Ten Ways to Use Discussion Forums to Promote Digital Citizenship and Academics

More and more classrooms are opening their doors to student discussion online. This happens in the virtual online classroom, but also in the blended classroom. As you probably know, the blended classroom is one where students and teacher meet in a traditional school but use the Internet to open the classroom walls to the community, region, country, and world. There are many services that provide student discussion forums that can facilitate student online interaction.  Some well known ones include, Edmodo, My Big Campus, and Moodle.

A discussion forum does not have to be question and answer. In fact, there are countless ways to use them. I want to share with you ten that I came up with. Please share with me others you might have, and I will add for a future list. One point to remember is to be sure to keep your point of emphasis aimed at the content standards and 21st century skills, while moving up Bloom’s higher levels. Here are some ways discussion forums can be used to further learning:

1. A formative tool - As a way to check  understanding from class that day. This might be a temperature check that drives teacher facilitation and instruction the next day. Sometimes students will see others not understanding and give their own explanation.  Many times we can all learn from the crowd.

2. A divergent tool - Students do not reply with answers… but new questions. The rule states that no one is allowed to answer a question… just pose new questions. What might the class do with this the next day?

3. A reflection tool - Students reply not by giving a statement of content or material, but through a reflective thought to show application and connection. Allowing for important meta-cognition can be powerful while engaging learning. Take a step up on Blooms!

4. A launch and inquiry tool - No explanation or instruction… students are faced with a question or video that will cause thinking/questions to be used the next day.  Perhaps students just need to come with thoughts, questions, and ideas that they first express online and will relate to higher learning activities in class.

5.  A connection tool – Students watch a video or do a reading that emphasizes what happened in class and they then make connections in their reply. It is important that the students be required to show the connection. A video might be used that demonstrates the math they learned in real life. How might students show that connection?

6. A mentor tool – An online expert could be a guest forum host to answer questions for student on a topic. This is a perfect opportunity to open the classroom up to real world connections and possibilities. Any mentors should be interviewed and approved by teacher and front office while following school guidelines.

7. A simulation tool – Thoughts and ideas could be posted online by a famous person or character in a book. Students would reply showing content knowledge and application. Teachers will get insight on student understanding of important concepts.

8.  A role play tool – Students are given characters in a book or history and interact in a discussion using their character role. Imagine the conversations that will happen and how a teacher can assess understanding at the same time.

9. A research tool – Students are asked to find one or two research links to share with each other. They give reasoning for the link they selected.  A collection of student links or a Google Custom Search Engine for the class is built for everyone to use.

10. A student-centered tool – Why not put students in charge of a forum? It might fit into their PBL project or promote content in the classroom. Having students in charge can give ownership and stress the importance of an academic forum and the scholarly ways they should be used.

Please let me know what you think and ways you have found that a discussion forum can be a engaging tool!

Cross-posted at http://21centuryedtech.wordpress.com/

Michael Gorman has overseen a one-to-one laptop program and digital professional development for Southwest Allen County Schools near Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has also served as a consultant for Discovery Education, ISTE, My Big Campus, and November Learning; served on the National Faculty for BIE (BUCK Institute); and been an adviser for Tech & Learning magazine. His awards have included district Teacher of the Year, Indiana state Teacher of the Year semi-finalist, Indiana STEM Educator of the Year, Advocate for Johns Hopkins University, and Microsoft’s Global Education Hero award. Mike maintains his award winning 21centuryedtech Blog and also posts articles at T&L and November Learning.

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