Skip to main content

Online Forums and Participation

In the last few days, I have noticed what might be called an "explosion" of activity on the forums for my writing class.

With 23 students, these where the statistics:

Thursday: 56 new posts.
Friday: 246 new posts.
Saturday: 100+ new posts.

After you scroll through the posts, reading them or not, Moodle marks the posts as read. This means that each night's posts were counted separately. I make that distinction because WebCT didn't take the same approach -- some posts I had read would remain marked "new" for several days.

What leads to twelve discussion threads being so active? I'm not sure but I am going to explain what I do. It should be noted that I use online spaces for every class, so students always have access to materials. However, I do not use the online spaces for instruction when a course is not specifically online. The current course is traditional and the forums are mainly to help students discuss assignments.

1) I set "weekly topics" for online (and traditional) courses. These are visible from the first day and I encourage the posting of topic-specific questions to those forums. For example, the forum on "Successful Collaboration" is associated with week six of the course, but was active by week two. The students were not required to post anything specific, but they started sharing stories of good and bad work experiences.

2) I respond to every post the first week. The second week, I respond to about half of the posts. By the fourth or fifth week, I'm only posting when I read something that I cannot resist commenting on -- but I do try to restrain myself. One of my concerns is that students will try to write for a grade. When I enter the conversation, it should be after most of the students have participated.

3) I encourage "professionalism" but when I comment or grade I try to avoid being "picky" about the writing. The students should learn to adjust to the audience and setting of a classroom space, but I don't want them to think grammar and spelling are more important than great ideas. Instead, I want them to recognize that writing well is part of the persuasive process. Most start improving because they see peers adopting business-like writing.

I can't take credit for how active a class is. Some classes are more active online than others, no matter what I do to establish the online participation. Some classes never ask if forums are graded, while others are concerned with nothing but the grading. That's one reason I try to downplay the grading as much as I can.

Not sure if this helps anyone, but I am certainly impressed with the overwhelming use of online forums in a class that is not even designated as a hybrid class. I think the students simply feel more comfortable debating and discussing matters online.


Popular posts from this blog

Comic Sans Is (Generally) Lousy: Letters and Reading Challenges

Specimen of the typeface Comic Sans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Personally, I support everyone being able to type and read in whatever typefaces individuals prefer. If you like Comic Sans, then change the font while you type or read online content. If you like Helvetica, use that.

The digital world is not print. You can change typefaces. You can change their sizes. You can change colors. There is no reason to argue over what you use to type or to read as long as I can use typefaces that I like.

Now, as a design researcher? I'll tell you that type matters a lot to both the biological act of reading and the psychological act of constructing meaning. Statistically, there are "better" and "worse" type for conveying messages. There are also typefaces that are more legible and more readable. Sometimes, legibility does not help readability, either, as a type with overly distinct letters (legibility) can hinder word shapes and decoding (readability).

One of the co…

Let’s Make a Movie: Digital Filmmaking on a Budget

Film camera collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
June 5, 2015 Deadline
July 2015 Issue

Every weekend a small group of filmmakers I know make at least one three-minute movie and share the short film on their YouTube channel, 3X7 Films.

Inspired by the 48-Hour Film Project (, my colleagues started to joke about entering a 48-hour contest each month. Someone suggested that it might be possible to make a three-minute movie every week. Soon, 3X7 Films was launched as a Facebook group and members started to assemble teams to make movies.

The 48-Hour Film Project, also known as 48HFP, launched in 2001 by Mark Ruppert. He convinced some colleagues in Washington, D.C., that they could make a movie in 48 hours. The idea became a friendly competition. Fifteen years later, 48HFP is an international phenomenon, with competitions in cities around the world. Regional winners compete in national and international festivals.

On a Friday night, teams gathe…

Edutainment: Move Beyond Entertaining, to Learning

A drawing made in Tux Paint using various brushes and the Paint tool. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
November 2, 2015 Deadline
December 2015 Issue

Randomly clicking on letters, the young boy I was watching play an educational game “won” each level. He paid no attention to the letters themselves. His focus was on the dancing aliens at the end of each alphabet invasion.

Situations like this occur in classrooms and homes every day. Technology appeals to parents, politicians and some educators as a path towards more effective teaching. We often bring technology into our schools and homes, imagining the latest gadgets and software will magically transfer skills and information to our children.

This school year, I left teaching business communications to return to my doctoral specialty in education, technology and language development. As a board member of an autism-related charity, I speak to groups on how technology both helps and hinders special education. Busin…