Open or Closed? The Discussion Board Debate

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I have never had to take an online class like Stephanie, where all students are asked to respond to the same question and then expected to comment on a specified number of other posts. I can understand how she felt that it provided little room for original and thought provoking discussion. One of my friend’s is taking a class like this right now and she feels similarly. She also finds it frustrating that her work and mark is somewhat dependent on others and what and when they are posting. She also feels that there is a specific answer the professor wants and that she needs to regurgitate that information in order to do well. In questions that involve one right answer, there is very little room for discussion.

The open spaces I have been apart of have involved blogging and using twitter. In the class I took my classmates and I were given blog prompts every week or were expected to write about articles we had read that week. There was no length stipulations and it was very open if you’re learning lead you on a different path. I find it fascinating that we are all given the same prompts or read the same articles and yet everyone’s responses are so different. I can learn so much from my peers thoughts and experiences, way more than I have time for! Amy mirrors this and writes that reading our peers thoughts and responses can broaden our understanding of a topic and allow us to consider concepts from different perspectives. This increases the breadth and depth of everyone’s learning.

Twitter is also an open space that can provide endless professional development opportunities and allows you to grow your personal learning network. Again, I find I never have enough time to read all the interesting articles and try out the intriguing ideas that I see on twitter.

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In “Building Authenticity Through Student Blogs”, Joshua Howard explains that blogging will improve students writing. If they are writing for an authentic audience, not just their teacher, they will care more and be more motivated to produce quality writing. Howard also writes that when a student has an authentic purpose and feedback, it not only makes students want to write, it makes them want to write well.”

While I agree with Howard’s points, I think that there is still a place for a closed forums or an LMS system within a classroom. These provide a great scaffolding tool for students and allow teachers to moderate posts and comments. This could lead to a positive experience for students and allow them to gain knowledge and practice in developing a digital footprint that will serve them well in the future.

I love Amy’s idea of creating a community outside the classroom while still having a somewhat private forum by inviting parents or combining classes of the same age or level. The classes don’t even need to be at the same school.

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While I’m not against using open forum in the classroom, I don’t think that closed discussion must lead to closed responses and comments where no thinking or learning happens. Students don’t all need to answer the same closed question. In class we discussed lots of ways that many different subject areas and age levels could use a forum. Teachers could provide multiple open-ended questions and students only have to choose one. Students could be writers one week and commenters the next. Discussion boards could be used to jigsaw learning or review. Students could use a discussion board to role play and examine an issue from a different perspective. Students can debate an issue or use the forum for current events. There are many possibilities. I think that all of these ideas will work in a both a closed and open forum.

What do you think? Is closed or open better?

In what ways do you use discussion boards or forums in your classroom?

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8 thoughts on “Open or Closed? The Discussion Board Debate

  1. Thanks for the great post Jannae! I love the article you shared from Joshua Howard. It is so true – blogging helps students write well, because when they are writing for an audience and not just the teacher, they pay more attention. I need to incorporate blogs more consistently and effectively in all my classrooms! A goal for the future. Thanks again for the great post!

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  2. Great post Jannae! I totally agree with you about the variety of responses from given prompts. It has been one of the areas that I have appreciated most. I love that I get to learn from others and that they challenge me to try new things.

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  3. I like having both as options in a class! I think some discussions are best held in an open setting, and yet others are better served in a more private setting. Having both options, much like we do in this class with Google+ and blogs and Twitter, I use different mediums depending on the conversation. Having the choice is important, and also allows for learners to kind of learn about what types of discussions are better suited for open conversation vs. a closed conversation.

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    1. You’re right Andrew, having a choice is important. I think as students get older we can introduce more open platforms and they can learn how to respond in both and which discussions are better suited to open or closed forums.

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  4. Jannae – thanks for the shout out! Also, I love the idea of the jigsaw activities in the online space, and changing up the authors and responders is another way that more authentic connections could be made for younger students in the online space – I love it!

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