Learning Spaces: Discussion Forums
When people think about distance learning, discussion forums often come to mind. A discussion forum (sometimes called a message board) is a web-based application used for holding virtual discussions. Often called threaded discussions, web boards, or discussion groups, they're commonly used for interacting with others who share an interest in a particular topic. Many discussion boards are used for troubleshooting problems or sharing ideas.
Many public libraries host book clubs. Explore adult book clubs sponsored by the San Jose Public Library, City of Allen, Mentor Public Library, and . While some clubs use free tools like Good Reads. Others use packages such as DearReader.
Go to the following examples to see a few groups in action. In most cases you can't post on a discussion group without registering:
- Geocaching Forum - discussing the hobby of geocaching; notice the GPS in Education discussion
- Blog Safety Forum - discussing issues of safe blogging and social networking
Unlike chats and virtual conferencing, forums are asynchronous. In other words, participants can post messages at different times rather than all being online at the same time.
Unlike blogs that have a single thread of comments associated with each posting, forums allow participants to create new threads within a discussion. This encourages side conversations and added depth. For example, a thread might focus on one topic (i.e., popular book series). Another participate might post a comment (i.e., I like the Harry Potter series). Yet another writer might create a subthread under this comment (i.e., Which Harry Potter book do you prefer?) and begin a new conversation related to this comment (i.e., I like book 3 the best). The main book discussion may contain threads and subthreads on different book series of interest.
Unlike wikis where people are encouraged to modify the writing of others and encourage shared authorship, individual forum authors maintain control of their postings.
Many resources are available for conducting discussion forums. Most course management software contains an option for setting up discussion groups.
Skim Wikipedia's Comparison of Internet forum software for a master list of software packages and options. A few of the popular, open web-based forums are listed below. Spam is a major problem with open groups, so you'll either need to restrict the group or carefully monitor the discussions.
If you'd like to develop a forum for your library, consider one of the following easy-to-use discussion tools.
Forums in Learning
Although most popular in higher education and adult learning environment, discussion forums have applications in all areas of learning. The key to effective discussions is a meaningful goal. In other words, participants need to rally around an issue, problem, article, or other starting point that will stimulate engaging conversation. The facilitator must establish the parameters of the discussion including guidelines for posting and replying. In formal learning settings, it's helpful to provide specific criteria and exemplary sample postings so students will see the expectations.
Read What's Your Problem? by Jennifer Gurrie in elearningpace (August 8, 2003).
Let's explore some approaches to discussion forums in learning.
Article-based Discussions. Consider a project where the group focuses on an article, chapter in a book, website, or other specific reading. Read an article, then following discussion guidelines to share your thoughts, opinions, perspectives, additional information, or other assignment. The same approach could be applied to a photograph, audio recording, or video.
Artifact-Centered Discourse. Some forums are centered on artifacts.
Book Group Discussions. You'll find lots of examples of online book clubs and discussion groups. Use these for ideas for your own book projects. Some of these groups have both virtual and face-to-face meetings and discussions. To learn more about reading groups, go to the National Reading Group Month resources.
- Common Ground
- Meetup Book Clubs - links to bookclub groups and websites
- Reader's Paradise
Professional Development. Many state and national organizations maintain forums for their members. These areas are used to make connections, share ideas, and ask questions.
Project-based Learning. Some discussions focus on a specific inquiry, problem, or project. The group may follow a particular process and share their ideas, information, or results as they address the shared topic.
Links to the materials in this section can be found in the navigation bar on the left side of this page. Continue to the Learning Spaces: Blogs page.