Forums: Friendly, Fun, and Fruitful

It is my goal to teach online, to at least explore it as an avenue of my professional career as an educator. If I were to develop a forum designed for participants new to the online teaching experience, I’d call it “Branching Out.” This forum would provide a friendly setting for like-experienced participants to meet. If I were to go thematic and develop a social forum for participants to vent about challenges and tap others for help, I might call it “Reaching Out” or “Going Out of My Mind.” This forum would create a venue for educator to have fun with their colleagues and discuss real-life situations. If I were to develop an end of the class forum where participants could post farewells or course comments, I might call it “Out of Here” or “Over and Out.” This forum would be fruitful for participants to reflect upon the course and to reveal pertinent information to the facilitator. Simply, a forum, also known as a Discussion Board, can be created for any topic. By utilizing the teaching strategy of chunking, breaking things down into small manageable parts to increase learning, forums encourage a connection among its participants which in turn build a community within the online course.

There are no hard and fast rules dictating that a course should have “x” number of forums or shouldn’t exceed “x” number of forums. Rather, it is a matter of dictation by the host environment for continuity among courses or left to the design of the course facilitator. However, for a forum to be effective and encourage engagement, Susan Edelstein and Jason Edwards in their article, “If You Build It, They Will Come: Building Learning Communities Through Threaded Discussions” (http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring51/edelstein51.html),offer a list of “must consider” questions when creating a forum. Pete Rorabaugh in his “Rules of Engagement or How to Build Better Online Discussion” (http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/Journal/files/Engagement.html) article says, “There is a difference between expressing opinion and authentic engagement”. Further, Rorabaugh adds that in a discussion board, “the goal is intellectual engagement.”

Just as we want to engage students in the classroom, we must create ways to engage our online students to say more than “Good job” or “I agree with you” in a discussion board reply. We need to provide examples of acceptable and unacceptable replies for our participants. We need to provide guidelines regarding netiquette. Peter Connor who believes the facilitator’s role is to “help make individual postings easy to follow, keep the conversation thread focused, and keep overall discussion on-track “Netiquette: Ground Rules for Online Discussion” (http://teaching.colostate.edu/tips/tip.cfm?tipid=128) in our own courses. And as facilitators, we need to be as invested and involved in the forums as our participants. Sadly, many facilitators sit on the sidelines and remain silent within discussions. Do they remain quiet in the classroom? As educators, we model. A silent teacher is an absent teacher, thus the teacher sets a poor example of how to encourage intellectual engagement and growth. An involved facilitator, on the other hand, incorporates friendly, fun, and fruitful forums into the course to engage participants to intellectually communicate.

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