Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

What do discussion forums contribute to learning (the sunshine side)?

As part of an online faculty orientation, I’ve been participating in a discussion-based online course, musing, of course at the meta-level question of learning and discussion forums. Here’s what I see as the sunshine side (I’ll deal with the dark side later).  For the technology-enhanced course (isn’t that every course?), discussion forums provide:

The opportunity for a slower pace than that afforded in a face-to-face class meeting. Some people are slow, deep thinkers , and seldom participate in the lively discussion that we all love (teachers and most students) and talk about when we talk about face-to-face vs online (someday the vs will go away – when we think of all courses as technology-enhanced).  People who are extroverted think out loud; people who are not need some time to think things over individually before they are ready to engage in dialogue. My colleague at Marylhurst University, Lisa Davidson, developed this line of thought, and

The opportunity to go back and see what is said, a form of persistence not afforded in the live classroom setting.  This attribute makes it easier to summarize and synthesize, and even collaborate in the construction of knowledge.  The other effect of persistence is the potential to create a sense of place. One can find the discussion forum throughout the term (and some of us copy our particularly brilliant posts, and put them in our blogs), “find” is a place word, and there is a reason for that.

In the moment, we can make assertions and claims. In the text setting, in an academic environment, we learn how to support our assertions and claims, hopefully with considered research in a body of knowledge. That takes more time, but it is part of the rigor and discipline that is fundamental to formal learning. And – it gives practice for the skill of critically evaluating information.

For those of us who struggle with the chaos of the network effect of all the applications that support interaction and communication, the discussion forum can provide a small oasis of order. I’m not suggesting in any way that a class should be designed lock-stop to provide order throughout, but it may be a relief to have one place where one can expect order, in an otherwise fluid and dynamic environment.


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This entry was posted on August 30, 2012 by in Discussion forums, Learning, sense of presence, Technology and tagged , , .
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