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How to Use Discussion Forums to Engage Every Student

How to Use Discussion Forums to Engage Every Student

By Alfonso Gonzalez

At the mention of online forums, you may immediately recall the experience of an online course, where you don’t see your peers or instructor. In this case, online discussion forums become a necessary tool for facilitating learning.

But discussion forums aren’t useful just for online courses; they’re valuable for face-to-face classrooms that are blended with technology as well. While whole-class discussions can be an engaging way to ask questions and pursue different thoughts, the reality is that not all students feel comfortable sharing out loud.

“While whole-class discussions can be an engaging way to ask questions and pursue different thoughts, the reality is that not all students feel comfortable sharing out loud.”

This is especially detrimental for students in Science, or any inquiry course, where questioning and exploring solutions is essential.

Regardless of the subject, forums add value to your classroom, giving every student a chance to speak up and show their knowledge. Here’s what you need to know about bringing online forums into your lessons.

Choose a Forum Platform

LMS

Many Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as Moodle, provide online discussion-forum tools that you can use with your students. Other online tools, such as Edmodo, allow students to discuss topics and respond to each other as well.

Websites

There are websites designed specifically for teachers to create online discussion forums for their students. I use Shivtr with my students because I used it as part of an online course I took, and found it easy to learn. Note that you can customize your Shivtr discussion forum like I customized mine, allowing you to make it perfect your specific class.

customized discussion forum

 

However, Shivtr is mostly a gaming-specific forum, so it may not be the best tool for everyone—it fit my courses because my classes are fully gamified. A more general online discussion forum that teachers can use for free is Collaborize Classroom.

Start Your First Forum

When I first started using this tool in my class, I began by creating a forum for each class and/or course, in addition to one for all of my 6th graders—there were some topics that I wanted students in all my classes to explore and study together.

discussion forum threads

I immediately found that they were motivated to discuss their topics, but my topics, the ones they we were studying in class, went largely ignored. I quickly reminded students that our class discussion forum would be the place where we discuss class content—suggesting that they take these other conversations to places like Facebook.

What I Learned

The best thing about online discussion forums is that all students can be active at the same time, discussing the topic instead of raising their hands and waiting to be called on. During a whole-class discussions, or even a small group discussion, students need to wait their turn to speak. In this case, they may lose their train of thought or forget to listen to what the speaker is saying because they’re forming their response.

During an online discussion, students have time to read their peers’ thoughts and develop their own as they type their response out. It also shows the importance of using correct grammar and spelling.

Afterward, the teacher has a record of what everyone wrote and, better yet, students can always add to the discussion even after it’s over.

“During an online discussion, students have time to read their peers’ thoughts and develop their own as they type their response out. It also shows the importance of using correct grammar and spelling.”

Keep the Conversation Going

Online discussions don’t have to happen at the same time or synchronously. Here’s a discussion that started synchronously, continued asynchronously, and is still open for discussion. These asynchronous discussions can provide the teacher with valuable feedback. By scheduling conversations to happen over a period of time, students have a choice about when they respond to the prompt or other students’ responses, or whether they respond at all.

This tells you which topics are most popular if you rate them by how many students respond, the types of responses they write and whether or not their responses engaged their fellow students in actual discussions, i.e. replying to each other.

Sometimes I include a topic that I know will engage students, even if it doesn’t exactly fit my curriculum. For example, I teach Science, yet students were very interested in discussing whether Star Trek or Star Wars would win if the two universes merged after I showed them a fan trailer of Star Trek vs. Star Wars.

A student asked if I would start a discussion thread, a thread is an online discussion topic that includes the prompt or question, the students’ responses and the replies, so they could continue the argument. I took the opportunity to turn this into a lesson.

star wars star trek

Within the discussion, students had to back up their claims with evidence, better yet if they added links to sources of evidence beyond what they think they know. It’s fun to watch my students draft their responses and research their claims before posting.

This may seem like an odd classroom tool, but I’ve found it to be thrilling for both my students and me. Use it as an opportunity to engage all your students, enhance the whole-class discussion, and continue the conversation beyond the classroom, giving your quiet students a voice and a chance to be heard.

Get students talk about their reading with our free teacher tool, Whooo’s Reading.

WRforSchools
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  1. Pingback: Discussion Forums in Science | Mr. Gonzalez's Classroom

  2. Pingback: 20 Tools to Improve Classroom OrganizationLearn2Earn Blog

  3. Pingback: 4 Data Points That Help Personalize Learning - Educate 1 to 1

  4. Pingback: How to Make Engagement a Top Priority When Lesson Planning | Learn2Earn Blog

  5. Pingback: How to Flip Your Classroom in 5 Easy Steps – Learn2Earn Blog

  6. Pingback: Flipped Classroom em 5 (fáceis) passos | Marcelo Tibau

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