Forums Journal, Part 3

I failed to keep up my forums journal during the 2004-2005 academic year, so today I will look back at the evolution of the forums last year.

August 9, 2005

Like many innovations, maturity was not entirely kind to the forums. The early adopters were serious conversationalists, the kinds of students who wanted to delve deeply into ideas. Their knowledge of the forums was mainly acquired through word of mouth. Gradually, nearly every member of the school logged into the forums to find out what all of the fuss was about, and this led to a second wave of forum enthusiasts. These students were generally younger and more interested in the act of chatting with each other than the content specifically. They invented creative forum games such as “break the post count,” “the longest sentence ever,” and “middle of the night.” Much of the thrill was in the moment of interaction, and most threads had little value as soon as the next day. Student leadership was not as invested in supporting the forums as the previous year.

Last year was by no means a complete disaster, just a decline. Nearly a dozen classes maintained forums to support teaching and learning. Serious discussions still took place in the MORE (Moving On Racial Equality), GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) and NOW (National Organization of Women) forums. The kids playing around in the silly forums genuinely had a good time, usually without becoming inappropriate. I only had once discipline case all year.

If the forums were a person, I hope she is experiencing adolescence and not middle age! I have some questions about the role of the forums this year. Will superficiality dominate again? Will new student leadership restore a sense of purpose to popular discussions? Will classes continue to use the forums as much as before? What new purposes will students find for online discussion? On the technical side, I am planning two innovations that may impact the forums. The first is to introduce Moodle and Plone as alternative systems for online course support. The second is to introduce blogs by way of Nucleus-phpBB integration. It is possible that course discussions may find their way into Moodle, in which teachers may create multiple forum objects anywhere in their courses. Plone may become an alternative medium for producing student work. The integrated pair of Nucleus and phpBB may inject more thoughtful, intentional writing into the forums. It will also necessitate clearing out the old forums and starting from scratch.

I will talk more about Nucleus-phpBB integration in a future post.

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