Alternatives to discussion forum

Hi, What tools are people using as an alternative to the edX discussion forum? What ways have you found successful in managing discussions?


Hi @profpatrice! So good to see you on here :slight_smile:

I know this is a question many folks have – and I recall from Global Forum lightning talk by Heather @ HarvardX that they were developing a tool called Threads. Maybe @Colin_Fredericks or others at Harvard may be able to offer updates?

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Sure, I’d be glad to!

HarvardX has tried out several alternatives to the edX forums, including Disqus and creating social media groups. The exact one you want to use would depend on the functionality you need. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks:

  1. We lose the data in those cases. No outside organization is willing to give us the sort of data that we get from edX’s forums. This is the biggest problem for us.
  2. It’s harder to create posts that link directly back to a specific page the way that inline discussions do.
  3. Requiring students to create an account on an external site provides both a barrier to continued involvement in the course and a potential security risk. It’s official Harvard (on-campus) policy that no student can be forced to sign up for an outside service in order to pass a class, and we try to maintain that in our online offerings.

So instead of trying to plug in external forums, we’ve been pushing edX to improve their existing forums. They have gotten significantly better over the last 2 years, though that may still be hard to see, and we’ve got some upcoming conversations with edX about this. You might want to talk with your institution’s contact and express some of the features that you’d like included, or make a thread here about what kinds of things you’d like to build into the platform.

Sorry I can’t be more immediately helpful!

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Great question @profpatrice

We have used YellowDig in one course and I would be happy to provide more detail about that experience. LTI provided a fairly seamless account creation process, however @Colin_Fredericks points out possibly major drawback of limited data back about activity. In my hallway conversations at Open edX, there is interest in supporting other options (or possibly outsourcing discussions?) for discussions. We are interaction here on Disqus, so I wonder if that might be the solution.


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Thanks for all your responses. We tried FB however same drawback with respect to not being able to gather data, it was really no easier to facilitate and excluded some users. Has any one tried any solutions from a course design standpoint?
We’ve tried to get learners to search for a question before posting same question/reply to a thread where something has already been asked with little success. We did use teams for a discussion assignment and that seemed to work well. This was for a specific assignment and they then rejoined the larger group discussion.
Is it possible in edX to randomly assign people to a group and have that group change with each new discussion? We couldn’t find a way to do that. I wouldn’t want to put people into a small group and then not have them interact with others in the class the whole time. It would be interesting if they randomly got assigned to a different small group with each new discussion-thoughts?

Our faculty also struggle with feeling like they can’t make sense of the discussions and trying to understand how they can best interact.


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@Colin_Fredericks Have you looked into using Discourse? (The forum tool we are using to discuss right here :slight_smile: )

Discourse can be hosted on your own servers - you keep all the data.

It should be possible to create an inline discussion XBlock for Discourse, which would allow you to add Discourse threads inline.

This might be possible to solve through SSO, which Discourse supports - it depends on your exact contraints around not requiring registration and which Open edX instance you are using, but Discourse could potentially reuse the account from the Open edX instance. Alternatively, it might be possible to add support for LTI to Discourse.

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Moodle can now be configured as a LTI tool provider (video here). So Moodle’s forums can be included in an Open edX page using the LTI tool.

However, at this time, it seems that there are incompatibilities between Moodle and Open edX. But once it will be solved, this could be an option.

I’ve found 2 free and LTI compliant solutions:

Another solution could be OSQA but it’s not LTI compliant.

From informal discussions at the Open edX 2019 conference, it really sounds like the discussion forum is the biggest pain point for course teams at the moment. And since edX have been making Open edX significantly more plugin-friendly, we at OpenCraft think this is an excellent time to get together and solve this issue.

Our current best contender for replacing the forum is Discourse, for all the reasons @antoviaque gave in his previous post, and because the LabXchange project has working with it, and finding its APIs to be both useful and beautiful (if poorly documented). Good APIs means better integration options for the platform, to offer a seamless experience for learners and course teams. It’s also an excellent opportunity to help improve the Open edX plugin architecture, so that this and other plugins can be developed and easily maintained as the platform evolves.

@shellyu @Colin_Fredericks
Would you be willing to share the use cases you’ve developed for what forum improvements are needed, and what has been improved already?

And anyone else who has use cases in mind, or knows other teams who do – please reply here, and point others towards this thread.

If we can get enough people and funding together, we can build a robust and useful solution, and make the whole course experience better!

Hi, @jill_opencraft! I am totally psyched to hear your team is working on this.

Before you do any work on this at all, talk with Pearson. Shelly and I both spoke with them at Open edX this summer about the work they’re doing to improve the existing forums, and I’d hate to see you and them working at cross purposes. Melanie McFarlane is probably who you want; I can put you in contact if you like.

I’d be glad to share what we’ve done in terms of coming up with requirements. I’ll e-mail you the big spreadsheet that Harvard and MIT came up with, and can also send the condensed version that we were hoping to speak with edX about directly (meeting got cancelled). Let me know if you need any extra detail on it or if anything we wrote doesn’t make sense.

I know this is a question many folks have – and I recall from Global Forum lightning talk by Heather @ HarvardX that they were developing a tool c

Hi @Colin_Fredericks! Happily taking you up on your offer: would you mind putting me in contact with Melanie at Pearson? We’re curious to know what they have planned, and would like to discuss to see if it would make sense to join forces instead of working in silos. It’s worth exploring in any case. My email is gabriel [at] Thanks in advance : )

Will do! (Post must be at least 20 characters.)

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Thank you @Colin_Fredericks :slight_smile:

HarvardX and MITx have shared their spreadsheet of desired use cases. I’ve added some details about what’s supported out of the box by Discourse:

Discussion Forum Enhancement Requests

Anyone with the above link can read this document, and just ask me if you’d like to comment, add or amend anything listed there.

Thank you for sharing your work so far @Colin_Fredericks and @shellyu, and to @profpatrice and @juliegoff for getting this thread started!

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@Colin_Fredericks @shellyu @profpatrice @juliegoff

If we implement a new forum solution, do we need to worry about importing the old forum posts and comments in?

(I am hoping the answer is “not in the first phase”, and that we can enable the use of the new forum on a per-course-run basis.)

Forum posts do not persist between course runs, so if this is only implemented in new courses you won’t have to worry about it.

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Hi! I have created a post on the new Open edX official discussion forum that is relevant to this discussion. Would love to hear from everyone there.

@kshitij-sobti Thanks! Since this thread now has a corresponding thread on the official forum category, closing this thread. Post replies there:

See Moving to the official Open edX forum? for details.