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Taming the Wild West? AKA Online Discussion Forums

Bethanie Hansen (American Public University System, USA)
Nancy Heath (American Public University System, USA)
Additional Authors
Susan Lowman-Thomas (American Public University System, USA)
William Overton (American Public University System, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 1:30pm
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Asia 5
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 7
Virtual Session

Online forums are the wild west--where anything goes! We present findings from a study of 600+ online instructors for immediate use, "taming" the forum.

Extended Abstract

Title of Proposal: Taming the "Wild West" AKA "Online Discussion Forums."

Abstract: Online discussion forums are the "wild west," where anything goes! We present tools gleaned from a study of 600+ online university instructors for immediate use in making forums an engaging and civilized community of learning.

Program Track: Learning Effectiveness

Emphasis: Practical Application (based on a research study we have separately proposed as a "discovery session")

Target audience: Multiple Audiences

Type of session: Information Session (Workshop)

Media to be used: Projector, speakers to amplify sound from computer during presentation

Presentation Description and Goals
- Context: The session will be based on recently conducted research involving 600+ online university educators. Our IRB-approved study focused on instructor strategies and perceptions of online discussion forums in an entirely online university setting and produced noteworthy quantitative and qualitative results.
- Problem: Online learning has become a prevalent modality in higher education. However, with the rapid expansion of online teaching opportunities, instructors find themselves needing fresh methods, tools, and strategies to improve professional practice in using discussion forums and further igniting their passion for teaching.
- Approach: In this information session, we will present unpublished study results from a survey of online faculty. Following the brief overview of our study and its major findings, we will present collective strategies and tools reported by the surveyed instructors as strategies and tools they perceived to be effective in forums. During our presentation, we will provide illustrations and examples of stated practices, tools online instructors can immediately use in their own practice, and links to any apps and software instructors reported using with success. Participants will be encouraged to bring mobile or other devices on which they can follow along and try some of the strategies explored in the session. The topics will be presented using the analogy of "taming the wild west," because discussion forums can at times seem like wide open spaces that need specific strategies to effectively explore, or "tame."

Workshop Interaction/Take-aways:
Workshop participants can expect to come away from the session with strategies and tools that can immediately be applied to the use of online discussion forums. A Prezi will be used to illustrate and present major points, links to an online version of the presentation will be provided, and handouts will be sent home with participants for additional learning opportunities. Participants will also have the opportunity to dialogue about their own forum strategies during the workshop.