Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Forums in the Secondary Classroom

While I have experienced some success with blended learning in my classroom thus far, my attempts to engage students with the use of forums has met with mixed results. However, after reading the Nichols article I feel I have identified some key reasons for this.

Initially I set open-ended questions to be answered after the teaching of a key concept, hoping students would apply what they had learned and demonstrate some extended abstract thinking while reinforcing classroom learning. I set this as a homework task. BIG FAIL. Students were reluctant to post their thoughts with almost no participation. I surveyed my class as to why this was and they responded that they weren’t confident to post in case they were wrong – they feared losing face in front of their peers, and if they were confident in their answers they didn’t want to share because they didn’t want their peers to ‘steal’ their ideas. The idea that they didn’t want others stealing their ideas surprised me but I think what they really meant was if they had done the hard yards to learn the material they didn’t want to offer up the answers to their peers who perhaps had a more casual attitude towards their studies and would benefit from their answers. I have been perplexed by this deficit thinking and the fact that my students struggle to see the benefit and rewards of collaboration.

The Nichols (p. 28) article outlines that there are three critical elements of asynchronous online learning; design, facilitation and participants and that the first two are most easily modified and controlled by the teacher to direct the effectiveness of learning. After reading about these variables I feel that I may experience more success if I scaffold student participation over time beginning with lower-stakes questions as well as providing improved guidelines about the purpose of the task and what it is that is expected of them.

 Also, I think I underestimated the difficulty students have adapting to an online environment. While they are quiet social and keen to participate in lessons, the dynamics of the class seemed to be altered once introduced to an online environment, which I hadn’t expected. I feel I may improve interaction online if I begin in a more teacher role, giving more feedback to encourage confidence and monitor participation more closely and then ease off into a facilitator role as participation gains momentum.

While I had made the participation in the forums mandatory homework, that seemed to have little to no influence of on improving participation. It feel a bit stuck on this one as I defiantly see the benefit of using external motivators as suggested by Nicols (p.30),  however under NCEA I cannot assign credit for participation and thus far the intrinsic reward that it contributes towards their learning, and thus overall grade has yet to convince my students. 

Nichols, M. (2009). No. 4: Online discourse. E-Primer Series   Retrieved 10 March 2010, 2010, fromhttp://akoaotearoa.ac.nz/download/ng/file/group-661/n2304-online-discourse--4-in-eprimer-series-pdf.pdf