All quiet on the discussion front

[via Ray] Marina Sapozhnikov writes in tech learning that it’s All Quiet on the Discussion Front.

” * “I hope you realize the importance of online collaboration.”
* “Participation in online discussions constitutes a significant portion of your course grade.”
* “Now that the initial stage of confusion and uncertainty has subsided, I would like you to become visible in the course by starting to participate in the Discussion Board forums.”

Postings like these may sound familiar to online instructors who are teaching classes comprised of non-native students.”

She puts it down to, ahem, “cultural limitations and differences” (ouch, sounds like the author is the one with the limitations!) and prescribes the use of collaborative projects, setting clear expectations and grading policies and the rather vague creation of “a learning environment that fosters collaborative learning and “creation of a network of distributed intelligence” (Hamilton & Zimmerman, 264)”.

I’m coming at this from two different angles though, firstly I don’t think that the opening quotes are at all only the preserve of the ESL teacher or teacher dealing with non-native English speaking students… I think that teachers across the spectrum using discussion boards would appreciate it!

Secondly and more importantly is this annoying & oft repeated little ode to discussion boards:

“Discussion forums, with their excellent opportunities for constructing knowledge through collaboration, provide plenty of room for such sharing. Thus, it becomes an important task of online instructors to promote active Discussion forum participation of all students regardless of their cultural background.”

Says who? I think it’s fairly obvious from the tone of the article that it is in fact rather difficult to get ‘sharing’ going in discussion forums. Why do we spend so much time questioning the ways in which we can use discussion forums to get these collaborative results? Let’s try to be critical and look at the tools that we have, we’re trying to peel potatoes with a fork no?