One of the videos this week for the Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success course I’m doing is addressing the management of online discussion forums. In conversations I’ve had of late with academics, it seems that some really struggle engaging students in quality online discussions. Dr Bonk has some great points to make in his video, however, and it got me thinking further about the things that I have observed about discussion forums as well.
Dr Bonk made a point about identifying the academic discourse for the discussion forum, about determining whether it was for debate or critical reflection, and not just to be a dumping ground for any and every comment. I agree with that and very few discussion forums I have been involved in do that. When looking at how the forums run in this MOOC Dr Bonk and his colleagues decided to create specific threads for reflection and discussion on very specific questions and I have found this focused critical reflection set up to be very effective.
Another point made that definitely links with the concept of ‘tension’ in the TEC-VARIETY model, it that of encouraging the conversation along with controversial statements or I guess a very one-sided question. These certainly do have the desired effect in my experience and I have often seen threads just go nuts with posts because of the controversial nature of the material and the tension that evolves brings about very deep discussion in a forum. It is definitely a winning idea. I was reading through a Moodle.org tracker report and threaded discussion the other day and it got quite involved because of the opinions shared by participants.
I love the idea of assigning roles in a group discussion forum as it forces participants to be active and purposeful in their engagement with the forum. Dr Bonk suggests roles like the optimist, pessimist, questioner, devil’s advocate and summariser. Some students would find it a really challenge to be the optimist or devil’s advocate if it was a topic they were in conflict with but it would be a good position in which for them to be to develop a more rounded and critical understanding of the topic. Taking on a position I’m less comfortable is hard but in my own experiences, I have really learned from them so I believe that getting students to take of such roles will only further to strengthen their arguments and understanding.
Academics are worried that students are not engaging with discussion forums and in many online courses this is the foundation for all interaction and connections. I’ve seen forums that operate in a very similar way to a whole module might in that the students are given a stimulus to consider, reflect on and then provide a supporting resource for before applying it. I believe the R2D2 model is so flexible that it could be applied to such an activity as a discussion forum. Could it be that a forum could provide a stimulus such as a controversial video that students watch, then they reflect on in a post but they also display their greater understanding of the issue/topic by providing a supporting resource in the form of a video or document perhaps. Then discussion then might involve the student doing an assignment that critically reflects on all the posts and student input. I would be excited to try something like this and see if it works.
The R2D2 model helps course conveners understand how to design course modules that take students from a passive interaction with information to an active interaction with and construction of new knowledge. It may be most commonly used to design course modules/weeks, or as a guide for whole course design but I think reflecting on it at even the activity level such as explored above could further engage students in activities that sometimes struggle to motivate students.