Our computer conference, hosted at Nicenet.org, will add a rich threaded discussion forum to our course. Notice that this is a free, educational site that can be also be used with middle school and high school students.
Your entries should be thoughtful and respond to the ideas of other students. Reading student entries is as important as entering your own responses.
The idea is not just to respond once to a topic and then move on, never to return. The idea is to read carefully other posts, respond, go to other items, return to the earlier item the next day or a couple of days later on, respond to new posts, look for new items, return to the first item again, respond again, and so on. In this way rich, interactive discussion develops, and a conversation started near the beginning of the class might grow and grow over the course of the whole semester.
It is important to start early and keep up with the conference. Use professional manners, while being informal at the same time. Don't "flame" other people's responses -- it is often a good idea to reread an entire item before reacting too quickly to an upsetting comment from another student. You can post live links in your Nicenet messages.
For fall and spring semesters aim to enter 3-4 posts per week during the professor directed portion of the class to earn an "A" on this component of class participation. (For summer semester 6-8 posts per week.) Previous experience indicates this requires a regular time commitment of at least 30 mins per week, or twice that in summer.
During student-led units participation expectations will be set by group leaders.
On-line discussions can take a great variety of forms, be put to many purposes, and be held to different standards. There are a variety of tools beyond Nicenet for these forums, including built-in programs in (for profit) Blackboard/WebCT, Desire2Learn, and (open source)] Moodle. Every Wikipage has an associated built-in discussion page that can be used for class discussion -- wikis are great tools for collaborative learning and teaching!
A full explanation of how to integrate on-line discussion, particularly Nicenet, into literature teaching is available in chapter two of my book Literature and the Web: Reading and Responding with New Technologies.
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