Online learning or distance education is here to stay, and
the big challenge for teachers is making their Internet courses--or
online components of traditional courses--more interactive.
Documents for students to download, lists of links to information
resources, announcements: these are typical components of
the online classroom. And, of course, there is the discussion,
or bulletin, board.
Yet how effectively are these discussions implemented? Who
monitors them? What incentives exist for students to participate?
Is your discussion board really creating a classroom-like dynamic
which makes Internet education more of a social experience?
A colleague of mine in the Special Education Department at
Fort Hays State University, Dr. Ron Fahey, has come up with
a nice way to enhance the use of the discussion board feature
on Blackboard.com. Fort Hays State University, like many schools,
has moved full-force into the use of technology and most courses
include a Blackboard.com component, while more and more of our
classes are offered entirely online through Blackboard, via FHSU's
Virtual College (http://www.fhsu.edu/virtual_college/).
Two examples are a course titled "Teaching Young Hispanic Children
with Special Needs," to be taught online in spring 2003 by Rudy Bustos,
adjunct professor of special education, and a course in educational
technology, by Dr. Fahey.
When Dr. Fahey's ITV (interactive television) students make class
presentations, they must at the same time submit questions to the
class discussion board on Blackboard.com and then monitor the
discussions and respond to every comment posted by their
classmates during the two weeks following their presentation.
With these kinds of exchanges going on during the entire semester,
Dr. Fahey reported more than 60,000 student hits on the Blackboard.com
site for his Exceptionalities course in spring 2002.
I have implemented a version of Dr. Fahey's approach as part of the
final student projects for ESOL Linguistics, a course I teach via ITV to
teachers in Hays, Dodge City, Colby and Pratt who are working towards
their Kansas endorsement in ESOL. The final projects are done in small
groups, with each group researching an L1/L2 contrast from a perspective
such as morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics or discourse. Each
group makes a class presentation via ITV, and is responsible for posting
three discussion questions on our Blackboard site at least 24 hours prior
to the presentation. After their presentation, the group is responsible for
monitoring and responding to comments on the discussion threads they
have posted, for the next week.
The final project is divided into a group grade and an individual grade. The
individual grade comes from either a term paper or a PowerPoint giving the
student's unique perspective on the group's research. The group grade is
based on a number of factors, including 20% from discussion board activity.
This 20% includes the discussions generated and monitored by the group
members, as well as each individual member's participation on the discussion
threads from the other groups. Over the Thanksgiving break, there have been
more than 100 postings on our Blackboard discussion board in response to
questions from the first three groups who presented last Tuesday.
The comments range from short and sweet to long and meditative. Participants
are getting much more out of this class discussion than would be possible in
a traditional classroom setting.
Story by Robb Scott
2002 ESL MiniConference Online