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Nick Falk

Using forums as collaborative learning tool.

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This posting also appears in the science area

Over the last few months I have been experimenting with forums as a learning tool with chemistry and ICT students. The intention of the former was quite ambitious. Two classes of students from two UK schools were encouraged the exchange thoughts on specific chemistry concepts. The introductory phase involved the individual classes working within their own password protected forum. The intention after this was to extend the opportunity to other selected schools across Europe.

Too ambitious - probably …………..

The other two forums are for my school/classes use only.

It is too early to draw any firm conclusions from this other than ICT students are more inclined to contribute …… the nature of the subject perhaps!

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Guest ChristineS

I have used forums in A level teaching (English) for some years. I have found they work least well as discussion of issues and topics because not all students will use them or risk themselves so I have not made such on-line discussions integral to the teaching and learning - they function as additionals, if you see what I mean.

The forums are very useful for the sharing of materials; posting of materials by myself; homework setting and sending to me; research sharing and posting queries for classmates and myself to assist with.

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Over the years, our forum has become a much more lively and effective source of e-learning for students. I think it takes time for a student forum to gain momentum - but if the right spirit of sharing & co-operation can be fostered, then it can work really well. Our forum boards are moderated by teachers AND students. but in reality, a well-established forum "polices" itself.

Jim

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I am new to the idea of using forums for this purpose but my first foray into this area with a school in Taiwan was very rewarding and I learnt from it.

So probably the next thing will be to find ways and means to host a forum which other schools can use.

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A cheap and cheerful way of using 'forums' is to use a team blog. This means that the person creating the blog has administrative privileges, and invites the pupils/students to the blog as contributors. If you're a member, you can post, but anyone can access the blog and read it.

Sometimes blog contributions are part of students' portfolios; sometimes they're places where students post send-in tasks; and sometimes they're forums for interaction on a more general level between students (often in different countries).

I use Blogger (Google's service at http://www.blogger.com). Here are a couple of current team blogs:

http://bwvt06.blogspot.com/

http://teyc06.blogspot.com/

(a lot of this last one is in Swedish, but there are some posts in English)

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A cheap and cheerful way of using 'forums' is to use a team blog. This means that the person creating the blog has administrative privileges, and invites the pupils/students to the blog as contributors. If you're a member, you can post, but anyone can access the blog and read it.

Sometimes blog contributions are part of students' portfolios; sometimes they're places where students post send-in tasks; and sometimes they're forums for interaction on a more general level between students (often in different countries).

I use Blogger (Google's service at http://www.blogger.com). Here are a couple of current team blogs:

http://bwvt06.blogspot.com/

http://teyc06.blogspot.com/

(a lot of this last one is in Swedish, but there are some posts in English)

I am left somewhat cold by blogging. I have the option to enable member blogging from this forum and the student forum but am reluctant to encourage such "vanity publishing"

I much prefer the structure and egalitarianism of forums and have written a simple teacher guide to using forums at the following page

http://www.educationforum.co.uk/HA/usingforums.htm

Forums properly set up do everything (and more) a blog can do. You can also get them free - see url below

http://invisionfree.com/

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I can understand your reluctance, Andy. However, one of the useful features of team blogging in the context I work in is that you can start them and then leave them very quickly and easily. We have, for example, new groups starting the collaboration between Missouri and Kalmar each term and its very handy to be able to create something unique for each group, and then abandon it when that term's collaboration is over.

There's something else we've noticed about team blogs, compared with forums (which we also use here): students seem to post more and oftener on blogs than on discussion forums. I'm not sure quite why this is, but I suspect that it has something to do with the look and feel of a team blog, compared with a discussion forum. Our teacher training department uses a forum with almost the same look and feel as this one, and they don't seem to get the same degree of commitment from their students that we get from ours … but, of course, this may be due to other factors.

We've had another problem with forums, that doesn't seem to affect team blogs: the taking over of the forum to spread all sorts of unpleasant spam. This is a problem which hit us during the autumn, and the legal repercussions are still going on. We could get round this by using our VLE, but, unfortunately, the way that's been set up causes lots of problems for a distance teacher (mostly because the only sure way of getting a password to access it is to turn up at an office in Kalmar itself). The look and feel of the VLE forum is also terribly boring … and, as I've said, that seems to be an important factor in participation.

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We've had another problem with forums, that doesn't seem to affect team blogs: the taking over of the forum to spread all sorts of unpleasant spam. This is a problem which hit us during the autumn, and the legal repercussions are still going on. We could get round this by using our VLE, but, unfortunately, the way that's been set up causes lots of problems for a distance teacher (mostly because the only sure way of getting a password to access it is to turn up at an office in Kalmar itself). The look and feel of the VLE forum is also terribly boring … and, as I've said, that seems to be an important factor in participation.

I can't see why such problems would be less likely to occur on a blog.

Maybe forums look more "official" and are therefore more attractive targets for spammers and hackers??

You certainly need to be very vigilant when running a forum. You also need to have an entry proceedure which avoids the world and her husband immediately signing up and posting.

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