Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Twist on the Uses of a Discussion Board

Yes, most people that are involved in education, especially distance education, have heard a zillion times about the "Discussion Board" and how it is supposed to connect you and your students. You'd be surprised at how many false starts and failed attempts I have seen with hybrid and online courses. But why? Why did it not work?

Here is the twist: Yes the technology is great for connecting people but how are you going about making that connection? What is motivating your students to come to the discussion and post?

In a recent experiement I assisted a Government instructor (the perfect victim of my experiment) in setting up a PHPBB forum for his classes. To my complete amazament, after only one week of class (mind you I work for a small college ~ 2,500 students) we had seen over 300 posts on the discussion. In contrast to the WebCT discussions that were simply not taking off at all. What is the difference?

The approach is the secret ingredient. The PHPBB forum allowed us to combine all sections of the same class under the same forum. This just about triplicated the number of members of the forum. It also created an unexpected side-effect: cross-polination of posts across different course sections (but same course). We could not have predicted how this effect would be so successful. To top it all off, discussion regarding current events that affect everyone in regards to politics and government.

The bait worked. The accessibility for all and the "hot topics" created basically a small discussion community. The success has been tremendous. Students are totally into discussing these topics in the board, but also in class; before class starts, after class ends, and moderated in class by the instructor. Because of the cross-section availability of the participants, some distance learning students that are within reach of our campus, have actually driven to sit in a live class so they could be part of the >>>> ongoing discussion.

The benefits are entirely obvious: reading, writing, research of issues, and critical thinking: form an opinion and defend your ground!

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