Open Source

DIY: CourseForum makes online collaboration a breeze

The CourseForum online collaboration tool is useful for schools, businesses, non-profits, and even individuals looking for an interactive forum-driven site. Learn how to install and set up the Free version of CourseForum.

Many educational systems are in desperate need for free software that will help students learn and educators teach. Some education software is incredibly powerful but also complex to set up; Moodle is just one example.

An e-learning tool that offers various features and is easy for IT to administer is CourseForum. In this forum, educators can enable a better, more interactive learning environment for students in their courses. In addition, CourseForum will appeal to most IT administrators for these reasons:

  • Simple installation.
  • Built-in web server (so there's no need to install a separate http server).
  • Cross platform (Windows, Linux, OS X)
  • Web-based
  • Easy to use administration panel

Free, Standard, and Campus versions of CourseForum

With the Free version of CourseForum, students can:

  • Interact with instructors and fellow students.
  • Get information about classes.
  • Ask and answer questions.
  • Collaborate with fellow students.

If you need more advanced features, then you should look into the Standard version, which starts at $119.00 for a single course and goes up to $999.00 for 50 courses. Some additional features that come with the Standard version of CourseForum are:

  • Branding.
  • Per-course user accounts.
  • Site-wide user accounts.
  • Project areas.
  • Archive older courses.
  • Attachments.

Another option is Campus Licensing, which offers a per-registered user, unlimited course licensing model.

For more details about the versions, check out the CourseForum site's Feature List page. In this DIY tutorial, I focus on the Free version of CourseForum.

Installing CourseForum

The CourseForum download consists of one file that will be run. On a Windows system, you should allow the file to run. The file will install an executable in Start | All Programs | CourseForum, and then a window will pop up allowing you to Start, Stop, or Open In Browser.

For Linux, you should download the executable file (courseforum-linux.tgz), unpack the file, and move the ./courseforum-linux/courseforum file into /usr/local/bin. With the executable in place, run the command sudo courseforum, and the server will be up and running.

The Windows and the Linux installation methods will start the CourseForum server on port 3455. It is possible to start the daemon on a different port, but it must be configured within the Site Administration page. If your web server doesn't serve up any other sites, CourseForum can be configured to port 80, so students and staff don't have to include the port number in the URL to access the site.

Setting up CourseForum

The first step in the setup process is to configure the administrator password. To do this, click the Site Administration link and fill out the necessary information (Figure A). Instead of setting a single-course password, you should create per-course passwords as each course is set up. Figure A

Click the image to enlarge.

When you look at the admin panel, it's obvious CourseForum doesn't have the power or the features that come with Moodle. CourseForum also doesn't have in-depth security like Moodle, which is why it's critical that you set up and use passwords for courses and forums.

On the Course Setup page, you'll encounter one of the drawbacks of the Free version of CourseForum -- the inability to create user accounts. This also inhibits your ability to create a much more secure environment, but it does not interfere with your ability to create useable forums for one course. In Figure B, the grayed out tabs are only available in the premium versions of CourseForum. In order to set up more than one course, you need to purchase the Standard version of CourseForum. Figure B

Click the image to enlarge.

Despite the limitation of one course and no users, you can create all of these items for the course:

  • Interactive forums.
  • Syllabus.
  • Q&A.
  • Assignments.
  • Lectures.
  • Instructor contact information.
  • Student pages.

If you have used or administered a wiki, the process of creating any of the items on the list should be intuitive.

One way to get the most out of the Free version of CourseForum is to set up one course to serve as the forum for the entire school (or organization); this could be for faculty only or for students and faculty. If you set up CourseForum as a single forum for a larger scope, I urge you to set passwords and not give the passwords to students, so the tool is used as an information-distribution center rather than as a means of student/teacher, teacher/teacher, or student/student interaction.

Using CourseForum in creative ways

I have deployed CourseForum in education and business environments with great success. The business is using CourseForum as an interactive wiki.

What are other creative ways that educational institutions, businesses, not-for-profits, or even individuals looking for an interactive forum-driven site could use CourseForum? Post your ideas in the discussion.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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