Discussion Boards

Click… Wait… Click… Wait… Click…

This is what I do when I access a Learning Management System to make a weekly news item. To do this, I mostly make a series of bullet point hyperlinks to the provided unit resources. And the pauses while waiting for each of the three phases of making these links can feel, well, long. Making these hyperlinks will also require a further formatting readjustment 95% of the time.

Click… Wait… Click… Wait… Click…

This is also what I do when I visit the LMS discussion boards for the units I teach, at least for the first few weeks of trimester when I encourage students to leave an introductory post. In one of these units, there are currently 246 posts in 114 threads. These posts are presently separated into six lists given that a maximum of 20 threads can be viewed at one time. Just picture that for a moment.

Click… Wait… Click… Wait… Click…

Now I want you to picture hundreds – no, thousands – more threads, created within the space of a fortnight. These threads regularly burst out into conversations, with dozens of students replying to many of the new posts with comments of their own. Imagine many more students replying to these posts by simply stating that they like the post that they are replying to. Picture hundreds more students clicking on these posts, trawling through the lists like robots (and feeling like them), quietly watching on – clicking, waiting, clicking, waiting – perhaps only as observers… for now.

Kuba sleeping on keyboard by Stefan Zdzialek.jpg
Kuba sleeping on keyboard by Stefan Zdzialek (CC BY-ND 2.0)

I’ve been thinking about this post for some time now, which means I probably should have come up with a more exciting title than I have out of the many I’d been brainstorming. But in the end, this bland title seems as fitting as it is misleading. Despite appearances, this blog isn’t intended to be a complaint about discussion boards. There are very good reasons why an LMS is required for student learning, and I certainly need to use one for various reasons, not least of all for administrative matters and to facilitate the formal assessment process.

But I needed to set the scene there, as there is no clearer example of the power of using real world social media for learning than when comparing a platform like Twitter with a discussion board. In fact, the image I asked you to conjure above would require a very good imagination, as typically thousands of interactions are not going to happen on such a discussion board across a trimester of several months, let alone over the course of a few weeks. But they can happen on Twitter, and the extra interactive potential is noticed…

Another vignette: Picture me sitting in Medibank, waiting to make an insurance enquiry. The wait isn’t long (not a company endorsement; no fine print to read on this blog), but in the space of less than a minute, I’ve interacted with at least six students. This story is true; it happened just last week.

Scrolling smoothly through a hashtag, I cover a massive array of material. Clicking instantaneously between accounts, I’m suddenly engaging with a different cohort of students. In between these interactions, I’m engaged with other publics, getting up-to-date with world events, being entertained by a witty remark from someone I don’t even follow… I might even reach out to an industry practitioner and score a massive favor.

There are countless stories – large and small – that I could tell about the value of Twitter and other social media channels for creating learning environments. I’ve included some of these stories in a recent Getting Practical with Digital Media teaching video I made. Past students who have long since departed from any units I teach continue to network with each other and even add direct value to my own media-making…

Of course, the most important factor in the development of a vibrant learning environment are the students, who in the end are the only ones who can build an online community. From the enhanced potential for connectivity, to the instant gratification of real-time feedback, the following vlog outlines the initial stages of creating such a community:

Many thanks for reading, and feel free to leave me a comment down below – I’d love to hear about your own learning experiences with Twitter or other forms of social media!


Featured image: Exhausted by Leonid Mamchenkov (CC BY 2.0)

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Peter Dolan says:

    I am in week 1 of my third post-grad diploma through online study in 15 years and using twitter this semester I have become more engaged, quicker, and connected faster with other students and tutors than in previous study. I have been required to use boards before and found them cumbersome and lacking ability to deliver connectivity without laborious and time consuming committment. Great post Adam and thumbs up to innovative educators facilitating learning with great tools.

    1. Adam Brown says:

      Thanks for reading Peter – fantastic to hear it’s working for you (which is, in the end, because you’re working for it! 🙂

  2. ashleybaines says:

    After completing (and loving) ALC708 last year, I have been trying to convince colleagues at my very traditional university that Twitter (or alternative social platforms) might provide some value over the good old LMS. I have struggled, however, to convince any. I wonder if you’ve had any similar conversations with colleagues, and if you noticed which ‘selling points’ were effective?

    1. Adam Brown says:

      Thanks for reading Ashley. Admittedly Twitter or social media generally won’t work for every unit and I dare say I’m a bit ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in some ways (despite, ironically, being very public on Twitter). The rather dystopian perceptions of social media generally – and Twitter in particular – work against it. I do have one colleague in the Education area trying it out, though if it’s a hard enough sell to students in social/digital media units, it will be even more so in other areas… On the whole, the drive for innovation has to come – at first – from the teacher who probably won’t have many/any incentives beyond job satisfaction and enhanced student experience to do so. That said, the inspiration that this drive needs can come from students. Probably my most effective strategy to at least bring Cloud enhancement and innovation as an issue to the table is to bring the stories, perspectives, and sentiments of students to the table (tweets, blogs, etc. give me a lot to choose from). I pushed audio feedback initially by reading some tweets in a meeting, then gave a PD session on it. 4 out of more than 100 attended, but 4 walked away convinced they would try it… so 100% effective, from a certain point of view? 😉

      1. ashleybaines says:

        Thanks for the reply – that gives me a lot to think about. I take your point that the approach isn’t universally applicable, but bringing the voices of the students certainly can’t hurt!

  3. Rebekah Hegeman says:

    I love Twitter for interaction with my fellow students! At first, I was a bit peeved at the deviation to the Deakin system I was used to (I knew the rules!) but I’m killing multiple birds with one stone here (this is a metaphor for productivity, not the literal killing of birds) – what’s not to love about that! It feels good to be learning, interacting, and also allowing my phone to keep me up to speed with Twitter updates – one less thing for me to think about!

    1. Adam Brown says:

      Excellent to hear Rebekah, thanks heaps for the comment! Glad you’re finding it’s working well for you 🙂

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