As a result of this module, I have been trying to find ways of using digital technologies to extend student learning beyond the classroom and create opportunities for students to exchange experiences online.
I teach a group of ten students on the MA International Journalism (not an online course). Because they come from so many different parts of the world and so many different journalistic backgrounds, I see the “group” as a valuable learning resource. To take advantage of this, I have set up discussion threads in Blackboard, encouraged them to share material on Twitter using our course hashtag and we also use a blogging platform, Creative Hive, for students to create and share content.
However, in spite of these different technologies being available to the students, I’ve been disappointed with the results, especially the Blackboard discussion.
Why wouldn’t they want to do this?
A few students do take part and make interesting contributions. But it is always the same few students. Once they’ve posted their comment, they tend not to return to that thread to enter into a discussion.
I have tried asking them to suggest a discussion topic but that didn’t lead to better participation rates.
It was not all negative. I realise that the students who are quietest in class are the most active in any online discussion I set up. The students who contribute most in class never participate in online discussion! Is this reason enough to continue? It would comply with UKPSF V1, V2, K4 and A4 in providing opportunities and learning environments for different learners.
Dialogue has to have purpose
The literature confirms this is not easy. Students cannot be relied upon to participate and the tutor/moderator needs to work hard and devote time if it is to reap benefits (Wozniak and Silveira 2004)
Wozniak and Silveira (2004) describe highly structured online discussions which are embedded into the design of the module and the assessment. As an HPL, I’m not in a position to change module design but I can feedback my suggestions and look at the design of my own sessions.
Dialogue has to have a purpose, otherwise we cannot expect students to participate (Coomey & Stephenson 2001). So how can I help my students see the purpose of these online discussions?
Bringing online discussions into the classroom
Having reflected and investigated, I now think I need to give students more support (scaffolding) to help them see the value of and participate in online discussions. I tend to assume they are all happy in the online world but I’m increasingly coming to doubt that. So I need to be clearer about how the discussion forum is used, perhaps with some taster discussions in class (UKPSF K3)
I should explain very clearly the purpose and value of engaging in the discussions. I am already working to bring the discussions into the classroom to integrate them into our face-to-face time so they become a “near-synchronous activity” (Macdonald 2008 p.60). I also make sure I actively participate and respond to students’ posts.
Perhaps students in a traditional face-to-face course don’t see any value in discussing online.
So why do I see value in it? I see it as a way of collecting and sharing practice in a way that produces an online archive of experience. I think that complements the discussions in class which leave no digital trace and can be superficial because students don’t have time to think through answers before speaking (Garrison and Kanuka 2004).
Increasingly, we’re going to need to make use of these online interactions as socio-economic changes mean more students will seek distance/flexible alternatives to traditional higher education provision (Mahieu and Wolming 2013).
Looking at my own profession in accordance with UKPSF V3 and V4, there is a growing demand for training in digital journalism skills and, according to a report just published by the Knight Foundation, an increasing number of journalists are willing to have that training online because their own news organisations are unable/unwilling to provide it. (McLellan and Newton 2013)
Creelman notes that online courses with active discussion forums have better completion rates so investigating ways to motivate students to participate is both important and timely (Creelman 2013)
However, my investigation suggests there are no easy answers.
COOMEY, M. & STEPHENSON, J. 2001. “Online learning: it is all about dialogue, involvement, support and control – according to the research.” In J. Stephenson (ed.) Teaching and learning online : pedagogies for new technologies. London: Kogan Page.
Creelman, A. and Reneland-Forsman, L. (2013) Completion Rates – A False Trail to Measuring Course Quality?: Let’s Call in the HEROEs Instead. European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, v. 16, n. 2, p. 40,
Garrison, D. R. and Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The internet and higher education,7(2), 95-105.
The Higher Education Academy (2011) UK Professional Standards Framework. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ukpsf.
Macdonald, J. (2008) Blended learning and online tutoring : planning learner support and activity design. Aldershot: Aldershot : Gower
Mahieu, R., & Wolming, S. (2013). Motives for Lifelong Learners to Choose Web-based Courses. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning,16(1), 1-10.
McLellan, M. and Newton, E. (2013) Digital Training comes of Age. Knight Foundation Retrieved from http://knightfoundation.org/media/uploads/publication_pdfs/KFTrainingFieldReportWEB.pdf
Wozniak, H., & Silveira, S. (2004). Online discussions: Promoting effective student to student interaction. In Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 956-960).