Thursday, May 10, 2007

A few ideas (message boards part 4)

Here is a mixed group of suggestions to help you think about managing and maximizing your message boards:

  1. Use groups--It's easy to set up groups with most message board software. This way, groups can have their own separate threads (in Bb Vista, in the Teach tab, you can use the random group generator to quickly create as many groups as you desire with accompanying threads). Why use groups? Well, in the message board environment in a FYW class, we often want to have a conversation about a reading. However, students can quickly hit the main points, and then others feel they have nothing to say. Sometimes we want to use a message board topic that just wouldn't have enough "meat" for a whole class to respond to. Say, for instance, you want students to summarize a reading. Well, the group threads are great for this, because the students can work in teams of three or four, thus creating less redundancy--they can only see the posts on their thread, so they won't exhaust the posting possibilities. Also, you can breeze through these posts without feeling numbed by the repetition.
  2. Scratch file--I keep a Word file open when I'm reading through message board posts, and I use that file to take quick notes about responses I might want to make or to cut and paste students' comments. This helps me keep things straight. Following the advice of Collison and his co-authors, I am thus able to synthesize the comments made in a variety of posts and respond appropriately and efficiently (1).
  3. Grammar?--For whatever reason, I find that students are often open to conversations about the nuts and bolts of their writing when that conversation stems from their posts. If a student has a recurring issue, I will send that student an email framed as a little "Writing puzzle'' for the student to crack. I often simply cut and paste their material back to them, sometimes with an accompanying mention of an "enigmatic" grammatical area for them to think about (faulty predication, dangling modifier, etc.). I have had students respond at great length--sometimes three or four email screens--to these friendly inquiries. I have kept a grid of students with the goal of sending each student two of these "Writing puzzle" emails each term; I felt it was good teaching practice, but I must point out that it was certainly a good deal of work as well.
  4. "My favorite post": During the course of the term, and almost always at the end, I will ask students to identify their "favorite post" written by another student and comment about it. I like the complimentary nature of this thread and the conversations that ensue, and I think this also provides additional encouragement for students to read each others' posts carefully. In a future post here, I'll describe some other informal thread starters that I have used.

As I have said several times, I find the message board environment fascinating for the teaching of writing. Every term, I find some new twist to help me manage this environment better--and to help my students write in interesting (and sometimes innovative) ways.

1) From Collison, George et al. Facilitating Online Learning: Effective Strategies for Moderators. Madison: Atwood Publishing, 2000. (