The Online Discussion Boards – A Classroom Pedagogical Tool | How to Use Guide | Pros & Cons

The Online Discussion Boards – A Classroom Pedagogical Tool | How to Use Guide | Pros & Cons
By Ahmad Amirali

Since we are living in an advanced ‘Space-age’ where ICT (Information Communication Technology) is now becoming an integral part of our lives. Therefore, the ethical use of technology as part of the lesson plan provides a paperless and collaborative learning experience for students. However, in developing countries like India and Pakistan, the use of virtual tools usually discouraged by teachers in the classroom due to lack of professional development and in some regional context the lack of resources like multimedia projectors or even cellular devices. It is essential first to reflect how, as a teacher, I perceive the idea of using technology in the classroom? Do I believe that using technology means the use of heavy tech-gear in my classroom as a pedagogy? This perception not only limits the idea of a technology-engaged class but also discourage teachers even from getting involved in this process.

As a pro-tech teacher, I often use animations and online (virtual) tools as part of my teaching pedagogy in the classroom. Recently, I design and introduce the concept of ‘Online Discussion Boards’ in my class. Students have their own ‘Log-In ID with PW’ to log in their respective board and start discussing any task given by the teacher in the form of a topic or a question at their home. The idea is taken very well by students with some critics by some parents and fellow teachers. In this article, I am going to give a brief tutorial how you can develop and design your own discussion board even though you’re a ‘tech-rookie’ or not possessing any online domain/website like me. Moreover, I also discuss the Pros and Cons of these boards and how to avoid these ‘Cons’ with the use of some ethical guidelines. So, let’s start.

What are Online Discussion Boards?

Online discussions occur when an instructor uses software to encourage conversations among students and instructors via the internet around a specific topic. Online discussions can be including face-to-face interactions and tools to engage the user in a healthy discussion mode.

What can I use Online Discussion Boards for?

You can use online discussions to supplement in-class discussions or content. For students hesitant about public discourse or merely wanting to focus on the material outside of the classroom, the add-on board provides another platform to engage with you, the instructor and other students about the course content. Later, the teacher can incorporate insight from the online discussion back into the classroom either by bringing up points or questions students raised or by incorporating materials from the discussion into your lecture or content for the day.

What tool are available to set up my Own Discussion Board?

There are multiple tools available to facilitate online discussions. Such as:

  • Canvas The Canvas Discussion Board is an easy way to encourage online discussion within your course website. You can set up class-wide, section wide or group-wide discussions using the discussion board.
  • WordPress Plugins If you are little tech-savvy and know how to set-up a blog or a website, then there are multiple free plugins available that can offer a variety of discussion panels such as The Forum, Asgros Forum, DDPress etc.
  • Piazza This is a wiki-style platform that allows students to edit an answer together collaboratively. It also provides for follow-up comments, polls, instructor answers and instructor-endorsed answers. It is particularly useful for Math or Engineering classes that use equations as it has an excellent LaTeX equation editor.
  • Google Classroom Google Classroom is a free web service, developed by Google for schools, that aims to simplify creating, distributing, and grading assignments in a paperless way.

The Pros and Cons of Using Online Discussion Boards?

Pros (Source: IPARK)

  • Online discussion boards solve the problem of not having high tech gear or where the physical platform for discussions such as tutorial rooms and discussion panels are unavailable.
  • Students can continue an in-class discussion outside standard timetabled classes.
  • All students can participate, so they are democratic.
  • Some students are not confident enough to speak out in face-to-face classes but are willing to contribute to discussion boards.
  • They give students time to reflect on their thoughts before contributing.
  • They allow students to work on their reply and check for grammar and spelling before posting – particularly useful for students whose first language is not the one used in the discussion.
  • They allow students to practice their writing skills more informally.
  • They offer peer learning opportunities.
  • They foster a learning community. “As new technologies emerge, instructional designers and educators have unique opportunities to foster interaction and collaboration among learners, thus creating a true learning community.” (Beldarrain, 2006, p.140).

Cons (Source: HIBBARDC)

  • The freedom and relative anonymity of the Internet makes some people think they can write whatever they want, without thinking, and can lead to misunderstandings, miscommunications, and online arguments. At worst, racist and sexist remarks and bullying can be fostered in cyberspace. Threads would likely require a moderator.
  • Sitting in front of a computer screen, while hooked up to the Internet, allows for a whole world of distractions. It’s easy to surf away to a different site or game when you’re supposed to be reading and posting on the class discussion page.
  • Discussion groups can quickly get off-topic and can lead to some discussions and issues that may not be appropriate.

How to avoid Cons?

  • Make sure that every student has their separate discussion board ID and password.
  • Make sure to set up the ‘Role’ of students as ‘Contributor’ instead of ‘Subscriber’ or ‘Author’ or ‘Writer’. This will limit their privileges and discourage them from adding ‘new topics’ or manipulate other students’ answers or pass rude comments.
  • Make sure your board is only visible to the ‘Logged-In’ users.
  • Make sure each post/reply from either logged-in or general user needs moderator’s approval before going on the public.
  • Hide the visibility of User/Member Profiles to control any harassing situation.
  • Add ‘Black List’ for your discussion boards to avoid users to add or discuss any inappropriate content or words.
  • For controlling purpose, add parents as well as ‘Viewers’ into the discussion board. This will also encourage parental involvement.

Teachers are now becoming facilitators. We, teachers, evolve in our teaching practice throughout our journey. Facilitating a discussion, either virtually or physically, is very rewarding, refreshing, and an important teaching component in this journey. Either way, students enjoy the freedom to express their thoughts and feelings with their classmates. I hope this article will help teachers and instructors to engage their students in a healthy, more innovative way. Any suggestions, query or questions feel free to drop your it in the comment box.

Good luck 😊

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