Sunday, May 22, 2005

Setting limits on the number of posts by students in discussion forum

When online courses are taught using discussion forums, it is common for teachers to set minimum number of posts requirement.

In a discussion forum (ITForm), I suggested, instead, set a maximum on the number of posts by the learners.

My reasoning goes something like this.

1. Obligation of participation is implicit. As participants for a credit-earning course, they have their own motivation and reason to take a particular course. The students know that to get the credit, they need to participate. No need for the teacher to play around with this one.
2. Part of the participation is that there will be work required. One common mistake in setting tasks is setting tasks that serve no purpose to the learner, appear to be a task for the task's sake, or even worse, the task is for the sake of the teacher. In other words, the task does not make sense for the learners in turns of promoting learning.
3. An artificial lower limit on the number of posts in a discussion forum is completely arbitrary. Why 3, or 5 or whatever number you set? What we should be looking for is "quality" in the posts, not quantity! Setting a lower limit as a hurdle requirement does not promote quality and may be viewed as a requirement for the sake of a requirement.
4. Setting an upper limit, on the other hand, serve a REAL purpose. Reduce the workload of the teacher. If every students make 10 posts per day, in a class of 20, that would be 200 posts per day. How can a human cope with that volume?
5. As a rule of thumb, online post should only deal with a single issue each. Setting an upper limit also forces the learners to prioritise the issues at any time and put in effort, thinking and reflection, to create quality posts on the issue at hand.

What about if there is no post in the discussion forum? Is that a problem?

Yes, it is a BIG problem if there is no participation.

If the learners are there, waiting for the teacher to initiate and only response to the teacher's question, of course, it is very likely that there will be no discussion at all.

If we subscribe to a constructivitic approach to learning, we understand that the ownership of the learning process belongs to the learner. We need to "seed" the forum with issues, step aside as a facilitator and let the learners take initiatives. It may seem difficult. One easy way to start is to delegate different issue to different students and ask them to be discussion leader for the controversial issue. Another way is to start with concrete scenario where the learners can bring in their previous experience and start from there.


Blogger skyline said...

Communications between the teacher and students are also important. If teachers can communicate their purposes and their wish goal with this class, then students will have much clear direction to follow with.
Another point I feel also important is community. Commnity also means a kind of atmosphere. When a community developed, people who immerse in there will benefit from it.
Just some opinions by myself. By the way, I love to read your articles.

2:49 am  

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