I’ve experimented for years with various online fora as tools for fostering student discussion beyond the classroom walls, with mixed success. I’ve tried both optional and required assignments (certain numbers of posts and/or replies, etc.), with quantitative (points/grade) and qualitative (comments from me) evaluation schemes. And I have tried them in a range of different kinds of media studies course, from topical surveys to upper-level seminars to skills-based production courses. One thing I’ve realized is that the kind of practical advice Heather Van Mouwerik offers in her Inside Higher Ed piece, “Fostering an Active Online Discussion,” might be the most useful in terms of identifying and alleviating individual and group roadblocks to implementation.
For example, as a response to the deafening “crickets chirping” scenario she describes, Mouwerik suggests five practical guidelines for helping to nurture an online discussion forum, including being “the active participant you want your students to be” and redirecting any questions from students to the forum. These tips clearly come from practical experience working with many course-based forums with her students.
Such metis – practical wisdom or prudence – is a crucial part of digital pedagogy today, especially when the technology behind each tool becomes less and less difficult to wrestle with. You can learn the abstract theory of how to use this or that tool as well, but it is in its practical application in actual classrooms and/or with actual students that use of a particular tool shifts from an abstract exercise to a pedagogical practice.