In courses that I have facilitated online, the discussion forum plays a lead role in communications with the participants. I have used forums in the Blackboard and Moodle Learning Management Systems and have dabbled a little with the use of Google groups for the Eportfolio Community of Practice. The format, style and appearance in each of these is quite different but essentially they each have the same purpose – enabling an any time conversation between groups of people who have access to them.
In an online course it is the discussion forums that ‘breathe life into the collaboration activities’ of the participants. The eFacilitator should plan for effective use of these – they are the life blood of the communications.
Take care of technical issues:
In the LMS environments, discussion forums need to be designed and created purposely by the facilitator to provide a structure and framework for these conversations. For instance in Moodle, there are a number of different types of forums such as
- single simple discussion;
- each person posts one discussion;
- Q and A forum
- standard forum for general use
Each of these can be used to advantage to scope and structure the conversations that happen in them. For instance a Q & A forum may look something like this:
Moodle forum tool also enables the facilitator to choose the settings for optimal usage. For instance the size of attachment upload, whether the tracking is to be viewable, whether you can subscribe by RSS to the forum; and whether the postings will be graded. When a topic discussion is created in the forums, Moodle also enables you to subscribe and attach documents.
Prepare for the facilitation issues:
I have learned a few techniques over the years in the art of facilitating discussion forums effectively. These take up the majority of a busy efacilitator’s time online – you should plan to enter the course and do the facilitation at least twice a day. Stick to a routine that works for you and ensure that you are consistent and frequent with your postings – you need to create online presence.
In sharing some of my efacilitation techniques, I’ll address the questions below, components of iFacilitate week 4activities:
How would you sequence your forums? By units or lessons, by weeks or by chapters in the textbook, by topics or by what other sequence? Why would you choose this sequence?
In the facilitator Moodle course I am currently facilitating, there are two discussion forums per week of the course; one for team tasks and one for individual postings. The forum titles reflect the objective(s) and provide an indication of what the conversations will be about.
Each forum forms part of the assessment for the participants and grades are allocated to the postings based on their frequency, relevance, substance, innovation and readability.
The sequencing of the forums in each week provides an appropriate structure for developing the authentic voices of the participants as they begin to explore the roles, responsibilities and tasks of an efacilitator.
The course also provides a FAQ forum and a Coffee Shop forum in which the participants may pose their own questions or have casual conversations. These provide a socialising framework and usually are the busiest forums across the course.
Facilitating the forums:
I use a variety of facilitation techniques depending on the nature of the forum. If the forum is for teams to discuss an issue, I provide initial guidance and then a ‘hands off’ approach to let them get on with it. A team leader is appointed each week and I provide them with individual support.
If the forum is for general group input I will often provide guidance and scaffolding throughout the week. This will usually mean responding to individuals frequently and summarising at the end of the week. The summary or Facilitator Notes will weave in the comments from individuals, mentioned by name, and provide a collation of the conversations.
To bring in some light heartedness, the facilitator notes may often use metaphors, stories, comments and ideas to engage the reader deeply on the topic.
Assessing the forum postings:
I use a very simple rubric or set of criteria for assessing the calibre of postings in those forums that are graded. Usually, if marks are to be allocated, I will allocate a mark for each of these criteria:
- frequency and timeliness
- substance and length of posting
- relevance and appropriateness
- eloquence and readability
- innovation and illustration
I visited this resource, advocated by iFacilitate, http://cnx.org/content/m15035/latest/ and found some really useful tips that I had not thought of before. For instance I really like this example of an email to participants explaining how the grading will work:
|Example 1: Example – Referring to Assessment Criterion
Message Board Discussions
The grading criteria used includes:
I also like the resource linked in this website to: http://www.wordsworth2.net/activelearning/ecacdiscustips.htm where I located Ten Tips for facilitating forums worthy of passing on to my international facilitators.
I have already implemented tip no. 8 into my course:
Have students include their own and one or more classmates’ posts in their final course portfolios along with reflection on what was learned from specific classmates and from the e-discussion process.