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Using forums as collaborative learning tool.


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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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I have had this forum on my Science site for a few years:

http://agnes.vestris.com/cgi-one/one/agnes...ci8886AgnesHTML

It was set up as a free forum before I had my own web space and I haven't got round to updating it to a newer version. I found with many of the forums that they were too complicated and I wanted a simple clean version that a student who hadn't used a BB before could get to grips with. Most newer forums seem to have converged to a very similar layout (like this education forum) although I think for someone who hasn't used one before they must look a bit bewildering.

I guess features I'd look for in a newer forum would be ease of moving posts so that I could archive or keep near the top useful topics. Another reason I haven't upgraded is that it doesn't get into search engine listings, the hosts must have done something to block it. In some ways I am grateful because I couldn't handle a large number of questions, as well as the spam that has to be deleted.

What you also soon realise is that most of the students who use the forum don't search to see if the question has been asked before. Also, many of the questions could easily be answered with a quick search using Google. So I guess many students lack skills in effective use of search engines. On top of that many of the questions are so vague that it is difficult to answer them. It does get lots of "silent" visitors who don't post, it is difficult to know how many of them find anything of use during their visit.

Max

8886 GCSE Science Coursework

www.8886.co.uk

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Another reason I haven't upgraded is that it doesn't get into search engine listings, the hosts must have done something to block it. In some ways I am grateful because I couldn't handle a large number of questions, as well as the spam that has to be deleted.

With this type of board you can stop search engine submission if you wish to. You also have complete control over members, who is allowed to post, and whether your board can be seen to the outside world.

When using boards with students I think it is essential to encourage them to discuss freely rather than see it as just another way of asking teacher questions.

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I think that part of the success of a message board in aiding student learning is the sense of ownership. Initially a board set up by the teacher is useful for training and guidance in the use of the resource but encouraging students take more control appears to have benefits.

I have involved students in the moderation of two boards I am running with ICT groups (A level and GCSE). The one showing the most promise now has little administrative input form myself.

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  • 2 months later...

An Update

Shortly after I wrote the above message my free forum host shut down so I had to look for a new BB. I've installed a PHP driven BB called "phpBB". In terms of layout it looks very similar to this forum.

The web address is:

http://www.8886.co.uk/forum/

I haven't used this Forum before and it has taken quite a lot of effort to get it up and running. It should be working now, but if anyone finds any faults with it let me know. For some reason I do not feel confident in its ability to work well without a lot of Admin maintenance.

Does anyone have any experience of other PHP (or possibly PEARL) Forums? I tried a simpler PHP Forum called PUN but it crashed my development server and I didn't fancy carrying that one any further.

Thanks,

Max

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I think that if you are going to rely on free forums you are always going to have problems with data security and forum longevity.

For instance I have found that the support from Invision (the supliers of this forum) is infinitely better now I am a paying customer than it was when I used their free stuff and/or demo board.

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I'd agree with Andy there. Invision allow you to download the forum software and install it on any site. They DO respond to queries and will help fix problems that occur - but in their own time. Once a board is registered on the other hand, the work is done for you as soon as they can get to it. Its probably best to run with a free version of software that can later be registered in the first instance. Find your feet with that and if the forum takes off, register it. That ensures that you don't spend money in the first instance on something that isn't going to work and when you've got success - and therefore more membership / admin problems, you have the support there as and when you need it.

I use a variety of InvisionFree forums within school that are relatively straight forward to manage from an admin point of view. The registered version of Invision Board though is MUCH more user friendly and the level of support appears to be extremely good: certainly no delays of note on the forums I'm an administrator on.

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I'm sure you get much better support when you pay for it. The Invision boards do run using PHP and MySQL so I could use one. I'm not sure that I could justify spending two hundred dollars (for a single lifetime installation) for something that I run just as a hobby.

I'll have to wait and see how well it works. If it causes too many problems I'll look round for something else.

Max

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To be honest I think that there are that many people on here who know invision forums inside out that you'd be able to find the answer to any problems without having to pay. ;) The free (unregistered) version of the full invision board is exactly the same as the registered board - just has a lesser level of support.

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Guest ChristineS

You all sound very high powered!

I am a mere classroom teacher with no time to teach myself much and no school ICT training of any relevance offered, but I have been using hotmail to run small forums for my A Level Language and Literature groups for a few years now. Of course, this means I cannot develop anything too much so have confined myself to a different forum for each year group, but I have found what is available extremely handy.

I post up homeworks and sites to visit; have homeworks posted to me; answer queries (very useful for the coursework component) and put on any revision papers, ppt presentations etc that are useful for the student. I can log homeworks by making students post them there and they also share their research and other knowledge by posting it there too.

Like I said, not very high powered, but very useful, even with my limited knowledge and use.

One thing the department are debating is whether it is worth the chool funding so many A Level resits for so many students who do not revise for them (as no revision lessons are timetabled) and thus do not improve grades; so we are thinking of posting complete revision programmes onto a forum for each module and monitoring the work level of the revision students from there: our own, simplified version of e-learning, I suppose.

Where can I go to find out more about what seems to be a more sophisticated level of forum which is being discussed on here (and not too technical for me to understand, please). Our department might consider financing one if it is not too expensive and is very easy to set up and run, thus offering sufficient benefits over the free hotmail ones to be worth it.

Dan, free or paid invision forums for instance?

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As several people have mentioned the free online version of the Invision board FOUND HERE is an excellent place to start.

I have used this several times with students and it does just about everything you could want.

Have a look (if you have strong nerves!! :blink: ) at my year 8 classes board HERE :unsure:

You can also have a full version (like this one) hosted by Invision (like this one) for about £70 a year. The level of support which comes with this package is excellent.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Over the last few months I have been experimenting with forums as a learning tool with chemistry and ICT students.

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!

Nick (and others)

I'm currently leading a seminar on the SchoolHistory forum about using forums in the classroom.

http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/forum/index...?showtopic=3208

If you have a moment, I'd be interested in experiences from a non-history perspective.

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Richard

Is learning in History different to Chemistry or Physics?

I am interested in seeing and how students use forums to explore and build concepts. I want to move the experience on from the forum being just a message board.

Students will ask questions but science students being a conservative bunch need encouragement to supply answers. They need to feel confident about the answer. While sharing a forum with students from another school my top set who are studying separate sciences assumed they were less academic.

I want them to be willing to take a risk – exposing they conceptual framework to their peers and teachers.

The responses from fellow learners have the potential to modify their framework and move them towards greater understanding as well as creating debates.

I also, as I have stated elsewhere in this discussion, that a sense of ownership is important. The most used forum is run by the students (I am a moderator).

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