Online Course Discussion Board / Forum Suggestions

I just read an interesting paper by Ben Plumpton at Open University, entitled How students can make conferencing work. While it is not a research paper, there are many practical suggestions in it that I am planning to use for my Principles and Practices of Online Course Creation and Instructional Design (PPOCCID) course that just began.  I have previously used discussion forums to support our weekly synchronous session, though will increasingly rely on them as a student will be joining the course who cannot attend any of the synchronous sessions, and I need to establish a course esprit de corps for our work.

Plumpton had me when one of his paper sections was titled “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM?), which is one of the more practical and pragmatic concepts I know and use in my classes. He is right, as he says (p. 2) about online conferencing (use of discussion boards / discussion forums):

  • You get support when you need it (in exchange for giving support to others);
  • You have a richer vein of experience to draw on, because you can pool examples, references etc;
  • Very often a group can produce better work than an individual. One person might put forward a thought or idea, often not completely formed or finished, someone else picks up on it and takes it forward, that sparks off more ideas in others, and between them the group creates something much better than any could have done on their own;
  • Learning by ‘talking’ is more powerful for most people than learning by reading – you think about things more deeply, and are likely to remember things better;
  • The best way to check your own understanding is to explain it to others. Explaining things for your fellow students is good practice for the kind of explanations you’ll probably have to do in assignments.

I am planning to discuss this paper with some colleagues this week (online, of course!), and hope to get more of an understanding of it in the process. Perhaps others may find this useful as well?

2 thoughts on “Online Course Discussion Board / Forum Suggestions

  1. Interesting that online ‘groupthink’ is becoming more and more valued as the agegroup that has skill with these methods becomes the dominant age group.

    While I agree in the short term truths of the points you posted, I do question if the group approach (i.e., the wiki-ization of all knowledge) doesn’t have an upper limit of value? Meaning, are we not actually saying that the users must possess the knowledge to answer the questions? If they did not get these answers from the instruction, are they motivated to get the ‘actual’ answer ? Or will they settle for an answer that is easier to find – or easier to accept?

    I know that sounds like heresy today, but I have heard groups talk about wiki groups to do everything. I find the concept … troubling.

  2. @Russell Gifford

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Russell.

    Do say more about the “groupthink” that you are describing, as I am not sure I am following your discussion about wikis, at least within the context of the Plumpton article. From a group, I think he is speaking about a team or group of learners within a class situation, where the group may reach better results working together than the members would if working alone.

    I am interested in the “heresy” you mentioned; can you give an example to illustrate your point so I can understand it more?

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