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?