January 25, 2005

Cutting the Threaded Discussions

Posted by Michael Arnzen at 21:41 in Praxis.

I typically have one night course in my workload -- a course that meets one night per week, for a three hour seminar. Since a lot can happen in a student's learning in the week between class meetings -- from new discoveries in research to myriad questions that pop up in response to a reading -- I've always included mandatory participation in an online threaded-discussion (bulletin board) forum. I always felt it would be a good way to keep class continuity flowing.

But it just hasn't been working for the past few terms. Students rarely "discuss" or collaborate as much as I'd like. They see it as rote homework, busy work, teaching-technology-fetishism...etc. They don't like our campus Course Management Software, which is generally alien to their online lifestyles and less user-friendly than many public online discussion boards. I've tried every strategy I could think of to prod their interest -- from posting questions, responding frequently online myself, bringing print-outs of juicy commentary into the following class meeting for discussion, and incorporating interaction grades -- but no matter what I do, the majority of students typically wait until the hour before class begins to post, and only a minority of the class really gets involved.

I know I could do better, but it'll take more time and research than I'm willing to commit to it right now. I've been using these things in classes for something like ten years and while I'll continue to use them in our low residency master's program (where it's successful in maintaining student bonds), I need a break from them in my undergrad courses, and a serious fresh start.

When I was considering whether or not to punt the discussion boards for my Spring classes, I took a stab at seeing what was available online on this topic, and found William Klemm's "What's Wrong with Discussion Boards?"...and it enumerates many of the problems I've had with them. Indeed, if you're thinking about using a discussion board for you classes, you might want to read it to get a preview of what's in store. I burrowed more deeply into the website that hosted this article, and learned that it's a sales pitch for an alternative to discussion boards -- for a company Klemm himself founded and presides over -- called Forum. Normally, I'd be suspicious, but Klemm is a teacher at Texas A&M, has written some great articles about online collaboration, and hosts a wonderful resource page on the topic. One of his recent pieces suggests shifting the paradigm from threaded "discussion" to a document sharing and "collaboration". His article, "Extending the Pedagogy of Threaded-Topic Discussions" argues that a single, scrollable, "community file" (much like a "wiki") is one answer to the discussion doldrums. I look forward into researching this further and rethinking how I might utilize discussion boards in a pedagogically sound way.

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Don't give up on threaded discussion.
They work. For both students and teachers.

Mary Dereshiwsky of Northern Arizona University and Roberta Ross-Fisher of Walden University led an online seminar on "Fostering Online Discussion" last week at TeachingOntheNet

Don't give up (intentional repetition).
It's fun online.

Posted by William Draves at 21:06 on February 11, 2005. #

I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who runs into trouble with the threaded discussion. Some of my best class discussions have been online, but it just doesn't seem to translate to every class.

Posted by John at 15:21 on February 12, 2005. #

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