Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Using discussion format to encourage conversation

    I’ve been thinking about how using different kinds of Moodle discussions encourages or discourages discussion.

    While there are four variants, they display in really just two formats.  The first shows the prompts with separate discussion threads.  The second shows the prompts with replies nested underneath.

    Why is this important?  Because while the second is one conversation and the first is potentially many conversations – which might seem like too much trouble and thus keep students from participating.

The first option I’m talking about here is the default.  The Standard forum format looks like the image to the right.

        When you click on the student’s thread, you then get to see the post and replies.  Each thread is a separate conversation.  For many activities, this is exactly what I want.
  • Perhaps I want each student to post their ideas before they can see any other students’ ideas (Q & A forum).  
  • Perhaps I want students to maintain separate discussions (in the case of Two-Way Journals, where pairs of students are reading the same book and talking about it).  (Standard forum for general use)  
  • Perhaps I want the information organized in separate threads, as I do with vocabulary, where there is a separate thread for each word.   
    But when I really want a conversation on one topic, I don’t always get that with this Standard Forum format.  What often happens is that students click on threads started by their friends, and ignore those started by others.  There can be a very active conversation that other students may not even see.

    So I’m rethinking this.  I want real conversations among all students.  That means I’ll use A Single Simple Discussion format more often – the second option I talked about above.  This format looks like this.  I can display this in summary form, as shown here, or with each post showing:

    This is what you see within the different threads of the Standard Format, but here it’s the single thread, the single discussion. 

    I’ll have to balance this against the desire to see students’ original thinking (because the “me, too” tendency is strong).  This also means I have to divide the class into groups to keep the reading involved in the conversations manageable – but that’s a post for another day.

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