I have just introduced a Moodle course for Grade 8 Science students at my school - students are enjoying the opportunity to express themselves using the Course Discussion Forum however clearly I need a set of Forum Rules. Can anyone help with an age appropriate set of guidelines.

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What have they been doing that makes you sense a need for guidelines?
How do they treat each other in class in general?
What content are you putting up for the science class; what are the students asked to do? What would be an example of a discussion topic?

I've used Moodle very happily with 4th-5th, and have watched and participated in the middle school's use of it. What happens is certainly variable in engagement and meaningfulness.

It's great that you're giving them this opportunity. Hopefully, they'll get into responsible, respectful, and productive use of it. Sometimes the beginnings are a bit rough; the group has to develop and share a constructive sense of purpose.
Here are the rules that I have used both for a blog (with forums) and a wiki. Hope this helps:

Blog Rules - Just the basics, 4 rules based on Respect, Inclusion, ...
I really like teh fact of how you put together the rules, and you did an example of how to reply to the rules of the forum. One of the things i'm trying to work on is getting the use of blogs instituted into our school, and the district i work in. What you did actualyl gives me ideas of a set of rules as an example i can use for my school because our school's motto is: respect, responsibility, effort and kindness.

I would suggest as well not to focus on all the 'negative things' in the rules, because it will change the mood of the forum. I had something that i was doing an expecriment with, and i posted up everything that you couldn't do, and no one wanted to post.
David, I hope you don't mind my posting the rules you came up with right here--the list is a great model, an example of what could be used in a variety of settings and tailor-made for particular situations. Your guidelines/rules have an upbeat, positive tone. Also, they get right out in the open one of the jobs the student has, of constantly monitoring safety--carefully considering the audience they're addressing. Yet another key feature is that your rules "nestle" a kid right inside the learning community, removing the impersonal or detached connotations some people may have about networking.


"MrTruss @ Our Community Forum
Welcome to the Social Forum

Here is a shared space to chat, share ideas, and get to know what others are doing in both classes.

There are some basic rules for using this forum, our class dialogues, and all personal blogs in this learning community.

The school beliefs apply to this forum and all personal blogs.

1.Respect- We are polite, kind and appropriate at all times. Remember that many students and Mr. Truss will view your comments.

2. Inclusion- Anyone is welcome to comment or join a discussion as long as they are respectful.

3a. Learning (in this forum)- You can have fun in this space, but if others are having a learning conversation either add to it positively or make your comments in a new post.

3b. Learning (in class dialogues and blogs)- These are places to reflect and learn. You are encouraged to: Ask questions; Answer questions; Share your learning; Synthesize ideas; Plan projects or assignments, and Reflect on the process of learning.

4. Safety- DO NOT REVEAL ANY PERSONAL DETAILS, either on the profile page, or in any posts. Never use any students' last names. Always click on the "Access restrictions" drop-down menu and set restrictions to either this forum or to "Group: Truss/Mirhaj Access Only" before you post... this way our comments stay private for members of our classes only."
Connie,
You always bring so much to the discussions here, please post anything you wish of mine.

Skip,
That's not being a devil's advocate, that's just promoting healthy discourse!

You are right, discourse and discord can challenge us to think deeper, understand our own thoughts, and even change our minds. On the other hand before this blogging experience in a Grade 8 class, about the only online engagement these students have with each other is around multi-player (mostly fighting) games and MSN (which is often exclusionary)... I don't mean to paint an ugly perception of what students do online, I'm merely suggesting that many of them may not know the etiquette or parameters to being appropriate in an online learning space.

That said, you are still right:-)
So, now the question is how do you lay out the expectations of appropriate, safe behavior and still encourage students to challenge each other in a healthy, thoughtful dialogue?
I agree with the concept of play, and I hope that students feel like learning is fun/playful.
As a teacher for a few years now, I am also keenly aware that if I don't create a comfortable learning environment with some minimal expectations then I spend more time being a policeman than a teacher/guide/participant.
The other alrernative is to have the group create rules/expectations, but I often find that this becomes an issue of 'don'ts' and 'limitations'.

You ask, "Wouldn't it be better for them to experience what individual behavior is disturbing to the group and then collectively act to prevent or cope with it?"
I would say no, because that isn't my learning intention in the blogging environment being used. Do they need to learn this? Yes, but with the limited, positively stated, rules they still have to make decisions about what is appropriate, and hopefully this behavior is a model for other online environments they use without teacher/parent supervision. I don't want the learning intentions in my Science class to take a back seat to dealing with students treating each other in a way that hurts others or makes the learning environment uncomfortable for someone else in the classroom.

When I've left the rules out, I have had MSN style conversations in my online learning networks that I don't believe are appropriate- for example, a student that missed a class and was unsure of the assignment comments in a public space, “wat the hell r we doing”. I don't want that in my 'classroom', and I'd rather state that outright, "1.Respect- We are polite, kind and appropriate at all times." than police it after the fact.

So, once again the question I have is how do you lay out the expectations of appropriate, safe behavior and still encourage students to challenge each other in a healthy, thoughtful dialogue?

Not doing it at all is not an answer I feel is appropriate for me and the online class environments I have my students working in.
At our school the forum rules set by the teachers are:
No slang, No IM, Proper Grammar, Spelling and move the discussion forward. I have also found that the more focused the topic is, the better the discussion is just like class.

Hope this helps.
Karl

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