education, technology, and everything else

Tool: Discussion forums

Posted by Miranda on January 20, 2007

In the class discussions and documents I’ve seen no mention of another online tool that I think is can be even more valuable than a wiki and certainly much more valuable than a blog for discussion. That tool is the discussion forum.

The trouble with a blog is that it is set up for one person to impart information and others to comment on that information. To see any comments, you have to click something, and you might not even notice there are any replies unless you look.

Wikis are great for collaboration, but collaboration is just that. You don’t seem to have much control, although TWiki allows for hidden areas

Discussion forums are set up so that one topic is replied to in a format where the replies are inline, that is the topic starts the top of the page and the replies follow it.

Topics can be set up under Headings, so that you can better sort them. The beauty of a discussion forum though, lies in the backend database it uses.

You can set up membership groups with certain permissions. In this way it is possible to set up a class group and give that group access to a forum that no one else can access without a password or you can even hide the class forum completely to anyone not in the group.

I have used two different forum packages extensively. Both are free, WebWiz and phpBB.

phpBB runs on both Unix and Windows. WebWiz, being written in ASP needs a Windows 2003 server. If you have a server both a fairly easy to install, however there are free hosts available. With a free host you do not have access to the source code of course. That access can make allow for a great deal of customization.

Of the two, WebWiz has an administration section which is far superior to phpBB. You can get very granular with your permissions and groups. It allows you to add a user from Administration which phpBB doesn’t do and allows you to manage your users from a list.

I manage a discussion forum with over 3500 registered users and WebWiz is the package we use. We paid for it so that we could legally remove the links to WebWiz and it was only $27.00

I have one forum of each flavor if anyone would like to investigate them


A phpBB forum


And a WebWiz forum

(a note that as of this morning, Saturday, this forum can’t be found but can’t be remade with the same name either which leads me to believe that it’s there, just the server having issues. You can set one up ofyour own to diddle around with by going to

If you login to either forum with the username : class and a password of: online

You’ll see a forum that is hidden to everyone but the class members group

If you log in as: administrator with a password of: mr.Zippy (the password is case-sensitive) you can go investigate the administration panels and create forums, headings, groups, set permissions etc. The administration link is at the top in WebWiz and at the bottom in phpBB



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