Online instruction gurus Judith V. Boettcher and Rita Marie Conrad, authors of The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips, share their "Ten Best Practices for Teaching Online,” which address, of course, discussion forums: “The communication tool that is the heart and soul of the online course community is the discussion board. This is the primary place where faculty talk to students and students talk to other students. This is also the place where students and faculty get to know one another and the tool that helps a widely dispersed group of students and faculty become a learning community.” Boettcher and Conrad follow with tips about asking open-ended questions, following up with Socratic-style questions, provide guidelines for students about how to respond and follow up, etc. Their book is essential reading for anyone who teaches online.
A discussion board is a great way to maintain open lines of communication with your students. By providing a common space for students to ask questions, you’ll be able to give in-depth answers to e...
“Online Discussion Boards,” posted by isuwriting (Illinois State University Writing Program) on 29 Nov. 2012, discusses the advantages of adding online forums to writing classes, clearly intended here as a supplemental rather than primary learning space. Advantages include the ability to “reference” student writing (archiving), the creation of “social cohesion” (in and out of class), and better management of “group projects" (where it's easy to see who does what on a collaborative project). Having used supplemental Blackboard sites in my face-to-face FYC courses since 2002, I can attest to their value. Students report that being able to read everyone's rough drafts and give feedback helps them learn from each other, not just from me. I also require them to post selected preliminary writing assignments leading up to the rough draft--again, the ones where students can learn from seeing how other students approach an introduction or a thesis, and so on. Online forums aren't just for hybrid or online-only composition courses. I argue that everyone teaching FYC should use them.
Tani Bialek, in an interview with Digital Campus at the University of Minnesota, discusses how to make better use of course management system tools in online and hybrid courses (the CMS is Moodle in this case but Bialek’s tips apply to Blackboard as well). Bialek poses an important question: “"How can we create a good discussion question so that students go beyond simply responding to it and then making their two additional obligatory posts to meet the minimum requirements?" She then explains how to use collaborative projects, wikis, and a tool called VideoAnt to annotate YouTube videos, demonstrating many ways to give students more robust and challenging work online
This slidecast is a dissemination of a literature analysis on student engagement in online learning. Music credit: Kalimba by Mr Scruff
This YouTube video, posted by abarrieau, is a review of literature on student engagement in online/hybrid learning. Why include this video in a magazine about online discussion forums? One of the reasons for using discussion forums is, in theory, to increase student engagement as well as enhance student-to-student learning. In only 9 minutes and 55 seconds, abarrieau gets writing instructors up to speed on research on student engagement--time that is well spent, I think. I also like her charts and color coding.
Keith Restine and Allison Peterson from Texas Women's University suggest ways to reduce instructor fatigue with tips that work well in composition courses, such as having students summarize a set of forum posts and asking them to work in small groups to compose a single post for a forum. They remind us, too, that we don’t have to respond to every single student post in for every discussion question
A while back I posted the entry Article Notice: Tips, Tools, And Techniques For Teaching In The Online High School Classroom, after seeing the item scroll through my RSS reader. About two weeks ago...
Beginning with a cautionary note on the paucity of strong research-based evidence on “best practices” of teaching online, Michael Barbour, Wayne State University professor of instructional technology, focuses on online instruction in high school, but his cautions apply equally well to college courses where much of the research to date consists of case studies or the experiences of faculty teaching online at one institution. Read Barbour in conjunction with the "scoop" below from Atkinson on adopting too quickly so-called "best practices" for teaching online.
An online discussion forum should be an effective way of engaging students in careful and considered reflection, yet often they represent time-consuming and frustrating experiences for faculty. Get...
This is a fascinating blog post by Simon Paul Atkinson (dean at an online university in the UK) on VoiceThread discussion of best practices, noting how quickly we adopt models of best practices that may not, in fact, be effective, such as responding to every student post, a concept based on Salmon's "notion of responsiveness." Atkinson points out that Salmon's arguments about responsiveness were based on a different digital landscape than we enjoy today where online users are now accustomed to many ways to comment, rate, share, etc. Perhaps we need to re-think our assumptions about how to use online discussion forums and our roles as instructors? My position is that in the beginning of an online writing course the instructor should be present on the forums, especially to model responses and monitor students' peer feedback, but in a good online section the instructor can gradually withdraw. Although students may not intially see the value of peer interaction, in a good online writing course, the students really teach each other.
At its best, the discussion board can be the heart and soul of the online classroom. But it’s not always easy getting students to make the type of contributions you expect.
Seminar leader John Orlando from Norwich University School of Graduate Studies explains how VoiceThread can be used to create more interactive multimedia discussion forums and to create ongoing student discussions of online lectures. At Cuyahoga Community College, faculty can learn how to use VoiceThread with Blackboard through an AEC workshop led by Barbara Pittman. I highly recommend Barb's workshop and plan to use VoiceThread in my online-only composition and literature courses.
The COFA (College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales, Australia) series is essential viewing and reading for everyone teaching online. The series includes a YouTube video with each lesson as well as further instruction and suggestions in PDF format.
In this link from Writing Commons (an open-source combination textbook/FYC course), Jennifer Yirinic explains how students can respond more "thoughfully" to each others' posts on online discussion forums. She gives detailed examples of two types of responses--respectifully disagreeing and agreeing/then expanding--examples which students can easily understand and apply to their own discussion forum assignments.
As Yirinic observes, "Ultimately, the goal is to open up discussion, to respectfully disagree (if you disagree), to expand upon the writer’s point if you agree, and to contribute more ideas than just 'I like this post.' After all, discussion board threads are just like conversations: imagine what would happen in a conversation if one person asserted an argument and the others just said, 'I agree.' The conversation would die. The benefit of discussion boards is they enable the people involved in the conversation to consider their responses before posting them. So use that dynamic of the virtual world to your advantage: respond thoughtfully, engaging with the digital conversation.”
Online Writing Teacher is the blog of Scott Warnock, author of Teaching Writing Online: How and Why (NCTE 2009). Many of his blog posts describe ways to improve online discussion forums in first-year composition courses. Keep scrolling down the page to locate excellent suggestions for improving discussion questions, enhancing student participation, moderating forums, etc.
Hybrid Pedagogy is an academic and networked journal of learning, teaching, and technology that combines the strands of critical pedagogy and digital pedagogy to arrive at the best social and civil uses of technology and digital media in education.
Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel in this article, “The Discussion Forum is Dead: Long Live the Discussion Forum,” posted 8 May 2013 at the online journal, Hybrid Pedagogy, are critical of how faculty have permitted online discussion forums to become “factory farms” with “draconian” regulations about how often students are to post, how much they are to write, how they should respond. Morris and Stommel are especially critical of the restrictions of learning management systems where faculty are limited to discussion practices we would never consider in our F2F classes. They write, “Rather than hacking the system to fit our pedagogy, we can easily become the teachers the LMS wants us to be, which quickly feels less like teaching and a lot more like data entry.”
YES! Who hasn't gotten tired of teaching inside the box of Blackboard?
And what are we really doing there? As Morris and Stommel note, “The illusion offered by discussion forums is that they build community. And while certain kinds of communities can be built through regular posts and responses to those posts, these are communities of commentary, and not the kinds of communities that further online and hybrid learning.”
This article is a must-read not only because most of us recognize the pedagogical weaknesses of LMS forums, but also in the list of alternatives means of online discussion Morris and Stommel provide--from Disqus to Google Hangouts--with a brief analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each.
An integral part of nearly all online classes is the threaded discussion—it is where students interact on a nearly daily basis, posting their thoughts and information on main discussion topics, your postings, and the postings of other students.
Errol Craig Sull, author of How to Become the Perfect Online Instructor, offers a variety of suggestions about how to be a better faculty moderator of discussion forums, including reminders to model the types of responses you want students to produce, to use humor and examples from your own life, and to keep in mind that all of the students will be reading your responses, whether they’re addressed to them or not. I argue that open, transparent discussion forums where all student content and all instructor comments are visible increase student-to-student and instructor-to-student learning in online or hybrid courses and in F2F writing courses with online components.
‘Why don’t my students participate in online discussion forums?’ I’ve received numerous comments [questions] like this one, about the lack of student participation in online discussion forums from ...
In “Three Reasons Why Students Don’t Participate in Online Discussions," instructional designer and online education blogger Debbie Morrison covers problems like shallow student posts and comments and advises considering the timing of due dates for posts with respect to students’ work/life rhythms, etc. Her advice is insightful; a special bonus is the quality of the comments in response to her blogpost. I follow her blog and recommend it highly.
Jeffrey Young reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education on recent research on online discussion forums conducted by Piazza, a company that manages online forums for 545 colleges in 3600 courses. Piazza’s analysis shows that strict policies about discussion post lengths and frequency do not necessarily correlate with better learning, that students ask more questions (at least in upper-tier institutions) if they can do so anonymously, and that discussion forums are more robust if students are asked to introduce themselves on a forum early in the course.
This white paper reports initial findings from a Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center study entitled Revisualizing Composition: Mapping the Writing Lives of First-Year College Students. These initial findings are drawn from a survey of students enrolled in writing classes at a sample of US postsecondary institutions.
Although this report on the "writing lives" of 1366 students in first-year composition courses at several colleges and universities does not examine their online discussion forum writing per se, it does provide valuable insights into the types of writing first-year college students do, where they write, how they feel about their writing, what they value. While the report shows that students value academic writing, roughly half of their writing is personal. How can we tap into their enthusiasm for personal writing and incorporate that into our writing classes (online, hybrid, or F2F)?
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