Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Using discussion forums

I've just caught up with Lorraine Mockford's discussion on facilitating asynchronous learning, which is part of the FOC2010 course. It was interesting to hear her describing her approach to discussion boards, and listening to the discussion helped crystalise some ideas that I have had floating around, but hadn't really tried to formalise.
  1. Lorraine talks about having a Week Zero, before the course actually gets going, in which students engage in a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities in order to facilitate the development of an online community within the group. During the week she does things like getting students to introduce themselves in a  forum post; provide a fact about themselves that she woudl be unlikely to know otherwise; post a favourite link or website, etc. These are all great ideas which would help students overcome their nervousness of posting to a public forum in a pretty non-threatening manner.
  2. Lorraine talks about the importance of the lecturer holding back. This makes sense - after all, one is trying to enable the students to develop a community amongst themselves, rather than a series of one-to-one relationships with the lecturer. I have to admit that I have a tendency, when students put up a technical query, to jump in with the solution as quickly as I can, but I think I need to step back and allow the students to help one another instead.
  3. She also sets up discussion boards before the course runs, and allocates a specific board to 'off-thread' discussions. This is a great idea as it provides a place for students to share ideas and ask questions without interrupting the flow of a particular discussion.
  4. Finally, Lorraine mentioned using rubrics to assess forum posts. This is something we are currently grappling with... assessing forums would make students more likely to post to them (or would it?) but then it does detract from the spontaneity and the community aspects of a discussion forum. I'd be really interested to know what other people think and do regarding this. Does anyone have examples of rubrics that they could share?


  1. Thanks for that Jean. It was helpful to read the salient points from that interview and I think you captured them nicely.

  2. Hi Jean, I have mixed feelings about marking discussion forums - I always take the idealistic view that if you design the forum well, you won't need to mark discussion. Waht do you think?

  3. Thanks for the feedback, Karen. Sarah, like you, I have very mixed feelings about assessing discussion boards. In fact, I have mixed feelings about using assessment as a means of 'forcing' engagement with anything... I'd like to think that (as you say) if the material is sufficiently well-designed and stimulating, students will engage. Of course, the crunch IS developing that perfect material... can everyone do it?