Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Discussion Board

Since SIGCSE last week several folks have asked about how I handle discussion boards for the CS Principles class.

I include discussion board topics to gauge how the students are thinking and learning about the topics we cover. It is so much easier to asses code, and it creates a big temptation to fall back on "just coding". The discussion board has been a great way to read along with their learning process.

For this to work we have to really structure it at the beginning. This is not a type of writing that high school students are used to. Add the natural joy they feel at hearing "Now we are going to write about..." it can take a while to get them going.

The first topics of the year year focused on how to effectively participate in a discussion board. Students do not know how to do this yet, so the skill must be taught. Lots of feedback and very clear guidelines are a must.

They must do at least three responses a week. I am very specific about what I am looking for, and what will not count. A response must:
  • Move the conversation along, not just rehash other posts
  • Add a new analysis or fact to the discussion
  • Ask a question ("I don't get it" doesn't count)
  • Respond to another student's post ("I agree" or "LOL" is not a response)
Like most things at our level, if it is not graded they will not do it. Rules about language usage help. My students communicate online socially, not for education. I have learned that you must make this distinction very clear. Specifically we follow the 4-P's:

  • No Profanity
  • No Plagiarism
  • No Paraphernalia (drugs, alcohol, etc)
  • Play nice - no bullying

I developed these when I was in college sponsoring a local high school's literary magazine and they work in lots of teen-related situations.

This can also be a good time to talk about their digital life. They don't often stop to think about the information they are leaving online for the world to see...this makes a great discussion board topic, in a self-reflexive kind of way.

Need more? This PDF from TeacherStream is one of the best resources on facilitating discussion boards I have found. Edutopia has a whole list of resources for online learning that can be helpful in a traditional classroom also.

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So, what do YOU think?