Thoughts on Teaching – Open Forums – 7/20/2013

I tried something new this summer.  I have always had fairly formulaic discussion forums in my class.  Something along the lines of — here is a paper topic;  write the paper;  discuss the ideas of the paper in this discussion forum;  repeat several times a semester.  That was always a very discouraging discussion format for me, as this narrowly bounded topic selection led to very unoriginal submissions and dull reading on my part.  The students largely repeated what they had written about, and, since most had written fairly similar things, the results were basically the same.  And then, when I had the requirement that they had to respond to each other as well, then they largely just said they agreed with each other over and over, because, honestly, what else were they going to do.  They had all written essentially the same thing over essentially the same topic.  What else could they possibly do.

So, this summer, I tried something new.  I introduced open forums.  Instead of tying the discussion forums to a specific topic or to a specific assignment, I had them as open discussions for the students.  Here are the instructions I gave them:

The purpose of this discussion forum is for further discussion on the course material.  One of the consistent pieces of feedback I have gotten back over the years is that there is not really a place to discuss what is being read and accessed throughout the course.  This forum is intended to correct that.  As well, I am trying something new with this forum, as I have not been happy with more focused forums in the past, as they generally are uninteresting and everyone says close to the same thing.  I do not know if this one will be any better, but I am trying to branch out to a new idea here.

For this forum, I am asking you to discuss the material that you are working with in class.  For Unit 1, that includes Chapters 11-, the lectures Topics 1-8, Critical Mission 1, and any other material relevant to the course.  As this is an open-ended forum, I am really not going to say much more than that.  Here are some examples of things you could post about:

  • I was reading the textbook/lecture, and this was something I did not know anything about/I found interesting.
  • In the lecture/textbook, it says _____.  I don’t understand what this means.  I think it means this, but I’m not sure.  What do you think it means?
  • As we looked at this event in history, it reminded me of something going on today.
  • I found this piece of history really interesting.  Where might I find more information on it?
  • How do we know that this piece of history we are studying is correct/true?  What information is it based on?  What might we not know?

Those are just some ideas, and you can go beyond that at will.  I will be trying to actively participate in the forums, but I will not respond to things immediately, as I prefer for you to answer and respond to each other rather than just having me respond.  I find that my responses in discussion forums almost always end the discussion, and so I will be posting only occasionally.

I think it went pretty well overall. I wanted to try it in a summer session first, as the student base is smaller, and the expectations are different.  Most of them would not have had me before or probably even heard much about my class, so they could approach it as a brand new assignment.  As well, in the summer, I can have an assignment like this and work with it more, as I have more time in a summer session to dive into the material myself as well.  I was pleased with the results from those who participated, although there were a pretty decent number of people who did not participate.  The topics posted were quite varied, and it did go in many different directions.  I am not going to kid anyone and say they were all wonderful, as the majority were about what you would expect out of undergraduate students — fairly simple and short in form.  However, they were a vast improvement over what I had before.

I also had to grade this forum in some way, and I posted up a grading rubric for the students.  As I can’t get the formatting to work out correctly, the rubric will be the last thing in the post here.  It was interesting to see how it went based on the grading.  One of the things to note is that I did have a specific number of posts the students were required to make, and this is where most people, even those who participated well, did not meet my expectations.  I’m not sure if I set the number too high, but I thought it was fairly reasonable.  Still, I would love some feedback from anyone who is teaching or from anyone who might look at this from a student’s perspective.

The other thing to say about the open forum at this point is that I found it nice from my perspective.  I could go in and comment and explain on what I found interesting.  As well, if I came across an interesting article or podcast somewhere, it made for a very convenient place to post that for student consideration.  Overall, I was pleased.

Has anyone else used something like this?  Have you taken a class that included this?  What do you think of my instructions and rubric?  What would you change or improve?

Grading rubric for Discussion Forum

Standard Not Done Poor Average Good Excellent
Timeliness

(25 points)

Does not participate in the discussion at all.

(0 points)

The student participates poorly in the discussion, participating less than 6 times during the discussion.

(10 points)

The student waits until the last minute to post, having all posts in the last days of the discussion.

(15 points)

The student posts throughout the discussion as well as early in the discussion.  The student participates at least 2 times early in the discussion and a total of at least 6 times throughout the discussion.

(20 points)

The student posts frequently throughout the discussion, with posts at the beginning, middle and end parts of the discussion. The student posts at least 8 times.

(25 points)

Posting

(25 points)

Does not contribute to existing discussions.

(0 points)

The student only posts his or her own ideas without interacting with other students.

(10 points)

The student only replies to other students and does not make any original posts of their own.

(15 points)

The student contributes his or her original posts and relevant follow-up questions to posts by other students. The follow up questions are timely and do not slow the discussion.

(20 points)

The student posts original content and follow-up questions that are timely and highly relevant to the discussion and spark further conversation. The student has asked questions that others have not considered.

(25 points)

Content Quality

(25 points)

Does not make any references to the content of the discussion from the video, lectures, or textbook.

(0 points)

 

The student shows little engagement with the content of the course.

(10 points)

The student posts content that is related to the discussion.

(15 points)

The student posts content that is related to the discussion and uses specific historical references from the material to support their ideas.

(20 points)

The student posts highly relevant content and helps keep the discussion engaging and educational using the material from the course.

(25 points)

Clarity

(25 points)

Posts are incoherent, distracting, and/or in very poor form.

(0 points)

 

Posts are simple in nature and largely just agree with what others say.

(10 points)

Posts show some awareness of the ongoing discussion and attempt to engage.  Some grammatical errors.

(15 points)

The student contributes in a thoughtful way. The student has used grammar correctly and expresses opinions without denigrating others.

(20 points)

The student has used language that expresses thoughts and opinions clearly and respectfully. The text is clear and concise and free from major grammatical mistakes.

(25 points)

 

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of three, student of life, owner of a parrot, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all around guy.

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