University of Washington, Seattle Campus
Reinforcing Traditional Pedagogy
Phillip Thurtle, lecturer in Communications, tries to focus his classes on student-directed discussion, but in a large lecture class, encouraging student interaction isn't easy. Newsgroups and message boards seemed like an obvious answer: here was a way to encourage student discussion outside the classroom, and the discussion could be totally student-driven.
Thurtle's early experiences with using discussion groups and message boards in the classroom, however, weren't very successful. There was no dynamic conversation, and he feared that this technology was "just another way for teachers to monitor the types of intellectual discourse that should be happening outside of class anyway." Experience and experimentation, however, have shown him that with a little effort on his part, message boards are an excellent way to expand and improve classroom discussion. In fact, when he tried to eliminate a discussion board from his Social Theory class, students requested that he reinstate one! For asynchronous conversation tools to work, he discovered, "they need to be incorporated in the class at a structural level." By giving students credit for participation and referring to EPost discussions during class meetings, he incorporates the message board activity into the structure of his class.
Thurtle's goal with the CMU 302/CHID 320 EPost board was to encourage an "asynchronous conversation in a horizontal fashion". He achieved this goal by providing an incentive for participation--credit towards the class grade-- without making participation in the EPost board an absolute requirement. He also stressed that, to create this kind of discussion environment, the most important action an instructor can take is to keep a minimal presence on the board. Use it to make announcements, he suggested, but otherwise don't participate unless asked to do so by the students.
Please note: EPost has been replaced by GoPost, which offers expanded features to support online discussion and collaboration.