper and elicit ideas from the participants in the room. A teacher can create an online version of this process by setting up a wiki for the entire class or for smaller student groups and asking people to submit ideas around a brainstorming topic. People can add ideas as they occur and link to other pages for elaboration.

Set-up:

  1. Add a wiki activity to the course with the following settings:
    • Wiki mode: Collaborative wiki.
    • Group Mode: Separate Groups (Suggested to give groups privacy and prevent confusion).
    • Assign to grouping: Optional (but necessary if you plan on using multiple sets of groups in your course).

Chats

A third collaborative option is Moodle's Chat function.  While a forum or wiki allows students to make contributions whenever they like, a chat is most useful when you want students to communicate with each other at the same time.    Whenever a user is currently logged into chat, the Recent activity block will display that the chat room is in use, encouraging other students to join. 

Chats also work in conjunction with group modes, meaning you can create chatrooms for groups to hold online meetings. A final added benefit of chats is that Moodle keeps an online record of what goes on in the chat room, even if students are not there exactly at the same time.  This means that if a group holds a meeting in a chatroom, Moodle automatically keeps a transcript.  All students can access records of chats by opening the chat room, and clicking View past chat sessions.

Set-up:

  1. Add a chat activity to the course with the following settings:
    • Save past sessions: Never delete message (default).
    • Everyone can view past sessions: Yes.
    • Group Mode: Separate Groups (Suggested to give groups privacy).

For more on Chat settings, see Chat in Moodle.