E-learning with web 2.0


- ► category - Although they predate web 2.0, asynchronous discussion boards are often associated with it because of their interactive and potentially collaborative nature. They are also a common feature of many other web 2.0 platforms, like blogs and wikis. Contemporary discussion boards, which have a more web 2.0 presentation and feel, allow you to exchange not only text but images, audio and video.

- ► what - A discussion board (also known by other names, including discussion forum, online forum or the older term bulletin board) is a place where participants can engage in conversation organised into topic-based discussion threads. Unlike chat and IM, which are typically synchronous, discussion boards are usually asynchronous, meaning that participants do not have to be logged in at the same time but can read and respond to each other's messages whenever convenient. Of course, many asynchronous tools can be used synchronously, and some synchronous tools can be used asynchronously, so there's a blurred area between the two.

The image on the top left shows an excerpt from a discussion thread (a list of replies to a single initial posting) on a language teacher training discussion board in a VLE. Only the title of each posting can be seen in this view, but participants would be able to access full postings by clicking on the titles in the list. Students have been anonymised but each coloured bar represents a single participant.

- ► why - Asynchronous discussion boards have a number of educational advantages, most notably the sophisticated level of discussion which typically takes place there. Over many years of research, it has been established that this is due to the combination of interaction and reflection facilitated by such boards: essentially, participants are engaged in conversation, and can thus bounce ideas off each other as they collaboratively build understanding, but because the conversation takes place in writing they also have time to reflect on others' messages and to compose their own replies carefully. In addition, the conversation is typically very democratic (because everyone has a chance to say as much as he or she wishes) and multidirectional (with participants able to follow the discussion threads which are of most relevance or interest to them personally). All in all, discussion boards are a great way of promoting collaborative learning and, if structured carefully, can lead to the development of effective learning communities. When they involve a multilingual and/or multicultural cohort of students, they are also a great way of developing intercultural competence. The asynchronous aspect is particularly useful in international courses, where participants may be located in different time zones.

- ► how - You can set up a freestanding discussion board using a dedicated discussion board service, or else you can use the inbuilt discussion boards within a VLE, wiki or social networking site. Even blogs contain modified discussion boards in the form of the comments feature.

- ► where - If you want to set up a freestanding asynchronous discussion board, you can use a variety of providers, including Boardhost, Forumotion, FreeForums.org, Vanilla and many others, which can be located through a simple web search. Alternatively, you can set up a discussion board in Google Groups or, as noted above, within a VLE, wiki or social networking site.

- ► examples - For examples of wiki-based discussion boards, see the Stromatolites discussion page underpinning the Stromatolites page on the Y11 Evolution wiki, or the Cold War discussion page on the APUSH-Evans wiki. Politically and socially oriented conversations can be found on the discussion boards of the international youth organisation TakingITGlobal. TED Conversations is a discussion service set up in association with TED Talks in 2011. Omgili is a search engine for discussion boards and forums.

- ► dangers - Using a discussion board has pedagogical advantages, as discussed above, but text-based online discussion is much more time-consuming than participating in a face-to-face discussion. While having additional time to compose responses can be beneficial for non-native or less confident speakers, any errors in writing may be more obvious and will be permanently preserved in a published format. It is also important to bear cultural issues in mind. The conventions of Anglophone academic or educational discussion don't necessarily hold everywhere in the world and it's vital to take this into consideration when working with multicultural cohorts of students.

- ► variations - One interesting variation is the problem-oriented discussion board Solvr. Qhub and Shapado allow you to create Q & A message boards, while Spring.me (formerly Formspring) is a more general space for posting questions. Another variation takes the form of multimedia message boards like Lino, Padlet (formerly Wallwisher) and PinDax, where postings resemble sticky notes and can be rearranged as desired. See for example Nik Peachey's Padlet discussion board, Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers, embedded below. Audio discussion boards can be set up through Gong or Voxopop.

- ► more - For academic and journalistic references about discussion boards, see the E-learning references page.

Credits: The image above left shows an anonymised excerpt from an asynchronous discussion thread from a 2004 module on the TMLA course at the University of Dundee, Scotland; it uses BlackBoard software. The sample discussion board above is from Padlet. I owe the Lino link to Colin Toh and the Voxopop link to Nik Peachey.

Contact: There's no such thing as a finished wiki. Like all wikis, this one is a work in progress and there will be changes from time to time in organisation, content and links. However, don't let that stop you from contacting me at any time with comments, suggestions or questions.