Discussion Organization

Discussion & Private Messages tool allows you to communicate asynchronously with your site’s members and privately through the built-in private messaging component (the ‘mail’ system of Etudes).

There are four parts to the organizational structure of the discussion tool:

  • Categories (Main and Other in image below)
    • Forums (Questions, Class Discussions and Student Lounge in image below)
      • Topics
        • Replies

Categories include forums that fall under similar themes. For instance, an instructor could have a category called Group Work. Within the Group Work category, there might be forums titled Group A, Group B, and Group C. And within each of these forums there would be topics for each group and replies to those topics.

By default, you will have two categories in your site’s discussion tool: main and other. The “Main” category contains two forums, Questions & Class Discussions, and the “Other” category consists of one forum, the Student Lounge. There is nothing special about these default categories and forum names. You can change them to fit your unique needs.

When participants first visit the site’s discussion tool, they will see the Discussion List.

An observation that your students will make immediately is that the discussion tool is similar to other message boards they may have used. And it’s true: If your students have used other bulletin boards on the web, they will be familiar with the Etudes discussions tool.

If you didn’t change the default forums, when students (site participants) visit the discussion tool, they will see:

Discussions Default Home

Instructors can add new forums to the existing list, or remove the default forums and create new ones for their discussions, as in the following example. Note that members can see at a glance where new activity is (orange folder), how many topics and messages (replies) are in a forum, as well as who posted the last message and when.

There will be no pre-existing topics in your forums when you get a new course site. You will be able to export your categories and forums and import them into a new site. Additionally, topics that you have flagged as ‘I’ll re-use’ will be imported into new sites.

Clicking on a user’s name will bring up their profile; clicking on the letter icon will take the user to the actual message.

Sample discussion forums

Students’ first instinct will be to jump right in and start participating, and, by default, they can do just that. The default forums are public , meaning that anyone who is a “Participant” (student or guest) or “Facilitator” (instructors and teaching assistants) can read and respond to messages.


The home page of Discussion & Private Messages is considered the “Discussion Home” area. As you navigate through your forums and topics, you can return to home from any page of the tool by click on “Discussion Home”

menu bar

As you click on forums, you will see breadcrumbs showing you the path you’ve taken. In the below example, you are in the “Class Discussions” forum, which is inside the category “Main”.
breadcrumbs in discussions
The menu bar and Discussion Home navigation menu is accessible from all screens. No matter where you click (Recent Topics, Member Listing, Private Messages, etc.), you can return to the list of forums by clicking on Discussion Home.

You may also navigate in between forums by using the drop-down menu at the bottom of the Discussion forum pages.

drop-down menu to go to forums

Once inside a topic of a forum, you can move to the next or previous topic of the forum (or the first and last) by clicking on the arrows.

navigating through topics

Lastly, the legend at the bottom of the page explains the usage of each icon.

Discussion legend

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