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Forums is a communication tool that instructors or site leaders can use to create an unlimited number of discussion forums for their course or project sites. The Forums tool is designed to be an effective tool for both academic and collaborative work, and is integrated closely with other tools such as Resources.

Note: This applies to the Forums tool only. For specific information regarding the Discussions tool, refer to articles under Discussions.


Key concepts

Forum example with three topics

Grading Option

Interactions can be assigned a point value and sent to the Gradebook with comments.

Forums vs. Topics

A forum is a mandatory category or grouping for topics. Topics, which are created within forums, are where participants can post conversations. A forum with the name of the site and a topic titled "General Discussions" are created by default.


A conversation is the thread of messages in which participants post their contributions. A conversation can be created by instructors or students inside a topic.

Counts of unread posts at a glance

On your site's Home page (select Home on the site's menubar), you can see how many unread messages or posts you have in both Messages and Forums. From My Workspace, you can see these totals for all sites you're a member of.

Email notifications

Site members can elect to receive no email notification, notification for all new postings in a site, or notification for responses to conversations they've posted in. The default is to receive notifications about new postings in conversations you have contributed to.

Discussion forums

Asynchronous discussion provides an opportunity for your site participants to engage site resources and each other, and allows for the free expression of convergent and divergent ideas. Interactions can be assigned a point value and sent to the Gradebook with comments.

Viewing forums

On your site's Home page (select Home on the site's menubar), participants can see how many unread discussion forum messages they have. On the Forums screen, participants see the number of unread messages and the grand total of messages for each topic. In the forums list, forums and topics are viewed as a thread by default.

Composing messages

A rich text interface allows rich text, plain text, and HTML editing. You can add attachments to any message by linking to files or web links in Resources.

More information about this editor, including how to paste from MS Word, can be found in the Text Editor article.

Quoted text

Use the Insert Original Text option to insert the previous post into your response.


Using Forums, you can view statistics for individual course participants, including the number of authored, read, and unread posts. To view statistics for course participants:


The site owner (or another participant with the appropriate role) can enable participants to submit their posts to a topic before they have permission to read the responses of others.

Print-friendly view

Print icon for printing topics

A print-friendly view is available allowing for easy printing of discussion topics. Click the View a printable version of the current page button at the top of the topic.

Group awareness

Site leaders can change forum and topic settings in combination with predefined groups to allow or deny access to specific discussions per group.

Direct link to individual messages

Site leaders can copy a direct link to individual messages to use.

Email the author of a message

Site leaders can directly email the author of a posting from within the forum tool.

How Do I?

Change the order of forums and topics

See the Change the order of forums and topics article to find out more about how to adjust the order of your Forum or Topic.

Control access to Forums

See the Control access to Forums article to learn more about how to establish various permissions and controls to your Forums in your site.

Set a day or time to open or close a Forum

Under the either Create a Forum or Create a Topic options, there is a field called Availability. There you can set an Open or Close date using the date picker tool.

NEW292.jpg Ability to set an open and close date for Forum availability.

Forum or Topic Availability by Open and Close Date
Forum or Topic Availability by Open and Close Date

Under Availability, you can choose to display the forum immediately or to specify availability dates.

Create a space for participants to discuss

In CLEW in order for participants to post new threads/messages they need to have a topic area created for them, and a Topic area can only be created once a new Forum has been created. In short, participants cannot post anything until an instructor has clicked New Forum and then created at least one topic (via Save and add topic or New Topic).

Create a forum

There will be one default forum when the tool is first activated. By default, participants (e.g., students) in a course site cannot create forums.To change the default settings for certain options in all future forums and topics you create, change the template settings. You can override the template settings for individual forums and topics you create by following the steps below.

Review roles and permissions.png

Permissions and Roles

To complete the procedures in this article, you must be assigned a role having the necessary permissions. This often excludes Students and TAs by default. To determine your role and accompanying permissions, follow the directions in Permissions and Roles.

Note: When you create your forum, you'll need to add at least one topic so site participants can post messages. The forum will not be visible to participants unless a topic is added.

To create a new forum:

NEW292.jpg Ability to set an open and close date for Forum availability.

Forum or Topic Availability by Open and Close Date
Forum or Topic Availability by Open and Close Date
    • New Forum: Create a new forum. You can modify this option only via Template Settings.
    • New Topic: Create a new topic. You can modify this option only via Template Settings or Forum Settings.
    • New Conversation: Create a new response to your topic.
    • Reply: Send responses to a topic response.
    • Post to Gradebook: Grade responses and add comments. Send grades and comments to Gradebook.
    • Change Settings: Change the topic settings.
    • Read: Read topic responses.
    • Mark as Read: Mark messages as read.
    • Moderate Messages: Moderate messages posted to forum.
    • Edit Messages: Use the radio buttons to indicate which postings participants with the permission level can edit (none, their own, or all postings).
    • Delete Messages: Use the radio buttons to indicate which postings participants with the permission level can delete (none, their own, or all postings).

Create a topic or thread in Forums

NEW292.jpg Student access to topics can now be set using Open and Close date options.

Forum or Topic Availability by Open and Close Date
Forum or Topic Availability by Open and Close Date

Automatically Creating Multiple Topics for Groups

A common use of Forums is creating separate topics for existing groups to facilitate private discussions for each group. Topics can be created individually and the permissions set manually, but the option described below expedites the process. On the Topics Settings screen:

  1. Create groups, or confirm that groups have already been created in this site.
  2. Follow the same procedures as Create a topic or thread in Forums
  3. Under "Automatically Create Topics", select Automatically create multiple topics for groups.
  4. When your finished, click Save.

Changing forum template settings

The template settings in Forums apply by default each time you create a new forum or topic, although you can override the default settings for each specific forum or topic as you create or revise them. To change the template settings that will apply to all future forums and topics:

  1. In your site's menubar, click Forums, and then click Template Settings.
  2. Set each of the following to your desired default settings:
    • Forum Posting: Choose whether topics will be moderated and whether participants must post before reading others' contributions.
    • Availability: Choose to display the forum immediately, or set specific dates to open and close it to participants.
    • Mark All Messages in Conversations Read: Changing this setting will automatically mark messages in a given conversations as read when the first message in teh conversation is opened.
    • Permissions: For more about the permission settings you can modify, see Controlling access in Forums.
  3. Click Save to save your changes.

Create a Moderated Topic or Forum

When creating or editing a Topic in the Permissions section select Moderate Topic. If creating or modifying a Forum select the Moderate Topics in Forum option.

To moderate messages in Forums, after creating a Moderated Topic/Forum:

  1. In your site's menubar, click Forums
  2. At the top, click Pending Messages. The number of parentheses is the number of messages awaiting your attention.
  3. Check the box next to the message you'd like to moderate, and click Deny or Approve. You'll be returned to the Pending Messages page to continue moderation.

Note: You cannot add a comment from the Pending Messages page if you deny a message. To include a comment, click the subject of the message before denying the message. You'll then have the opportunity to add a comment.If you are expecting attachments and need to read before you approve or deny the message, open the message to read before doing so.

Moderate Topic option

Delete a forum message

See the Delete a forum message article for more information about deleting a specific message in Forums.

Delete or revise a forum or topic

See the Delete or revise a forum or topic article for specific information on deleting or revising in Forums.

Email forum message authors

See the Email forum message authors article for more information on how to use Forums to create an email to the message author.

Forum Participation Statistics

See the Forum Participation Statistics article to find out about how to use the statistical package available in Forums.

Give Groups Permissions for Specific Access to a Forum or Topic

Site leaders can change forum and topic settings in combination with pre-defined groups to allow or deny access to specific discussions per group.

Choose each role and set their permissions

In the Forums tool's Forum or Topic settings find the permission level. Select each role and configure their level of access. For example, if one group only is supposed to have access make sure that group has "Contributor" access and other roles/groups have "None".

See Control access to Forums

Hide or Display Topics and Forums

Topics and Forums are immediately visible when Instructors or Topic owners once they create and save them. To keep a Topic or Forum concealed, click the Save Draft button. To activate the draft version, simply click the Save button.

Link to a message in Forums

See the Link to a message in Forums article to find out how to link from a message in Forums to another application or internally in CLEW.

Mark messages as read

In the Forums tool you must explicitly mark a forum item as read, simply viewing it is not enough to have the message/thread marked as read.

You can mark the entire thread as read via the Mark all as read.png button at the top of the Forums tool or by clicking the title of the of the thread item/message.

Mark forums messages as read

Moderate messages in a forum

To moderate messages (or give you a preview before they are released into your Site) in Forums follow the procedures outlined below:

  1. In your site's left menu, click "Forums".
  2. At the top, click Pending Messages. The number in the parentheses is the number of messages awaiting your attention.

Check the box next to the message you would like to moderate, and choose Deny or Approve. You will be returned to the Pending Messages page to continue moderation.

Note: To include a comment when you're denying a message, click the subject of the message and deny the message. At this point, you will have the opportunity to add a comment.

Organize Topics

Instructors can reorganize forums and forum topics by selecting Organize at the top and then re-numbering respective forums and topics.

Post and respond to Forum messages

See the Post and respond to Forum messages article to find out more about how to interact in Forums.

Save Forums and Topics as Draft

In CLEW in the Forums tool individuals forums and topics can be saved as a draft, "Save as Draft" or saved normally, "Save Settings". Obviously students cannot see drafts. To allow students to see draft Forums/Topics enter the "Forum Settings" or "Topic Settings" and press the Save Settings button at the bottom.

See Forums Notifications of new posts

You can see the number of new forum postings from either My Workspace or your site's Home page. You can also choose to get email notification of new postings on forum threads you have contributed to using the Watch option.

Note: Forums Notifications" will only appear on your site's Home page if these tools have been added to your site and only those sites with Forums turned on will appear in "My Workspace".

To see if someone has added a new message or forum posting to one of your sites, go to your site's Home page. Under "Forums Notifications", you'll see Forums listed, along with the number of new messages and forum postings for each.

If there are no new messages or forum postings, you'll see "none" beside your site.

The site Home page
Forums notifications for each site are also displayed on the site's Home page, where you can access the following functions:

Note: "Message Center Notifications" will only appear on your site's Home page if these tools have been added to your site.

Watch Forums Options

Email notifications

To modify email notification preferences:

  1. From your site's menubar, click Messages
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Next to "Auto Forward Messages", click Yes. Type the desired email address in the text bo provided, and then click Save Settings. This will forward a copy of each message to the email address you entered.

Note: You cannot reply to Messages from the forwarded email messages; to reply, go to the Messages tool in your site.

  1. From your site's menubar, click Forums
  2. At the top, click "Watch'
  3. Select your preferred option
  4. Click Save

View Forums

See the View Forums article to find out how to view forums, indicate that messages have been read and print messages.

Grade Messages in Forums Basics

Note: This applies to the Forums tool only. For specific information regarding the Discussions tool, refer to articles under Discussions.
(Back to Forums)

Grading Option in Forums

Note: Before following these directions you must first create an item in the Gradebook; for instructions, see Creating/adding, editing, or deleting a Gradebook item.

To grade a message in Forums:

Assign Specific Grade to Gradebook item in Forums

Forums Considerations and Troubleshooting

Text Editor Tips

Text Editor Tips

This tool makes use of the Sakai Text Editor.

Our Text Editor article includes a number of tips including how to add images or paste content from MS Word.

Advantages of Forums Tool

Among the advantages of the Forums Tool there are:

Statistics There is a specific [Statistics] feature that shows Authored, Read, Unread, and Percent Read columns. Clicking directly on a student's/participant's name brings instructors/facilitators to the Forums that they have authored messages in, which are displayed in-line, and displays the Forums which have been read.
Threaded Conversations can be threaded, meaning that an individual can post a reply to a topic or post a reply to another individual's reply within a topic. Postings will appear indented in the interface if they are a reply to a reply.
Moderated Forums/Topics available Topics can be pre-set to enable an instructor/facilitator to approve pending messages before they appear as a posting.
Interface Some have said that using the Discussions tool is more intuitive and easier to set up than the Forums tool. There are prepared Forums (Questions, Class Discussions and Student Lounge) has and the tool has a similar look and feel to other commonly used forums.
Adjustable Permissions Forums has a customizable permissions option to enable deeper editing options for participants.
Template Settings Forums tool has the option to change defaults for new Forums or Topics. This is especially handy if there are multiple Forums to be created in a site (i.e. group work) where customizable permissions are necessary. Once a template has been initiated, it will apply to future Forums created, not those that have been created with the default template.
Edit Settings Forums and Topics each have a link directly to editing options, vs. a centralized editing area. This can be handy when you want to change a setting of that Forum or Topic only. That said, there is no way to apply a common change to a default setting to the entire series of Forums or Topics except by altering the Template. This new template definition only applies to Forums and Topics that are created after the template has been changed.

Differences between the Forums Tool and the Discussions Tool

There are some differences between Forums and Discussion and knowing them will help you to choose the appropriated tool for an specific task or topic:

Question Forums Discussions
Definitions and Overview Forums is a tool that has one or more Forums (General conversation vessels) that contain one or more Topics within. Individuals can post replies to the topic thread (individual responses connected to the topic), or post new threads related to the topic. It has an internal statistics package and customizable settings to enable various editing access to users. Within the Discussions tool, instructors can set up unlimited Forums (Conversation areas with a theme or topic), Categories (cluster of similarly related Forums), and moderate topics; communicate privately with users (private messages); and post individual details including images and social networking connections in a viewable profile.
Can I use this tool to grade postings? This tool can associate a Forum or Topic with an existing Gradebook Item or instructors can establish an entirely new Gradebook item when creating a Forum. If an instructor wants to use a pass/fail process, they can select a 1/0 point scheme, with 1 for pass and 0 for fail. This tool can enable Gradebook to be associated to individual Discussion Forums. Instructors can assign a grade by an entire Category, Topic or Forum, or by individual postings using points only.
Can I assign a pass/fail, checkmark or letter grade to a posting? No. Gradebook will only accept points from the Forums tool. No. Gradebook will only accept points from the Discussions tool. However, you can enter a "point" amount into Discussions that does not get transmitted to Gradebook, but students can review in the Discussions tool only. Enable the Send to Gradebook option in the grading panel for the Forum and Topic or in the "Manage" screen for Category and Forum.
Can I use this tool to conduct group work? The Forums tool can be set up for groups (in the Forums or Topics sections) if groups have been previously set up in the Sections tool or Site Editor -> Manage Groups options. The Discussions tool can have groups assigned to specific Forums when groups have been previously set up using the Sections tool or Site Editor -> Manage Groups option.
Are Threaded Conversations available? The Forums tool has threaded conversations, which means students, facilitators and participants can reply to a posting, or reply to someone else's response to a posting. Conversations are linear, which means one posting follows another with the most recent at the bottom of the topic.
Can I be notified of new postings or topics? The number of new postings in the Forums tool will be shown in the Home page of a site for all users, and clicking on the link will take the user directly to the Forums tool. Also, within a Forum, anyone can enable the [Watch] option to be notified by email when there is a posting made. Bookmarks can also be set up to frequently visit a forum of interest by selecting the Bookmark button at the top of the forum. Within the Discussions tool, there are several icons that change when a new topic is posted. When setting your preferences in the Profile section of the tool, you can indicate that you want an email sent when new topics are posted or when a private message is sent.
Can I order or sort the forums or topics I initiate by importance? Instructors can rearrange the position of the topic within the Forum or Topics using the Organize link. Instructors can classify a topic by Announcement (top priority, top of the list), Sticky (appears under Announcement) or Reusable (can be copied), and Normal. Also, instructors can manage the order or names of Forums or Categories using the Manage link.
Can I know how many postings a student has read or authored? Separate Statistics area defining number of authored/read/unread/percentage is available in Forums. The number of messages posted is available under the Member Listing link, but there are no statistics for the number of postings that are read.
Is it easy to learn and use these tools? The Forums tool may be challenging for new users, but it now has a prepared forum or template to model future Forums or Topics from. For more information on how to set up a forum, visit the Forums page, enroll in a CLEW workshop, or contact the CLEW team at CLEW Team with specific questions.
Can my students or I upload attachment(s) to a posting and how big can they be? In the Forums tool, users can post attachments with a maximum size of 50 MB. The Discussions tool allows postings to be accompanied by a maximum of three attachments, each with a file size of 10 MB or 30 MB in total.
Can I Show or Hide a forum or topic?

Can I disable the Forum/topic from further postings?

Can I see postings first before I release them to the class?

Forums/Topics can be locked (disabled from further postings) and enabled to be Moderated (postings have to be approved prior to being displayed). Instructors cannot hide/display a Forum once it has been created, but they can change permissions within the Forum setting to enable or disable access. Also, saving a Forum as Draft will make it not appear to students. A Discussion Forum can be hidden until a specified date. It can also be locked on the "Due Date" to prevent further postings.

Instructors can Lock/Unlock/Move or Delete any topic. When an instructor uses the Deny Access option, it will not be visible to students.

Can I use a quick method to indicate the topics have been read?

How do I know what topics are the most recent ones?

When viewing a thread within a forum, there is an option to Mark All as Read. There is a link in the Home page of the site indicating the number of unread postings in the Forums tool. Once in the Forums tool, there is no way to see the most recent Forum posted; you must open each Forum and look to the top of each message where the date/time is indicated. Also, the Statistics option gives a summary of postings by individuals who authored or read postings with corresponding date and time. Beside each Topic there is an indicator of the number of messages contained within, and the number that are unread. An envelope will appear next to the unread message. There are features to be able to Mark All As Read or Check All -> Mark Topic as unread in either the entire Discussion site or under individual forums. Select the Recent Topics link in the top menu to bring a sorted list of activities in the Discussions tool, sorted beginning with the most recent message (to a maximum of 2500).
Can I enable my students to edit postings? Editing by students/participants can be adjusted by changing the Permissions options of Forums or Topics. Editing or deleting postings can be adjusted to none (no editing or deleting by student), own (only their material) or all (any posting can be edited or deleted). Use caution when enabling participant editing, as material can be irretrievable if deleted or altered. Normal postings enable the post and reply options. Open the Manage link to edit the Forum to enable Reply only or Read only. Access can be given to all participants, no participants, or to specific groups. Deleting of postings is not available in this tool. Editing one's own posting is done using the Edit button within a posting. The most recent edited date appears below the picture, avatar, or name of the student in the posting.
Can students reply specifically to a quote from another posting? When replying to a posting, the editing screen and a Insert Original Text button appears, which copies the From: and Subject: fields into the new response. The quote button is used to respond to a previous message. It copies the entire message into the new reply and can be trimmed as needed.

FAQ – Forums

How do I . . .?

Grade in Forums?

Forums is one of two tools you can use in CLEW for asynchronous on-line discussions.

  1. In the Forums tool, select Statistics in the grey menu bar.
  2. From the list of students, select the name of the student whose contributions to “Forums” you want to grade. You will see a list of all messages that this student posted.
  3. To read any message, click on the on the message title under Subject. The message will appear on a new page. You can open all messages in the same way. To view a whole conversation, click Display in Conversation.
  4. When you are finished reading the contributions of this student, select the Grade link in the "bread-crumb trail" and select the next student you want to grade.

Related Articles

This article is based on the equivalent Sakai help article created by Indiana University found at:
Additional sources of content include Brock University's Sakai / Isaak Wiki and the University of Florida Sakai / e-Learning Documentation with thanks and appreciation for the collaboration.

All respective sources used are under a free-for-reuse license and additional permission has been obtained.

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Other articles about Sakai tools and how instructors can use them:

Core Tools: Announcements | Assignments | Email | Forums | Gradebook | Quizzes & Tests II | Resources | Site Editor | Syllabus

More Tools: Polls | Chat | Drop Box | Home | Discussions | News | Feedback | Sections | Lessons | Site Stats | Web Content | Wiki

Related articles: How to add tools to CLEW | Using the Text Editor | Manage Groups | Permissions and Roles | Contact the CTL for help

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