Online Discussion Boards in the Constructivist Classroom

Online Discussion Boards in the Constructivist Classroom

Lauren Lunsford (Belmont University, USA), Bonnie Smith Whitehouse (Belmont University, USA) and Jason F. Lovvorn (Belmont University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6383-1.ch016
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The purpose of this chapter is to provide pre-service and practicing teachers a constructivist lens for viewing how they use technology, specifically online discussion boards, in their classrooms. The chapter introduces the idea that online discussion boards present a unique opportunity for constructivist teachers in particular and then provides several specific and practical strategies for ways to use discussion boards in the classroom. Each of these strategies connects to the roots of constructivist beliefs. In particular, this chapter highlights the role that writing can play when using this technology.
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Accountability and standardized testing have been identified as some of the most stressful aspects of the teaching profession (Abrams, Pedulla, & Madaus, 2003). As standardized testing has become more prevalent and a more powerful variable in our educational landscape, teaching has become more and more centralized and focused on testing outcomes (Au, 2007). While assessment is a critical part of the teaching profession from a variety of perspectives, including behaviorist and constructivist (Shepard, 2000), constructivist teachers can find the testing-centric classroom to be incompatible with their learner-centric approaches to teaching (Brooks & Brooks, 1999).

Online discussion boards (ODBs) are poised to become as ubiquitous in twenty-first century classrooms as chalkboards were in the previous century. But an ODB is unlike a chalkboard in many ways, and those who care about twenty-first century learning practices should understand what is unique about the ODB as a medium and as an assignment. Unlike the words on a chalkboard, usually composed by the hand of the authorial and authoritative teacher, an ODB is “authored” largely by the student-learners. What, then, do we need to understand about the role of the twenty-first century teacher in this ever-present medium? We propose that constructivism is an ideal theoretical orientation for understanding the context and potential of the ODB in the current educational landscape.

First, constructivist teachers avoid the temptation to turn the discussion board into a new kind of chalkboard or a means for delivering a kind of “text-lecture.” Second, constructivist teachers are comfortable with the idea that knowledge is co-constructed and thus are more apt to let knowledge evolve through a community of inquiry (COI) they have thoughtfully constructed with their own students. And third, those teachers acquainted with constructivist principles are more apt to regard the ODB as a unique text in itself since on an ODB, questions are pursued (not merely answered), students are regarded as thinkers (not merely empty vessels waiting to be filled with the teacher’s knowledge), and teachers are seen as mediators and facilitators (not merely the keepers of the knowledge to be translated). The ODB is indeed pervasive, but we worry that it has potential to become stale when merely assigned out of routine. Teachers assigning and assessing the ODB should think carefully about deep reflection, rubrics to measure meaningful participation, rhetorical questioning techniques (their own and the students’), and the use of narrative and case studies. We contend that when thoughtfully considered as a dialogic, polyvocal text with a unique potential to elicit deep learning, the ODB may have the potential to bring democratic principles to life through composition and co-construction.

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