COLTT HorsePart 1 of the article series on the 2017 COLTT Conference Day 1 by Jesseb Adam

Beyond Basics: Maximizing Student Engagement and Collaboration Via Forums

Prof. Pamela Phillips, Engineering, Colorado Technical University

If you have taken an online class you have been part of a traditional online “discussion forum” that was a painful exercise in jumping through the “How many posts and comments do I have to make?” hoop.Traditional Forum

Why do discussion forums flop? Why do we struggle to get our students engaged with each other and the content through these forums?

Professor Phillips may not have the answer to the question of why, but she shared how she addressed the issue, and it’s oddly similar to a popular live classroom engagement technique: The Jigsaw.

The Jigsaw Technique divides the students and content into groups, assigning a different chunk of content to each group member. After students have become familiar with their portion of the content, they break into expert groups (each student in the group has the same content). These groups are responsible for becoming experts over their chunk and developing how to present it to their original jigsaw groups.Jigsaw visual (2)The technique requires students to own their learning because each of the other members of their group is relying on them for the content in their chunk.

But how do you do this online?

Prof. Phillips developed a method of assigning separate discussion questions to each student. Each question covers a portion of the content that will be on the assessment for the whole class. A due date is set and each student is responsible for posting a response highlighting their answer to the question and their reasoning behind their answer.

Collaborative Forum

Because each student is responsible for different questions, all students are motivated to read, comment, and ask questions on each of the other solutions that are posted. Points are still awarded for a minimum number of posts, comments, and questions (based on a rubric), but students are much more likely to continue the conversation.

The premise is in the nature of discussion itself: we generally don’t have discussions where everyone in the room provides their answer to a single question. After thirty people have answered there is only so much left to be said. However, when different facets of a topic are covered by individual students, connections can be made and discussion is promoted – i.e. student engagement is increased.

In her address entitled Learning at Scale, the keynote speaker added these recommendations for increasing engagement in online forums:

  1. Require students to have a unique subject line on their posts
  2. Make announcements to point students towards specific posts
  3. Multiple discussion prompts, students choose which prompts to respond to
  4. Have the discussions in smaller groups

To get more details about the maximizing the effectiveness of discussion forums contact Pam Phillips at:

To look into the work of the COLTT keynote speaker, Dr. Maria H. Andersen, you can find her on Twitter at: @busynessgirl or on the web:

2 thoughts on “Collaborative Forums

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