This guest post written by Elaine Hirsch. Thanks for your contribution to this online dialogue about how technology (and online tools) offer potential to the future of education.
At first glance, web-based forums may appear little more than a medium for exchanging comments. However, teachers are realizing that online forums can be powerful tools for developing students' writing skills, whether in a master's degree program or primary school.
First, online forums instantly showcase examples of students' writing to the entire class. Teachers and fellow students can then post their opinions on the writing as direct responses: this both broadens the range of feedback each student writer receives and delivers that feedback much more quickly than waiting for a marked-up paper to be returned.
This type of instant and collective feedback can help students' rough, early drafts grow into fully developed first drafts. Teachers can keep tabs on the writing as it develops and assess students' progress in a more fully realized manner.
Online forums also augment peer discussion. Students reluctant to participate in classroom conversations, because they're shy or unwilling to fully express their opinions may find it easier to type their thoughts. On the other end of the spectrum, students who speak without much forethought in class may be more reflective and thoughtful when contributing their comments in written form.
Online forums also take advantage of the average student's familiarity and comfort with the Internet. Most students these days have lived with the Internet their whole lives and probably have posted on forums before. Their understanding of the rules and decorum of forums may help make them more comfortable with discussing writing.
Tracking posts is also a great way to gauge student participation. Counting the number of successful posts is much less subjective than gauging students' participation in a live classroom - as you can literally see how much they're contributing.
Perhaps most importantly, forums expose students to the writing of their peers and help them learn from each other. For example, one student may wonder why another used particular words in a specific section of writing. The peer can explain the choice of words as well as the meaning they were attempting to convey. This instantaneous feedback and discussion on the forums provides simultaneous learning not often possible in most classrooms.
The easiest way for teachers to integrate forum discussion writing is to create their own private forums. Many educational websites enable teachers to create and administrate their own free private forums. For teachers looking to take a first step into technologically enhanced education, using forums for writing assignments is a simple and effective option.