There is one thing in e-learning that I often find is underutilized, or occasionally, never utilized. I am speaking of the discussion tool. I have had students tell me that they do not value it because it may not explicitly grade for marks. I certainly understand this point. Students are concerned with their marks, and they are striving for university and college acceptance.
The challenge, as I see it, is to find a way to make discussion posts an important aspect of assessment. I’m suggesting that we need to make discussion posts part of the assessment, but they do not need to be the assessment. Students want to know that their discussion links in some way to their summative assessment–the all-important final mark.
This is where my mind is heading right now in e-learning. As a teacher, I find discussion so valuable because the posts allow me to share information, my views on subject matter, my interests and likes, and my personal experiences with students. Online students need to know who this “creature” is on the other end. E-learning has to be more than just a passive experience for the student, so I personally endeavor to make my e-class a place where I build trust with students and show them that I am working with them. The discussion tool builds this all-important rapport between student and teacher. In discussions, I often try to ask students questions in response to their points, or I share my views in order to challenge their thinking. I want students to reflect, offer insight, be challenged, and challenge me in return.
The potential for this approach in e-learning is obvious. Many students in bricks and mortar classrooms are uneasy when they are required to communicate and are working among their peers. They do not like speaking in public, and that is understandable, given the various pressures young people experience. BUT, these same students deserve a secure place in which to share their insights and thoughts. This may be one reason why you found VHS. I hope educators continue to find ways to make the discussion area valuable and relevant to students in the e-learning world. I continually seek out ways I can make my discussions more valuable and reflective of the learning occurring in the virtual classroom.
Jeff Cummings is a teacher at Virtual High School in our Social Sciences & Humanities department as well as our Canadian and World Studies department. Mr. Cummings is passionate about online learning as is evident in his dedication and support for his students. He enjoys being able to provide students across the world with the flexibility they need to achieve their learning goals.