Should “discussion” be separate?

This question goes way back to the first online class I ever saw demonstrated. The instructor, instead of using our one and only technology (Webboard) as a separate discussion, had embedded her lecture and instructions into the lead post for each week. And at the time (1998) I thought, “oh wow! the whole class is inside the discussion! This is great.”.

But I didn’t do it. Blackboard encourages you to put the discussion board in separate area, and even now that you can make a separate discussion forum for each unit, people still put discussion all together as one course menu item. In Moodle, I have a separate, nested discussion board (simple format) for each week/topic.

In my struggle to determine whether it’s a good idea to switch from forum post/reply to blog/comment format for clases with students, I have assumed that I would continue to integrate discussion as I do now, by week. But in my post about using One Blog, Brandon Davis-Shannon commented on his own difficulties with the format, and noted greater depth in the Blackboard forum than on blogs with comments. It occurred to me this might be because if the whole thing was together, students would feel less  awkward posting on a previous topic.

But we all acknowledge it depends on how it’s designed, and what (pedagogically speaking) we’re looking for.

So I created a Google Doc and invited Brandon to help create a chart showing some of the options, and here’s what we’ve done so far:

One big forum Weekly/topical forums One big blog Individual blogs
Advantages
  • May reward students posting on previous topics, deepening conversation, especially if design of the discussion encourages them to do so
  • Easy to use
  • Ties discussion to one topic, prevents tangents
  • Organizes posts and replies easily
  • Combines course info and activities in one place
  • Easy to track student activity
  • Easy for students to keep up with peers’ work
  • Requires a single log-in to participate
  • Possible feeling of collective student ownership of class blog.
  • Student ownership of their own learning space
  • Acquisition of some “just in time” technical skills within the context of actual use
  • Aggregating blogs can pull whole class together
Disadvantages
  • Artificially separates discussion and interactivity from the presented or informational content of the class
  • May overwhelm students with number of topics, as class continues.
  • Format doesn’t encourage students to go back to a previous topic, leading to a more superficial discussion.
  • Student ownership is not individual
  • Format may lead student posts to be lost in the shuffle
  • Blog may disappear if instructor takes it down, loses account, etc[a].
  • Unless commenting takes place on an aggregated blog (thus removing ownership advantage), the inconvenience of commenting on different blogs may be a problem
  • Diffuses the conversation too much
  • Discourages return to previous topics because of the nature of blog posting
  • Tends to require multiple log-ins to participate in commenting unless single system use (for example, Discus)
Pedagogy May be best suited for:

  • classes where themes run throughout
  • assignments that allow students to participate in several topics at once
  • pedagogies that want to place the information and content directly into the forum to emphasize discussion
May be best suited for:

  • topics that need to be separate
  • assignments where everyone has a similar task, such as posting a particular link
  • classes where topics have a definite progression or need to move on
  • pedagogies that want to place the information and content directly into the forum to emphasize discussion
May be best suited for:

  • keeping the class at one main website or page
  • having students experience creation of one artifact with individual contributions
  • pedagogies emphasizing collective development of the class
  • situations where individual blogs may be of concern for any reason
May be best suited for:

  • student ownership of their work
  • pedagogies that encourage student exploration and development of their own topics or focus
  • if the instructor has a blog also and content is aggregated, embeds instructor’s content into class
  • a course with centralized complementary activities
Variations
  • All class materials can be available as posts
  • Can choose between threaded and nested in some applications
  • All class materials can be available as posts
  • Can choose between threaded and nested in some applications
Theme (Layout?) Theme (Layout?)

Maybe this can help us make decisions on which discussion format is best for a particular class.

2 comments to Should “discussion” be separate?

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