I want to start by saying that I have truly appreciated the time away from blogging this past two weeks. The break gave me a lot of time to focus on my major project and I am happy to say that I am quite pleased with the progress myself and my group made. That being said I’m ready to share some thoughts with you on our topic this week – openness in education.
To narrow the topic a little I am going to be focusing on discussion forums for the most part but I will touch on blogging a little as well. I don’t believe that we need to make a forum public in order to make it authentic to for the learners. I do however feel that making it public has the potential to make it more authentic. Maybe authentic is the wrong word. But I feel that making it public creates a certain level of accountability that can provide more authentic learning experiences. If students know that the public can read their questions and responses they are less likely to post something silly that might make them seem uneducated or immature. I feel like a public forum would raise the bar and make things a little more meaningful. The public space provides opportunities for people who are outside of the class to participate and contribute to the learning within the classroom. This can include parents, students from other classrooms or schools, teachers or content experts.
There are a few things that we have to consider when we are deciding whether to use an open or closed forum. The first thing we have to consider is the age of the students. Amy brought some good ideas forwards regarding this. I feel as though students who are younger should have a closed forum that would be open to their parents and perhaps other students within their school who could collaborate with the students in your class. Although privacy issues are a concern for all students I fell like we must be especially careful with students who are younger. Of course having a public forum raises privacy concerns and other issues such as inappropriate content or trolls. The possibility for these inappropriate comments can happen in a closed forum as well but they are less likely to, especially if you can tell who is posting the information – which brings up a new point of anonymity. Regardless of the forum it is helpful when real names are used as usernames so that the teacher and students know who is posting. There may be some cases when anonymity may increase the questions or responses given in relation to a topic that might be controversial or more intimate such as sex education.
There will be issues regardless of whether or not you have an open or closed forum. The important thing to remember is how you go about dealing with those issues when they occur. If it is an open forum you need to set expectations on how to deal with negative comments and what to do if a student comes across something inappropriate. In my technology class students blog and I have them join the Student Blogging Challenge. When they register their blog is posted to the student list on the website so that others may find their blog and read it. I have had a few students who have developed a blog buddy (or at least that’s what I will call them) from another part of the world. These students now look forward to reading each others posts and commenting on each others posts. They get really excited when they receive a comment on their blog from someone outside our school. Of course that being said no one has had a bad experience through comments on their blog so it has been a positive experience. This could all change with one bad comment and I keep that in mind all the time. I remind my students on a regular basis that they need to be aware of what they are posting/sharing and be prepared for comments that may be inappropriate or rude. It is not a guarantee that they will have a negative experience but students must always be prepared for what could happen.
There is certainly a time and place for open forums but for the time being I think I will be sticking to closed forums if I use them. I will continue having my students blog publicly but I need to have a little more focus if I want to start using an open discussion forum.
If you’re thinking about using discussion forums in your class here is some advice.