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Online Discussions

Learning Objectives
• Define, use, and provide examples of discussion forums.
• Identify web-based discussion tools.
• Identify best practices in forum discussions.
• Apply accepted practice of netiquette to online discussions.

When people think about distance learning, discussion forums often come to mind. However, discussion forums can be used in many other library situations.

A discussion forum is a web-based application used for holding virtual discussions.

Often called threaded discussions, message boards, web boards, or discussion groups, they're commonly used for interacting with others who share an interest in a particular topic.

Many library discussion boards are used for troubleshooting problems or sharing ideas. Some library staff use them to discuss upcoming or ongoing projects. Online book clubs make extension use of forums.

Discussion Forums

seriesUnlike 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). A participant 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 such as Hunger Games and Divergent.

Unlike wikis where people are encouraged to modify the writing of others and encourage shared authorship, individual forum authors maintain control of their postings.

Web-based Discussion Tools

readingMany resources are available for conducting discussion forums.

First, you can use tools like Google Groups and Yahoo Groups that were specifically designed for group discussions.

Second, you can set up a group or page in a social network such as Facebook that can be used for discussions.

Third, many content management systems such as Drupal contain options for creating forums. OnCourse and Canvas are other examples.

Using Existing Discussion Tools

Some specialty social networks allow individuals and groups to set up their own discussion forums for specific purposes.

Good Reads is a social network specifically for book lovers. It’s possible to set up a book discussion group using this tool.

Figment is a social network designed for writers. A library writing club might set up a discussion group to share writing ideas.

Discussion Best Practices

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 such as graduate courses or library seminars, it's helpful to provide specific criteria and exemplary sample postings so students will see the expectations.

Approaches to Discussion Forums

guyLet's explore some approaches to discussion forums.

Shared Resource Discussions. Consider a project where the group focuses on an article, short story, chapter in a book, website, or other specific reading. Examine the resource, then follow discussion guidelines to share thoughts and opinions, perspectives, additional information, or debate an issue. You'll find lots of examples of online book clubs. 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. The same approach could be applied to a photograph, audio recording, or feature films.

Artifact-Centered Discourse. Some forums are centered on artifacts. A group of preschool moms might discuss learning toys, a technology group might focus on new gadgets, or a medical group might explore new medical equipment.

Project-based Discussions. 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 such as genealogy.

Professional Development. Many state and national organizations maintain forums for their members. These areas are used to make connections, share ideas, and ask questions.

Netiquette in Online Discussions

When participating in online discussions, avoid simply agreeing with a posting. Instead, add a meaningful statement or question that extends the conversation. Ideas include:

Provide technical support or suggestions. You might provide a tip or suggestion related to a software problem that might help a peer expand their project or solve a technical problem.

Act on a suggestion. After reading a comment from a peer, you might decide to add an example, suggest a website address or other resource, or answer a question.

State an opinion and provide supportive evidence or arguments. This can be fun because it can really get a discussion going. For example, you might point out why you think a particular project is effective or ineffective. Be sure to be specific.

Provide feedback to others such as a specific comment or idea along with an example, expansion, or suggestion. In other words, "way to go Susie" is a good start, but doesn’t let Susie know what you like. You could even start with "that's crap Susie", however the key is providing positive, constructive criticism or helpful and encouraging advice. Healthy debate is fine, but let's discourage mean-spirited comments.

Add an insight. If you've had an encounter with the topic being discussed, it would be valuable to hear your thoughts and "real world" experiences. This should be more than "I'll use the idea." How and why will you use the idea? Would the idea work in another area? How or why?

Why Online Discussions?

Although many people continue to enjoy physical programs at the library, it’s increasingly difficult to find times when people can get together. Seniors, those with disabilities, and others may not be able to physically come to the library, however they may enjoy participating in library programs. Online discussions are a way to involve these people.

Consider combining physical and virtual programs. For instance, a cookbook club might begin with a face-to-face meeting, but the discussion could be continued online where recipes and ideas could be shared.

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Conclusion

A discussion forum is a web-based application used for holding virtual discussions.

Some tools are stand-alone discussion forums, while others are part of social networks or content management systems.

Library discussion forums should include guidelines for netiquette.


| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Contact Us | 2014 Annette Lamb (Adapted from earlier s401 materials)

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