For the last few years, I‘ve used the free online learning platform Edmodo with my adult education and university students. Edmodo is easy for students to register for, as it doesn’t require an e-mail address/confirmation to start, and allows the teacher to create a closed “class” and utilize different features the site has to offer. Moreover, students can download the Edmodo app to use on their mobile devices.
One of my favorite uses of Edmodo is to have students do discussion board activities. I had noticed a few years ago that many of my students who were in adult education and transitioning to college ended up with an online class where discussion boards were a key part of the assessments used. From the professor teaching that class, I learned that many of my students had trouble with the discussion board assignments, either keeping up with them weekly, following the directions, or answering the questions given. I then decided it would be a good idea to start incorporating discussion board activities in my intermediate and advanced levels, in order to get students ready, on the chance they’ll see this kind of activity in future academic endeavors. Having done them for a few years now, I can say that discussion boards are great activities to get students writing thoughtfully, expressing their voice in short but meaningful writings and a nice way for students to learn how to politely agree and disagree with classmates.
To get started, it may be a good idea to explain to students that discussion boards are typical activities they can encounter in college or work trainings. It can be effective to show students a discussion board string if you can, or at least create a couple of examples, maybe on a Word document, to model. Since previous class work can be saved on Edmodo, once you have a discussion board up, you can cut and paste it to show students.
Here is an example question I’ve used:
The example above asks students to respond with their own opinion to readings. Another option would be to ask students to summarize points from a reading or other source. For example, “What reasons does the author give for why doctors regret their job choice?” Most discussion board activities at the University level ask for a brief summary and personal response to a text, or just a response itself, so it’s great if you are able to vary the types of questions you ask on discussion boards. It is also effective to develop questions that bring out the background knowledge students have, to share experiences or opinions they have on a topic.
One of the more challenging aspects in getting students started on discussion boards is making them realize they need to respond to the question or prompt, and then later on they need respond to a classmate or two. Therefore, it’s great to give discussion boards at least a week in order for students to post, read and reflect other posts, and respond to classmates. It’s also important for the teacher to set parameters as to what is a good response, proper length of the response, language use, etc., discussion boards are a great opportunity to work on the language of politely agreeing and disagreeing with someone, common in an academic setting in class. (“John: I see your point. On the other hand…”) A model discussion board string, along with a clear rubric, helps students with assignment expectations, how to create an adequate response, and proper language use. In regards to this last point, I usually emphasize the quality of response and thoughtfulness of the response rather than grammatical accuracy, so as to not scare off students from contributing. I never correct mistakes openly on the discussion board, and if a student wants me to check grammar or mechanics before or after he/she posts, I do.
When doing discussion boards for the first time, a teacher can make it an ongoing in-class assignment rather than an out-of-class one, covering many classes. This can mean breaking out laptops or bringing the class to a computer lab at the beginning or end of a class. The first day, students can read the question then write out and save responses in Word. The next day, they can review their responses and post to Edmodo. The following day, students can read each other’s postings, which can be done on student mobile devices (using the free Edmodo app) or on computers. Students can then choose classmates to respond to. Finally, Students can draft and send responses to each other. These steps can be done with teacher supervision over a series of classes and help to get students comfortable with the discussion board process and expectations.
A teacher can continue future discussion boards as an in-class activity done over a period of several classes, and /or start to assign it as out-of-class homework, which replicates the true discussion board activity students will see in college. Discussion boards may take some time in planning and implementing, but the rewards are great. Students can have the chance to practice writing authentically in an interesting and meaningful context using technology, expressing their own voices with each other.
Here are is an example post and response to the question above: