So, of course this is easy to explain but might be enormously difficult to implement.
Can the background of user names at the top of each post be changed to indicate how long it has been since they participated?
I’d suggest colours for activity within 1 week, within 3 months, 90-365 days, over 1 year (although teachers might want 23h).
Why? This would be a super-quick visual reference to help us determine if a user is still around often. Most useful for me in cases of reading backwards, when seeing a Really Interesting old post I’d know “hey, that person is pretty active now so I won’t be launching a Zombie Thread if I reply and add my thoughts or questions.”
This is not duplicating information already on the User Card, but adding a layer of information. Current User Card info gives Posted x days ago, Recent read time (within the last 60 days) and read time (since the creation of the account). Plus, we already get a notification before posts that says “We haven’t seen KrisW …” so clearly The System logs time already.
For me, in this case “participation” = presence; logging on, eyes on the page. Wallflower voyeur. I’m not trying to get some tally of clicks, words composed, or number of responses. I just want to know that the person has been there on the other side of the screen recently.