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Chapter 8: Forums
 1. Overview
 2. Creating Forums
 3. Managing Forums
 4. Profanity Filter
 5. Forum Categories
 6. Forum Summary
 7. Viewing Forums
 8. Viewing Threads
 9. Posting & Replying
 10. [Post-Tags]
 11. File Attachments
 12. Managing Threads

8.1 Forums Overview

StudyHub incorporates an advanced built-in forum system. Forums can provide an excellent form of communication for a group of users, and this feature gives StudyHub an instant advantage as an effective learning tool. It allows the free exchange of ideas and discussion amongst students and lecturers and can become an invaluable knowledge-base for any course. StudyHub includes a range of options and tools that allow easy use and management of the built-in forum facility.

StudyHub forums use the concept of threads, with which many users of the internet will already be familiar. Basically, a forum is made up of threads. A thread (or topic) can be started by anyone (provided they have sufficient access rights) and can contain any number of replies.

Forums are managed in the control panel (see Chapter 7); however thread management is achieved via the main website. This is to allow non-administrators to modify their own posts. Moderators (if allowed) and Administrators can modify/delete all threads or posts made in forums by any user.

8.2 Creating Forums

There is no limit to the number of forums that can be created in StudyHub. You may only need one forum to host all questions and discussions, or you might want to expand your forum selection and sub-divide discussion topics / groups into separate forums. Using a forum is a good way of creating virtual communities amongst your students. For instance, you could allow each coursework group or tutorial group to have its own private forum, which only they can use. There are three example forums included in the default distribution of StudyHub, which can be used as normal if they suit your needs or modified / deleted to reflect more accurately the desired structure of your module.

Clicking on ‘Forum Manager’ will display a form for creating a new forum as illustrated above. Each field in the form can be used in the creation of a new forum as described below:

  • Forum Name. This is the title for the forum. Maximum of 50 characters.
  • Description. This is the brief description of the intended use of the forum.
  • Category. Places the forum inside a user-defined forum category (see Chapter 8.5).
  • Posts viewable per page. Enter a numerical figure to specify how many posts are viewable per page in the forum.
  • Class Restriction. You can specify what class of user can view and post in the forum. Different classes can be used for posting and viewing. For example, a forum could allow viewing by anyone not logged in (i.e. unrestricted) but only allow posting by ‘member class’ users.
  • Group Restriction. Additionally you can select a specific group to be the only users allowed to view / post in a particular forum. To restrict a forum to a selected group of students, select ‘Administrator’ class restriction for viewing and posting in the forum and highlight the desired students. This forum will only be useable by those specific users and Administrators.
  • Enable [Post-Tags] support. Check this option if you wish to allow users to create posts containing [Post-tags] (see Chapter 8.10). The [img] tag will not be enabled by default.
  • Enable [img] Tag support. Check this option if you wish to enable image embedding inside posts.
  • Enable File Uploads. Check this option if you want to allow users to attach files to posts made in the forum.
  • File Upload Size. If file uploads are enabled, enter the limit to the size of the file attachment (in kilobytes). This will be set to 100KB by default if left blank.
The new forum entry will appear at the top of the list below and can be managed.

8.3 Managing Forums

It is possible to change any of the options for a forum at any point if required. Click ‘modify’ next to the desired forum entry in the Forum Manager to change the options for that forum. Every aspect of the forum can be altered without affecting any of the existing posts. Each forum can be manually ordered as required using the arrow icons as described in Chapter 6.5.

Click ‘delete’ next to the desired forum entry to delete a forum including all posts and any file attachments made within it. Clicking ‘delete posts’ will clear a forum of all posts (including file attachments) and reset its post counter to 0 without removing the forum itself.

8.4 Profanity Filter

Swear words or phrases entered in forum posts can be blocked if required. Click ‘Profanity Filter’ in the Forum Manager to enter any words or phrases you wish to block in the form provided. Any part of words written in a forum post, which appear in the blocked list will be replaced by ‘******’ in place of the original word (each letter removed is replaced by an asterisk). This applies globally to all forums. The list can be updated, but words entered in a forum post which subsequently appear in the list will not be modified. The original post will have to be modified as described in Chapter 8.12 to change its content.

8.5 Forum Categories

Forums can be sub-divided into categories to group them into particular sub-sets. For instance, you may have a forum for each coursework group, which could be placed in a category grouping called ‘Coursework Groups’. Click ‘Add Category’ to enter or update a list of categories. Each category should appear on a separate line. Once the list has been updated (by clicking ‘submit’), the categories can be selected from the drop-down list on the main form. A category which has an existing forum attached to it cannot be removed until all forums relating to it have been un-assigned.

8.6 Forum Summary

When users visit the main forum link (on the website), the forum summary is displayed. Each forum is listed inside its category (if specified) together with the total number of posts and the time the last post was made. The forum folder icon will change according to what restrictions have been placed on that forum, as described in the ‘Help’ window at the bottom of the screen.

8.7 Viewing Forums

Clicking on a forum name in the summary page, or following the ‘more’ link from a zone will display the thread summary screen for the selected forum.

The box at the top allows a new topic thread to be posted and displays what the user is currently viewing, in a hierarchical structure (or ‘tree’), which is hyperlinked. The title of each thread is listed, together with details of who posted it, when the last post in the thread was made, how many replies it has received, and how many times it has been viewed.

The ‘Help’ box at the bottom describes the various icons that can be displayed and what restrictions are enforced in the forum.

8.8 Viewing Threads

The image above illustrates a typical forum thread with a reply. The details of the author of each post are listed in the left column.
  • Author Name.
  • User Class.
  • Username. The username of each author is only viewable by Administrators. It allows the true author of a post to be determined, as users cannot change their username after they first register an account.
  • Email. This will only be displayed if the author has allowed their email address to be publicly viewable.
If posting in a forum is unrestricted the user has the choice of what to enter as a name and email. No username or user class will be saved with the message if the author is not logged in. If the user is already logged in, these fields will be filled in automatically.

Each reply to the first message appears in order of posting (oldest first) as they are ‘follow-up’ replies. Details of the message are displayed at the bottom of each post. These include:

  • Posted. When the post was originally made.
  • IP. Displays the IP address of the original author of the post. Only Administrators/Moderators can view this information. Student will just see ‘logged’.
  • The management functions. (Described in Chapter 8.12).

8.9 Posting & Replying

A form similar to the illustration above will be displayed when either the ‘Post New Topic’ or ‘Post Reply’ icons are pressed (or by clicking ‘discuss’ inside a zone). This allows the user to post a new thread or reply to an existing thread. The user must enter a minimum of a title and a message in order to make a successful post. The file upload field will be displayed depending on the options set in the Forum Manager.

8.10 Post-Tags

Post-Tags provide the user with a restricted set of text formatting tags to enhance plain text that is entered in a message. If normal HTML is entered it will not be parsed by a web browser but instead displayed as it was typed. This is to prevent malicious use of HTML in posts (rogue JAVA scripts, excessive font sizes, linking unsuitable images etc.). Post tags are a sort of ‘pseudo-HTML’ code that provides all the basic HTML formatting and functions, with none of the security issues. A complete list of valid Post-Tags can be viewed by clicking the link to it in the forum post or thread view. The status of Post-Tags in a given forum is shown depending on whether or not they are enabled. See Chapter 7.3 for more information.

8.11 File Attachments

A file can be attached and uploaded with a forum post (if enabled by the Administrator). This has many uses and could be used widely by students as a means of exchanging data. The size of files that can be attached is limited by a user-defined amount (defined by an Administrator in the forum set-up). The limit is shown next to the ‘Attach File’ field. Files that are oversized will not be uploaded. Images can be uploaded and shown directly inside the post itself by using the [postimg] tag in conjunction with uploading a file of a valid image type (jpeg, gif). [img] and [post-tags] must both be enabled in the forum to allow this.

8.12 Managing Threads

A number of functions are available to manage all aspects of posts within forums:
  • Edit. Allows the author of the post or Administrators/Moderators to modify the message. If a file has previously been attached to a message it can be deleted or overwritten. A small modification stamp is placed inside the message when changes are made.
  • Delete. Allows the author of the post or Administrators/Moderators to delete the post (not the whole thread). This will delete any file attachment if present.
  • Lock Topic. When a thread is locked, no more replies or modifications can be made within it. This is useful when a thread needs to be stopped (getting too many replies or becoming argumentative) but you do not wish to delete it.
  • Unlock Topic. This will unlock a thread and allow replies and modifications again.
  • Delete Topic. This will delete the entire thread and any attachments within it. The post counter will be reduced accordingly.
All these functions are available when viewing a thread in a forum. If you need to clear all posts and reset a forum without deleting it completely, click ‘delete posts’ next to its entry in the Forum Manager (control panel).

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