One of the first things I do when I want to learn anything about a specific platform, problem, or concept is to Google the idea and then look for discussion boards to read on the topic. I do this because I have learned that those resources often bring the specific understanding I’m looking for. Most adults see discussion boards as a tool for aid even if they don’t add anything to the posts or not. Whenever I become aware of technology that adds value to the lives of others, whether it be efficiencies or resources, I feel it is something our school should be equipping our students with for their futures.
I literally imagine our students with a giant tool belt on at graduation day and I yearly look at the tech tools I feel we have equipped them with for their future. I start going through the things in my head:
- Keyboarding skills- check
- Resources for self-directed learning- check
- Understanding of a learning management system — check
- Knowing how to choose the right tool for the task at hand — check
- Communicating responsibly with technology — check
- Curating information and discerning what is good from the internet — check
- Knowing how to leverage technology for a global perspective — check
Some years I wonder if I am pie in the sky in regards of the hopes I have for our students understanding of technology. Am I expecting too much understanding? I remember when both my daughters graduated from high school I would ask them if they felt prepared for technology use at their colleges. Their honest answers helped me to form an informal assessment of how we were doing to prepare our students forward.
Cue discussion boards! The value of using discussion boards in the classroom is three-fold:
A. Discussion boards allow students to start looking at this mode of communication from a perspective that learning can happen there. A value they may not even recognize at this point in their lives.
B. Discussion boards allow for asynchronous communication and asynchronous communication leads to extending conversations outside the ability to meet face to face.
C. Discussion boards give the quiet student a voice. Introverts often struggle with speaking up in classroom discussions and often have perspectives that are never shared. Creating a “safe place” for discussions to happen often empowers these students to speak out in class discussions.
The LMS Canvas allows teachers to use discussion boards between 2 or more people. These boards can be used between groups of students or as whole class instruction. Teachers can create discussions for a grade or just as a forum for ideas and information to be shared.
The settings within Canvas discussions can be used to allow teachers to check for understanding of a concept. Discussion boards are a tool that can support critical thinking of an idea. They enforce the 21st Century Skill of communication. They become a way to speak into digital citizenship because of the expectations of responsible use in terms of online dialogue.
To make sure students are really sharing their own ideas, teachers can turn on the option of “Users must post before seeing replies.” Some students have been known to try to work the system there and submit a blank response that they delete and this allows them to read the responses of others before answering. What they may not realize is that teachers have the ability to check for this by clicking on the eye under the question to check for deleted responses.
Giving students the opportunity to respond to each other’s comments in a respectful manner by allowing threaded discussions can lead to a rabbit trail of dialogue that extends way beyond the traditional class period. The use of digital discussion boards also supports the concept of teaching students to become digital stewards of their online footprint in a walled safe environment.
Not every lesson plan lends itself to an online discussion but looking for opportunities to use this tool allows teachers to show relevance to an impactful tool in and out of the classroom space.