With less than 2 weeks left before our Course Prototypes are due (March 28th), it was so nice of Alec and Katia to allow us a bit of a break from blogging to focus more on our major projects – thank you!! Here I am though, ready for WordPress and ready for discussion! This week we were given a number of topics or questions to choose from and I am going to concentrate on the degree of “openness” in forum or discussion spaces and the effect on authentic learning.
Photo Credit: tudedude Flickr via Compfight cc
I have had numerous conversations with family, friends, colleagues, and students about their use of online forums. My husband, for example, follows many forums that focus on vehicles and in particular, any common problems that those vehicles may have had and uses that information when any of our vehicles are “having issues!” Just last week, our garage door was randomly opening and is supposed to be on a frequency with a rolling code so that remotes can only open the garage doors they are programmed to open. Again, my husband went on to the manufacturer’s website and found their forum where many other consumers have had similar experiences and shared how they fixed the issue. Reading on here, we (he) read to use the “lock” button and now all is well except that we cannot use our vehicle remotes to open or close the door…I digress! While this is not specifically related to what I am doing in the classroom, I am amazed at the information out there with just a quick search and that so many people are out there sharing what they have learnt to help complete strangers out!
While I certainly see the pros to using such a space and that the authenticity is certainly there, when thinking as a mother, teacher, or student, using closed forum spaces seem much more safe, comfortable, authentic, and meaningful in those roles. To begin, lets look at the definition of authentic , which according to edglossary.org, equates to a focus on teaching concepts that connect from the classroom into the real world. They argue, and I agree completely, that students are more likely to be engaged in what they are learning if what they are learning is relevant and applicable to outside of school. Opening up the forums allowing them to be seen and added to by the public, as Ashley had also mentioned, would likely “raise the bar” and have the students feeling a little more accountable for what they are posting, knowing that it is on the web for the world to see and either agree with or challenge. Again though, I revert back to my mom and teacher side and think about the dangers and long-term implications that just one bad post could have on these students. Even as a high school teacher, I think about the students and their teenage brains! Our brains are not fully developed until we are around 25 years old which means that teenagers’ rational part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) is also not fully developed and teenagers then have to rely on their amygdala for making judgments, problem solving, and decision making. The problem here is that the amygdala is associated with impulsiveness, aggression, and emotion – which are not the best combination when posting and replying to comments to the web! This brings up another important point with online forums and that is anonymity. While anonymity might have some students braving to to post a lot and ask questions, especially in areas that could become controversial, it also increases the amount of inappropriate or of-topic conversations and becomes a logistical nightmare for teachers if wanting to include in their summative assessments. Students will also want to know who is posting and will help others them all to feel comfortable knowing that it is basically a continuation of the classroom discussions.
I know there will be issues with whichever route a teacher chooses in regards to online forums, and as my husband is always proving, open/public forums are wonderful when used for the intended purpose. If I were to introduce a forum into any of my classes at this point however, I would choose a closed one for my students. What types of forums are in your classrooms and how did you make that decision?