Forums Tool - OWL

What is the Forums Tool

The Forums tool in OWL allows instructors and students to communicate amongst themselves asynchronously in response to topics of discussion.

What is the purpose of the Forums Tool

The Forums tool allows both instructors and students to create and reply to topics of discussion, and create specific conversation threads within topics. The Forums tool is highly customizable and flexible. The permission settings can give a wide range of access to all participants, or can be restricted to grant particular permissions for specific functions. Forums can be used to supplement discussion of course topics or as a gradable evaluation of student participation.

How to use the Forums Tool

Within your OWL worksite, enable the Forums tool using the "Site Info" page and clicking on the "Edit Tools" link. The Forums tool is added to the left side of your OWL worksite.

The structure of a Forum in OWL is as follows: 

  • Forum is the overall platform on which all its enclosing topics of discussions should be based. You could have one main forum for any discussion relating to the course and a different forum for each unit.
  • Topic is a specific subject of discussion within the provisions of the forum.
  • Conversation is the discussion of a specific sub-topic, issue, or question relating to the main topic displayed as a series of replies.

To generate a new Forum, click "New Forum" button, and then customize your forum to suit your needs. You can access these settings again later in "Forum Settings". Create a new topic of discussion by clicking "New Topic". Customize your topic settings as desired. You can access these settings again later in "Topic Settings." Within a topic, you can start a new conversation by clicking "Start a New Conversation". A conversation is meant to lead to a series of replies related to the overall topic, but specific to your conversation. 

Where to find Support

This tool is centrally supported


For help, you can contact the WTS Helpdesk


Additional information on OWL Forums can be found on the OWL Help - Forums page.

Tool Evaluation

Functionality overall rating: 2 starsFunctionality

Rating Rationale
Scale rating: 3 stars


Forums can be set up for sub-groups within a course allowing for the tool to be scaled to accommodate class size/communities of practice

Ease of use rating:3 stars

Ease of Use

The Forums Tool has a user-friendly interface that is easy to navigate and personalize (i.e. Topics within forums)

Tech Support/ Help Availability rating: 3 stars

Tech Support/Help Availability

Western technical support/help documentation is readily available. See the Forums page in OWL Documentation Wiki or contact the Helpdesk

Hypermediality rating: 2 stars


The tool allows users to communicate through different channels (audio, visual, textual) but is limited in its ability to provide non-sequential, flexible/adaptive engagement with material

Accessibility overall rating: 2 starsAccessibility

Rating Rationale
AODA Friendly rating: 2 stars

AODA Friendly

The Forums Tool mostly meets accessibility guidelines (AODA and the W3C WCAG 2.0 standards) but the complexity of forums, topics, threads, messages, and replies represents a barrier. To reduce cognitive load it is recommended that forums be organized by topic.

User Foused Participation rating: 2 stars

User-focused participation

The Forums Tool has some limited capacity to address the needs of diverse users, their various literacies, and capabilities by being largely text-based

Required Equipment rating: 3 stars

Required Equipment

Proper use of the Forums Tool does not require specialized equipment

Technical overall rating: 3 starsTechnical

Rating Rationale
OWL Integration rating: 3 stars

OWL Integration

The Forums Tool is native to OWL

Operating Systems rating: 3 stars

Operating Systems

Users can effectively utilize the Forums Tool with any standard, up-to-date operating system (i.e. Windows, OSX, etc.)

Web Browser rating: 3 stars

Web Browser

Users can effectively utilize the [title] tool with any standard, up-to-date web browser (i.e. Safari, Google Chrome, Firefox, Explorer etc.)
Additional Tech Requirements rating: 3 stars

Additional Tech Requirements

Users do not need to download additional software or browser extensions

Mobile Design overall rating: 1 star Mobile Design

Rating Rationale
Mobile Operating Systems rating: 3 stars

Mobile Operating Systems

The Forums Tool is accessible in OWL on all mobile devices through a browser. There is no native app for OWL, however you can access OWL through the WesternU app on both android and iOS devices.

Mobile Functionality rating: 3 stars

Mobile Functionality

There is little to no functional difference with the Forums Tool when accessed on mobile systems

Offline Access rating: 1 star

Offline Access

The Forums Tool cannot be used in any capacity offline

Usage and account set up overall rating: 3 starsUsage and Account Set Up

Rating Rationale
Sign Up/Sign In rating: 3 stars

Sign Up/Sign In

Use of the Forums Tool does not require the creation of an external account or additional login beyond a Western Identity and access to OWL

Cost of Use rating:  3 stars

Cost of Use

All aspects of the Forums Tool can be used free of charge to Western account holders

Archiving Saving and Exporting Data rating: 3 star

Archiving, Saving, and Exporting Data

Students and instructors can save Forum conversations as a PDF or print pages.

Data Privacy and Ownership rating: 3 star

Data Privacy and Ownership

Forum conversations are kept private to the registered participants. Group-organized forums are only accessible to the group members registered to that forum. Users maintain ownership and copyright of their intellectual property/data


Social Presence overall rating: 2 starsSocial Presence

Rating Rationale
Collaboration rating: 2 stars


The Forums Tool has the capacity to support a community of learning through asynchronous but not synchronous opportunities for communication, interactivity, and transfer of meaning between users

User Accountability rating: 3 stars

User Accountability

Instructors can control student anonymity; The Forums Tool provides technical solutions for holding students accountable for their actions

Diffusion rating: 2 star


Student familiarity with the Forums Tool is likely mixed, some will lack basic technical competence with its functions

Instructor Presence overall rating: 3 starsInstructor Presence

Rating Rationale
Facilitation rating:3 stars


The Forums Tool has easy-to-use features that would significantly improve an instructor’s ability to be present with students via active management, monitoring, and engagement

Customization rating: 3 stars


Customization is possible mainly through adjusting template settings and through the organization of forums and topics. For more information see the New Forum/Topic and Template Settings section of the OWL Documentation Forums Page

Learning Analytics rating: 3 stars

Learning Analytics

Forum posts can be monitored and/or graded. For more information see the Monitoring/Grading Forums section of the OWL Documentation Forums Page

Cognitive Presence overall rating: 2 starsCognitive Presence

Rating Rationale
Enhancement of Cognitive Task(s) rating: 2 stars

Enhancement of Cognitive Task(s)

Depending on how the Forums Tool is configured (with consideration given to design, facilitation, and direction from instructor), it can enable functional improvement to engagement in the targeted cognitive task(s). See Eight Tips for Facilitating Effective Online Discussion Forums

Higher Order Thinking rating: 2 stars

Higher Order Thinking

Depending on how the Forums Tool is configured and facilitated, it may engage students in higher order thinking skills. See three examples detailed in this Faculty Focus Article

Feedback on Learning rating:2 stars

Feedback on Learning

Through grading and response features, instructors could provide students with feedback on their engagement with the Forums Tool. Limited functionality for students to track their own posts or monitor improvement over time.

Security and Privacy

This tool has been formally reviewed by Western’s Technology Risk Assessment Committee

Security and Privacy Flags

Information Collection

  • Application collects information that could identify the user specifically (email address, class schedule, etc..)


  • Application's Terms of Conditions or End User License Agreement poses a risk of binding the institution to an agreement thereby requiring legal counsel to review the application. However, this is mitigated as it has undergone legal review during the Technology Risk Assessment process.

Last Updated: September 16, 2020


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