Tag Archive | discussion forum

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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Thoughts on Teaching – 6/17/2012 – The trouble student

There’s always one.  The student who can cancel out all of the good comments you get.  The student who can make a semester that seemed to be going well into one that seems like a descent into madness.  The student you can’t get out of your mind.  It’s the trouble student.  I have already had one this summer, and I hope she is the only one.  She is dropping the course, so she should be out of my hair soon, but she has already had a negative effect on my attitude toward teaching.

This one popped up earlier this last week, so about 1 1/2 weeks into the summer session.  The first email I get is about a legitimate problem she had with one of her assignments being recorded.  I referred her to the support system for the textbook site.  Along the way, I had noted that she had listed a completely ridiculous amount of time she had been working on this particular assignment.  As to the assignment, for each chapter, the students have to complete a quiz.  The quiz is 45 questions long, multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank.  The students can redo the questions as many times as they like, open book, with the only grade being given when they get 70% of the questions right, at which point they are given a 100.  It is a testing mechanism inside the textbook website, so I don’t have any control over it beyond that.  So, for this assignment, essentially 32-33 questions of an open book quiz, she was claiming to take 5-6 hours for each chapter.  I commented that it should not be taking her that long and asked what she was doing.  At that point, I started getting the exploding walls of text from her.  She started slamming the course as being incredibly difficult and unreasonable in expectations.  I tried to calm her down while still insisting that something was not going right is it was taking her that long.  That exchange of emails lasted from Wednesday through Friday.

On Friday, I was contacted again about something different.  This weekend, the Critical Mission assignment is due.  They had 2 weeks to work on this Critical Mission, although the majority will, of course, do it all at the last minute.  The Critical Mission has the students put themselves in the place of an advisor to a historical figure.  In this case, the students are to take the role of an advisor to a member of the Continental Congress and advise this person as to whether they should vote for or against revolution.  The students are given a timeline, a map of events, and four primary source documents.  They are then asked to identify some themes they would use in making this argument (ie. they are given 5 themes and have to pick the 3 that would make a strong argument for their case).  For each of the themes they pick, they then are given a list of evidence (mostly quotations) that they could use to help support their theme, and they have to choose which ones would support their themes.  So, by the end of the Critical Mission, which should take most students 20-30 minutes to get through, they have an argument to make, 3 themes to present (3 paragraphs), and a list of evidence to support those themes.  Then, I ask the students to write it up in a paper at least 500 words long, or about 2 pages or more.  Then, they have to contribute to a discussion forum over the topic.

So, on Friday, I got an email saying she had just spent hours going through the material, was completely lost, had no idea what was going on, and was throwing her hands up in the air and giving up on the class.  Note, she did not ask for help, she just threw the assignment in my face.  She said I was unreasonable and incredibly difficult.  She said she had talked with another person she knew who had had me in the past (and dropped me, she was sure to note), who had said I was also difficult and unreasonable.  She lambasted me for the structure of the course, for my unrealistic expectations, and for tricking her into giving up her time and money to take a summer course from me.  I tried to give her a reasoned response, but by this point, my patience is running thin.  I told her that she was apparently overthinking all parts of the course, since everything was taking her about five times longer than it should.  I also noted that the layout of the course and the assignments were actually fairly straightforward, as I pride myself on explaining what needs to be done pretty well, although I do err sometimes on the exhaustively long explanation.  I ran the email by my wife before sending it, as I was trying not to be offensive while also trying to defend myself (which is not an easy balance to draw).

The response I got back was basically, I’m dropping the class, good riddance, and I’m sorry I wasted my time and effort.

So, sigh.

My main problem with all of it was that I feel like I never had a chance to actually help her.  It seems like she had already given up by the time I talked to her, and I was left with the feeling that I had failed the student.  The sad thing, and, of course the thing I can’t say to a student, is that I already feel like I have dumbed down the class a lot more than I would like.  I already feel guilty that I am not asking enough of the students and that my class should be a lot more demanding than it is.  I feel like the level of effort that the majority of students put in is very low, and I have to keep my expectations lower than I would like just to get students through my course.  So, while I do hate students like this, they also make me laugh, because if they can’t do my course, then I don’t know where they will have success.  The comment I get more often than not from students who successfully complete my course was that it was relatively easy, that you just had to sit down and do the work and put in effort and you will do reasonably well.  That doesn’t make me proud necessarily, but it is the opposite of what this student said.  And, or course, it’s this student that will stick around under my skin and grate at me over and over.  I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it does.