Successful Design and Management of Asynchronous Discussion Forums in Online Higher Education

Successful Design and Management of Asynchronous Discussion Forums in Online Higher Education

Andreea Cervatiuc (University of British Columbia, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8286-1.ch006

Abstract

This chapter focuses on asynchronous discussion forums in online higher education. Drawing on recent research and her experience as the program coordinator of an online Master of Education and developer and instructor of online courses, the author of this chapter identifies and explains some principles for the successful design and management of asynchronous discussion forums, such as the relevance of the course topics, flexible, accountable, active, collaborative, and focused learning and the ideal role of the online instructor. The author also proposes a framework for the effective organization of learning modules in asynchronous online courses.
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Introduction

The asynchronous discussion forum, a key component of many online higher education courses, can be considered the equivalent of face-to-face discussions in on-campus courses. An online course without a discussion board or a very minimalist one, consisting only of completing learning modules and submitting assignments, is like a teacher-centered, lecture-based, traditional on-campus course, in which students are silent, listen to the instructor’s lecture, and complete assignments for marks.

Effective online discussion forums that are conducive to deep learning and long-term retention require thoughtful design and careful management. This book chapter identifies and explains some of the factors that contribute to successful discussion forums in culturally diverse higher education courses. The author draws on recent research findings and her experience as the program coordinator and architect of an online Master of Education in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). In this program, students gain theoretical and practical knowledge in the following areas: applied linguistics for teachers; second and foreign language acquisition, teaching, and writing; English proficiency assessment; the relationship among language, discourse, and identity; multilingual and multimodal literacy; and language and culture in virtual environments.

The author has developed and taught several asynchronous and synchronous online courses in the area of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), in two Canadian universities, using various course management systems, such as Canvas, Desire2Learn, Blackboard, Connect, Elluminate Live!, and Adobe Connect. In this book chapter, she draws on her overall experience with online education, but provides specific examples from a recent online asynchronous graduate course that she has developed, Theory and Research in Teaching English as a Second Language.

A common element of all distance education courses is that participants are separated in space. Online courses bring together people situated in different locations, who would not otherwise have the possibility to learn and interact with one another. Students in online courses normally do not have to attend face-to-face or on-campus classes, unless their program has an element of blended instruction. Blended education combines classroom learning with online learning, in various ways. Some blended courses combine a number of face-to-face classes with various online learning tasks. Others are basically on-campus courses broadcasted in real time by means of different technologies.

An important preliminary distinction that needs to be made is between synchronous online courses and asynchronous ones. In synchronous courses, instructors and students need to be online at the same time in order to participate in virtual classes facilitated through technologies such as Adobe Connect, which help them to connect simultaneously. A virtual class in Adobe Connect may use various features such as: web conferencing, audio conferencing, texting features, or a digital whiteboard, which allow participants to communicate orally or in written form and to upload and exchange files, slides, and images.

In asynchronous courses, instructors and students do not need to be online at the same time. Instructors give students access to their online course shells that contain various materials which can be accessed at any time during the course. Asynchronous courses generally contain learning modules, descriptions of assignments, criteria for marking, such rubrics or scales, as well as a discussion board. The learning modules of asynchronous online courses vary greatly in their level of detail and organization. Some are multimodal, containing many pictures, key visuals, embedded videos or audio recordings, while others may rely entirely on written text. The learning modules of online courses that are based on required textbooks tend to be more minimalist, while the ones for courses that have required articles or book chapters from various sources tend to be more detailed and elaborate, because they partially fulfil the role of textbooks. In many instances, the number of learning modules equals the number of weeks in the course.

The discussion board of asynchronous online courses is generally organized into forums, where instructors and, in some cases, students can add discussion threads related to the topics of the forums. A common way of organizing asynchronous forums is to create one for each topic of the course or at least one for each of the most important topics. Some online instructors create additional forums where they post sample assignments and instructions and comments related to course assignments and tasks.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Asynchronous Online Courses: Online courses in which instructors and students do not need to be online at the same time and in which students can access the materials at any time during the course.

Synchronous Online Courses: Online courses in which instructors and students need to be online at the same time in order to participate in virtual classes.

Authentic Pedagogy: An approach to instruction and assessment which promotes authentic student achievement, such as intellectual and professional artefacts produced by successful adults in the workforce.

Constructivist Pedagogy: An approach to teaching in which learners are provided with the opportunity to construct meaning and learn by making connections between their existing knowledge and the new ideas, concepts, and facts.

New Literacies: New forms of literacy made possible by digital technology developments.

TESOL: Teaching English to speakers of other languages, which can happen in an English-speaking or a non-English speaking country.

ESL: An abbreviation of English as a second language, which refers to the teaching of English to people who speak a different first language and who live in an English-speaking country.

Netiquette: Abbreviation and combination of the words “network” and “etiquette,” which can be defined as a set of rules for acceptable and courteous online behavior.

TESL: An abbreviation that refers to teaching English as a second language.

EFL: An abbreviation of English as a second language, which refers to the teaching of English to people who speak a different first language and who live in a non-English-speaking country.

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