Online Education: Asynchronous Discussion?

The following answers the question: Could an online class be conducted without asynchronous discussion? What would be the advantages and disadvantages, if any?

Module 3 focuses on 24/7 asynchronous communication. The resources for this module maintain that discussion forums, blogs, and wikis foster a sense of course connectedness and increase critical thinking skills. Thus, I found the question about conducting an online class without asynchronous discussion intriguing. Immediately, I began thinking of advantages and disadvantages of a discussion forum.

First, a discussion forum provides the facilitator with an outlet to assess student comprehension. For the #TT1411 student, it provides an outlet to analyze resources and consider applications needed to become an effective online teacher. Kim Cavanaugh on a YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7XiCg_wpzE) segment of Palm Breeze Café with Lee Keller (both in the instructional technology field), said that blogs first saw widespread use in 1998. Cavanaugh said that someone posted a list of favorite websites on a weblog, and that since then blogging as an educational communication resource has exponentially increased.

The article, “Learning with Blogs and Wikis”, found in the February 2009 online issue of Educational Leadership (http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/feb09/vol66/num05/Learning_with_Blogs_and_Wikis.aspx) , suggests that professional training would be better served by blogs because educators would truly utilize their critical thinking skills and have more to discuss with their colleagues. While blogs are self-guided and a discussion forum guided, both offer the same result. A discussion forum, like a blog with followers, provides a network of sorts.

As a student, I find myself looking forward to reading what my classmates think. As an instructor, I would enjoy knowing what my students think. Maja Cherif of Qatar University in her YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eltMryuXnU) says she uses discussion forums for students to collaboratively problem solve and suggests that discussion forums promote student-based learning. Others might consider discussion forums as an invasion of privacy. For the most part, replies and comment become a matter of public record. While a consideration for the instructor, the student needs to recognize, at least in the case of #TT1411, only participants are able to access the class forums, thus privacy exists among our student colleagues.

However, if someone enters a class and expects it to be a social outlet, disappointment may result. Devon Haynie in the article, “Benefits, Drawbacks of Online Class Discussion Boards”, published on www.usnews.com says, “Our online discussion board did little to create the kind of relationships you often find in face-to-face classrooms.” Students need to have a clear understanding of an online class format. A student needs to clearly understand the separation of students in a virtual classroom from that of a face to face class.

Finally, an online class without a discussion forum would be like a chocolate chip cookie without chips. While it would still be a class and a chocolate chip cookie would still be a cookie, what would the point be to attend a class without discussion or to eat a chocolate chip cookie without chips?  Why bother?

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