Managing Discussion Forums

Overview

The teacher has an important role in actively managing discussion forums and facilitating constructive conversations through this medium. For many online subjects the discussion forums are where the conversations happen, but they need to be facilitated and managed in order for them to maintain relevance to students. In much the same way that on campus classroom discussions need to be facilitated, the same applies online. These discussions are extremely useful in developing a Learning Community and proactive management can ensure the health of that community is maintained throughout the session.

Engagement

A successfully managed discussion forum may inspire purposeful, structured interaction between students and establish clear expectations of the relationship with the supporting lecturer. Where the engagement is planned, structured and managed, online discussion provides enhanced student-student engagement and enhanced student -teacher engagement. Different approaches to discussion forum design during delivery of the subject can also provide new ways of communicating and sharing knowledge.

In Practice

Subject

EED408 Successful Teaching

Teaching Staff

Paul Grover

Motivation

Teacher presence has better scope and impact if the discussion forum is carefully designed and implemented. This in-practice example shows that it is not essential for the teacher to be active at all times within students discussion forums, however the design allows for strong teacher presence through observation and summary of student interaction.

Implementation

For the module forums additional threads were ‘locked off’ through settings. Therefore students were requested to respond, discuss and reflect within the one main thread for each module or part module. The teacher rarely contributed to these interactive discussions during the week of that module. By the middle of the following week a summary post (as a separate thread) is added to the forum by the teacher/lecturer. This post reveals the teacher has been present, has read and re-read discussions and is keen to share feedback, highlight pertinent contributions and synthesise material as a review of the week.

Subject

IKC100 Indigenous Health

Teaching Staff

Brett Biles, Sue Broekman

Motivation

Within IKC100, there was a need to provide a more streamlined and engaging use of discussion forums in order to foster an environment that allowed students to develop their critical reflection skills.

Implementation

In order to utilise the discussion forums more effectively and to foster the desired student attribute of critical thinking, the teaching team has taken a number of steps in regards to the design of the forum and ongoing usage. They have allocated a dedicated staff member to be the ‘Forum manager’ who acts as the ‘primary voice’ within the site, commenting on student posts and providing a consistent approach within the overall forum. The design of the forum also differs somewhat from normal practice within CSU. The forum is designed to make it easy for students to navigate directly to the area they are required to respond in, and aligns with the design of the learning modules within the subject. Critical thinking and reflection is fostered by the student-teacher interaction within the forum, whereby the staff member/s will encourage students to reflect on the content they have engaged with, encourage collaboration between students and also model this behaviour through their own postings.

Screenshot of forums used in the subject

Guide

Students need to be prompted and communicated with in a way that promotes dialogue. Students may need to be invited to participate otherwise they may become observers by default or simply not contribute and instead opt out. There are a number of design aspects to keep in mind when planning for participation through discussion forums, as well as management considerations.

Tools

Setting up the discussion forum involves the use of the available options within Interact2, namely the ‘Create Forum’, ‘Create Thread’ options and the editing toolbar.

  1. With your edit mode on, Choose the ‘Discussion Tab’ on the left hand menu and select ‘create forum.’ Step 1 - Create Forum
  2. When creating this new forum you will be able to select different options to help you more effectively manage the forum. These options include the ability to:
    • Grade contributions
    • Allow students the option subscribe to a forum or thread (and receive these as emails)
    • Set different levels of creation access and permissions, including the for students to post anonymously; tag others in posts, and edit or delete contributions; require moderation by the instructor.
      Step 2
  3. Once you have created the forum, you will be able to create different threads within that forum. Simply select the ‘create new thread’ option. For example within the Assessment Forum, you will be able to make different threads like ‘Assessment One’, ‘Assessment Two’ etc. Step 3
  4. Students will be able to access the different forums and threads from the ‘Discussion tab.’ Remember that you have a wide range of tools available within the editor, including the ability to embed youtube videos, audio and a range of text, files and links. Step 4

Additional Resources

Lindsay, J. (2016). Discussion forums: Dissection and design [Slideshow]. Retrieved from Google Docs