From the Mailbag: Message Boards

A friend of mine (who I’ve actually never met in person) emailed and asked about discussion boards for language classes and I have been dragging my feet getting back to him. Sorry, friend. I am also sorry not sorry for using the question as an excuse to blog. I  hope it will be worthwhile and people will give leave some thoughts or links in the comments to add to the discussion and help my friend out, assuming it is not already too late. Reading the email from my friend I suspected he is the camp of people (like Tim Hampson) who believe me to be tech savvy. I am not so sure I am.  In this case and on this topic of message boards, I fear my responses will be disappointing or not very helpful. My friend knows I have used discussion boards as both a student and instructor on The New School MATESOL program and wondered how and if I used them in regular English classes. The simple answer is that I don’t. I have used them in the past for teacher education and training but for don’t really do anything with message boards in my English focused classes. I do use wikis in some of my courses and there is an option for discussion there but I don’t make an official (or assessed) part of the course. My friend teaches at a university in the US and his questions (summarized and paraphrased below after the picture) got me wondering why I don’t use such boards in my classes in Korea. message board What are your thoughts on message boards as an supplement to face-to-face English classes? Do you have any ideas or best practices about this? Best practices? Any thoughts? Have you ever done this for your classes? Do you know any online resources where people have talked about ideas? I can see lots of potential for such boards. My current idea is to use discussion boards prior to in-class meetings in my International Discussion class to ensure students are thinking about the issues before class. It also seems like a great chance to assess how well students can articulate their views on the topics. I think I’d try to make it so discussion boards are as “speaking-like” as possible even though they are in written form. Of course there are things like Voice Thread where the discussions could be in spoken form but I am drawn to text for the particular class I am thinking about.

My friend’s questions got me wondering why I don’t use message boards in my English classes and it seems like my reasons are not so strong. I think perhaps inertia is one of the strongest reasons. This coupled with concerns or questions about how best to set things up in advance might have prevented me from using message boards. I am thinking I might give it a go this autumn. Any suggestions, tips, sites, or links for me and my friend? Thanks in advance.
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6 comments

  1. HL

    Hi Mike (and friend), I’ve used (and blogged a bit about) this kind of thing and feel something is missing now if I don’t have one on a course!
    With adults and older teens (for Cambridge exam prep) they post about fears about the exam, learning strengths, some words and expressions they come across outside our course materials, any links to relevant articles etc they find. As a teacher, I post videos or texts and ask them to comment on them, brainstorm vocabulary on topics between one lesson and another, set tasks for them to discuss together… and other stuff I can’t think of right now! Sometimes it’s even useful just as a kind of on-line resource bank where I can post links to useful sites (like howjsay.com or the http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/phonemic-chart and as we go through the course, students can add in any sites they have found useful.
    With younger kids I’ve used a kind of class blog-notice-board-type-forum where students can post about things they like or have done (like hobbies or holidays), ask and answer questions and describe pictures. It has worked surprisingly well and has taken little effort from me (except for general moderation).
    I asked my older teens for feedback on using the tool and it was really positive and parents of the younger kids were happy to see this kind of tool being used by their kids outside timetabled class time.
    Anyway, as you can see, I am a big fan! One thing I really noticed though is that the teacher needs to be consistent with his/her presence on-line if you want it to work. Set up your site or tool and use it from day 1 of your course, or kids and adults will self-organise and find their own place to share but without the teacher (which is of course very practical, but means you can’t guide the content). The teacher also needs to decide if and how you are going to correct language on the site and make that clear from day 1, so students know what to expect. I didn’t correct my younger kids site, but as my older teens and adults were studying for exams, it made more sense to encourage peer correction which I kept tabs on. The sites I’ve used are http://www.edmodo.com (which has great support resources) and http://www.padlet.com which is really simple to use.
    I’d love to know how you get on in the autumn if you do try it out! Helen

  2. timothyhampson

    I KNOW you to be tech savvy.

    I’ve had a pretty bad experience with message boards from university. When I was an undergrad I was studying politics and philosophy and we had messageboards, they were very barely used and not really seen as fun. When I was doing my (ill advised) MA in theology we had one. Once you add God into the mix the message board became like one of those Foreign Language Professors in Dave’s Waygookin Cafe pages.

    You probably weren’t going to chat theology on there, but I’d suggest making sure that they’re really clear about what they’re supposed to be doing on there. Maybe some sample posts would be helpful.

    A half formed idea that I’ve no way of using is to have an English only Kakao chat. I think all the interrupted speech and the fact that they’d be mostly ‘shooting the shit’ on there might be more natural way of doing things. It’s also closer to what most English speakers get up to anyway. As a student I’d have appreciated homework I could have done on the phone on the bus. Not sure if it is really a good idea or not but it might be worth thinking about.

    • gotanda

      Yep, just set up a LINE group with a class of students for just casual chit-chat and probably a lot of silly photos over the summer. But, we’ll see what they get up to. I don’t plan to use it for any serious instructional purposes, but hope that just keeping them in a group with a little bit of exchange in English that is socially valuable will help sustain interest. Some of them might really run with it. We’ll see…

  3. Rob Dickey

    In Korea, most universities already have a variety of electronic boards available to every class, though they may not support online instruction (video lectures, online submission of assignments, etc) without some coaxing (begging? — They want faculty in the classroom, generally). Chatboards where students can initiate and respond, Postboards where only instructors can initiate, students may be able to reply, Email and/or SMS sending to selected/all students… These are generally tied to official class enrolments, so instructor need not gather student contacts or confirm join-requests. On the other hand, some faculty make “joining an English-only environment” one of the learning objectives, and that’s a fair consideration. There are places you can create your class in an existing Moodle environment for free, so you can have students submit assignments there too. I agree with Helen (HL) that you must be consistent — start as you would finish.

  4. Pieces of 8

    I also heartily endorse use of online environments to complement and extend the classroom environment. I’ve used to my institute’s enrollment-connected forum (clunky, but accessible to everyone) but I much prefer Padlet which, as Helen mentioned, is really easy to set up, use, and access. You can also decide whether you want to moderate all posts before they go up (good for edgier groups) and whether students can write, or write and edit each other’s posts.
    As well as being a great way for students to submit work, it’s a great resource to use for live group writing tasks, for example, or for a shared vocabulary building resource.

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