Discussion Boards

by Harry on March 4, 2019

Here’s another contribution to the ACUE website, this time about how I use online discussion boards to hold students accountable for doing reading. As you’ll see it has been trasnformative in my smaller classes, though less so in my large classes. Still, even in the larger classes, it seems to have had some effect, especially in the class I am currently teaching in which I have used canvas for the first time, and have worked out how to prevent them seeing other people’s posts till after they have posted their own, and also how to organise them so that their online discussions are with the members of the their brick and mortar discussion sections. It’s pretty obvious to me that I wouldn’t have landed upon this device without having experienced Crooked Timber which, in turn, I wouldn’t have participated in but for CB leaning on me quite heavily when we started out. The final paragraph is true—I am basically a technophobe, and a late adopter, so I am still surprised, when I describe this, that everyone isn’t doing it.



Sentinel 03.04.19 at 3:03 am

Stimulating article. Thank you.

[…] if they submit a paragraph of nonsense, they’ll get credit. But they don’t. Their writing is public to me and their peers, and they don’t want to be embarrassed.

Would be interested in reports of Harry’s method working for less academic students.


Phil 03.04.19 at 11:04 am

Sounds brilliant, but I can’t immediately see how I could implement it – either technically or pedagogically (the ‘credit’ carrot). Maybe next time I’m involved in a curriculum design review…!


Taj 03.04.19 at 7:09 pm

For the large classes, could you split them into more-or-less-meaningful groups of twenty or so, and give each group its own board? As a bonus, you could add a Robbers Cave metagame…


Neville Morley 03.05.19 at 6:57 am

I’ve tried multiple times to use discussion boards and blogs as part of different sorts of courses – especially those focused on more theoretical and historiographical themes – and have pretty well given up, despite the obvious potential (including, I always thought, giving a way into discussion for students who are shy and/or don’t feel comfortable formulating a response on the spot). The crucial issue is the fact that I was never allowed to withhold credit for failure to participate; I was, sometimes, given permission to allocate marks – but that turns it into a different sort of exercise (and a lot more work). Absent that means of coercion, the whole thing is dependent on students being willing to do extra work, which only a few ever are, and that defeats the object – and I think that any attempt by us old people to tap into online interactions runs into the ‘creepy treehouse’ issue (original discussion seems to have vanished from internet, but discussed at http://melaniemcbride.net/2008/04/26/creepy-treehouse-v-digital-literacies/).


joe koss 03.08.19 at 6:43 pm

Thanks for writing this up Harry. There are a couple of moves that I love: a well-thought out, specific “provocation”; posting 36 hours before (a good sweet spot between too close to lecture to rush to get it done/don’t have time to digest and respond to classmates, and too far away that you forget all about it/do it perfunctorily); and not being able to see your peers work until you do your part.

Having the public audience makes the learning real, and therefore intrinsically engaging (and empowering)–thus the “work” becomes intellectually authentic in ways it never could be in just a regular lecture setting, or with a regular writing exercise. And the digital discussion space being public and respondable opens up the experience for discursive meaning making, for feedback, and thus reflection on the experience; which might just get to the heart of the whole enterprise (the old Dewey trope about learning being reflecting on experience that no one actually ever tries to understand in practice). Love all of it!

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