There is no doubt that creating a forum that learners (or others) want to contribute to is about creating the right climate and culture in your organisation. This requires thoughtful and carefully planned facilitation but there is a bit more to it than that.
In this post I will cover some aspects of using forums in a blended learning environment which is:
“Facilitated by the effective combination of different modes of delivery … founded on transparent communication among all parties”
According to Heinze and Proctor, 2012, A Definition of Blended Learning.
In some cases it is easy to focus on the first aspect – tools and activities, modes of delivery and forget the aspect of communication. It is quite easy to tell students that they can or even that they must contribute to a forum, but they will be reluctant or carry out the task in a shallow manner if they mistrust your motives or feel that they might be judged by peers.
It is important to view a forum not as an end in itself and also, importantly, not as a one-off design activity. There are stages of progress in forum development which require different types of facilitation.
We might characterize these stages as follows:
From this we can create a framework for interaction in forums as they develop:
If we look at a broader view of social learning using multiple tools we can see where the facilitation strategies for forums would fit. The operation interaction is about learners integrating their new tool into their PLE’s. Where does this fit into my learning? The teacher can make this explicit. In the wayfinding interactions learners find ways to connect or become aware of others in the space and of the knowledge in the space. In these early phases timely intervention and modelling is very important. As the process moves forward, learners interact more deeply with others in the sensemaking interaction phase as well as with content and become more independent of the facilitator. They are also applying higher order thinking skills. At the innovation interaction stage the knowledge is consolidated through reflection and re-mixing. Here the processes of re-teaching, blogging, ePortfolios and similar activities become very significant.
For more on forums, including examples from real classrooms, consider joining me at the iMoot – a virtual conference taking place this month at: http://2014.imoot.org/ 15th – 19th May 2014.