A few weeks back, I posted “Examining the Purpose of a Dissertation Literature Review,” in which I outlined the Doctoral Research Forum I am participating in. I think the concept that the University of Akron College of Education faculty are pursuing could lead to a valuable educational experience for doctoral candidates. Additionally, I commend my UA profs because this type of collaboration between course instructors is a largely unheard of at UA. However, I have been struggling throughout the forum assignments. This is largely due to the fact that each of the past four weeks we have been required to read a scholarly article, post a written response on the Springboard (UA’s LMS) discussion forum and then respond to at least one of our colleagues responses.

This week, the game changed a bit and student participants were asked to provide feedback. From the Discussion Forum posting:

This week’s discussion is about the Research FORUM in general.  The FORUM instructors greatly value your feedback.

1. What do you think about content and process of the FORUM is effective?
2. What suggestions do you have for improving the FORUM?
3. What other comment, observations, questions, etc. would you like to share?

The following is my response. I’m sure it will be well received by some, and not so popular with others. Because of this, I titled the SUBJECT of my forum topic “Disclaimer: Honest feedback. Personal opinion.

I’ll start by saying this is a great opportunity for collaboration. In my time as a student at UA, I’ve never seen this type of cross-course blend available as a learning opportunity for students and teachers. I think that it is great that all the professors planned this type of integration into their respective courses and they are trying to help doctoral students realize more vividly the connection between the course offerings and content. I appreciate the opportunity to begin to work along side of colleagues who are in different courses, yet on a similar path.

My general feeling is that online discussion forums are way too 2000 and not enough 2010. Perhaps they met the needs of learners in 2000, but with the advent of web 2.0 and cloud based computing, I don’t feel they really meet the needs of the 2010 learner. Too often, I see discussion boards being over hyped so that it is perceived that a portion of a class is “online.” Personally speaking, I find that thoughtful, thought provoking & probing conversations or “discussions” tend to happen more spontaneously and in a nearly synchronous fashion. This is in stark contrast to the asynchronous type of discussion we are having on Springboard. I think that discussion boards in general are stale and as educators we need to be looking outside of the forced environment of a closed Learning Management System, like Springboard, and more towards the concept of an “Open Learning Network,” like you would find on Twitter or Facebook.

To participate in a truly engaging discussion requires that one be passionate about the topic of discussion, eager to learn more about it and willing to contribute knowledge to the other participants. I can’t say that I actually feel that way about the readings in module 1. Do I think they are important? Yes. Do I find value in them? Yes. But honestly, read the article, post a response, and respond to one other doesn’t get me engaged in a discussion. To me it feels more like the type of busy work I always dreaded in elementary school. Read the text, answer the questions at the end of the chapter, repeat… I’d prefer trying to take the ideas we are trying to talk about, like “importance of a lit review,” “what is it important to include in a lit review,” etc… to a less defined and casual virtual learning space, like Twitter, where I could follow and track the conversation, make connections, and chat back and forth with people from each of the courses all day, into the evening and night, if I so desire.

What I think we’re missing in this whole thing is real, genuine connectivity. We need to work to provide a mechanism where everyone can participate in these discussions as they are living life. On the go. Here and there. I often have 5 minutes here or 10 minutes there when I get a chance to check what’s actually happening in my life on my Blackberry. I can scan email, grab my Facebook updates, catch up on all my tweets plus contribute back my own input on all those things. I just can’t do that in Springboard discussions and that really makes it seem like a chore to get on and participate. Learning shouldn’t be a chore that I dread doing. Discussing important doctoral topics with my colleagues shouldn’t be an add-on, as it feels now, it should be embedded in the professional and social aspects of my life that I enjoy doing.

I’d offer these suggestions.

1. If you’re going to keep the traditional discussion board deal, I’d come up with a couple other methods of running the discussions. Maybe lay out a scenario for people to respond to, assign different roles to people in the discussion, something of that sort. I say find at least 4 other online discussion strategies to integrate into the mix. That keeps it a little fresher each week as opposed to read, respond, reply. I mean, in that case, that’s all I’m doing. Reading, responding and replying, and then I’m out of the discussion for that week. You effectively limit the conversation possibilities right there, because as much as you tell people that they can do more and encourage them to keep the conversation going, they really won’t. They got their work done; they’re out!

I’d recommend Dr. Curtis Bonk’s book: Empowering Online Learning: 100+ Activities for Reading, Reflecting, Displaying, and Doing if you are looking for online discussion strategies. He’s cataloged 100 of them. Also, Dr. Gilly Salmon’s book: E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning is pretty good. I have one extra copy in my office that I will gladly donate to the first College of Ed faculty member who tweets me a request.

2.  Read these two articles. Respond. Reply to another. Just kidding:)

3. Consider browsing these Twitter relate resources.

4. Participate in this free webinar tomorrow.

From Open Thinking, A Conversation with Mott & Wiley:

The Faculty of Education’s new open access journal, in education, is sponsoring a free webinar with two of our authors, Jon Mott & David Wiley. The webinar is scheduled for March 3rd, 2010 at 11 a.m. (CST). The event will be facilitated using Elluminate, a web conferencing tool. You can listen and/or participate using the following link: http://moourl.com/openteaching . It is advisable to join 10-15 minutes early in the case that your computer needs to install a client (which, if necessary, is a seamless & easy process).

Mott & Wiley will be discussing their recent paper, “Open for Learning: The CMS and the Open Learning Network” found at http://ineducation.ca/article/open-learning-cms-and-open-learning-network . The conversation will likely take us to greater issues of openness and innovation in teaching & learning (especially in higher education).

About the Presenters

Dr. Jon Mott serves as the Assistant to the Academic Vice President – Academic Technology at Brigham Young University where he provides strategic guidance on academic technology issues. He is an Adjunct Professor of Instructional Psychology & Technology and also teaches in the Masters in Public Policy Program. He is the former Managing Director of the Center for Instructional Design (now the Center for Teaching and Learning) at BYU. He earned a B.A. in political science from BYU in 1992 and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Oklahoma in 1998.

Dr. David Wiley is Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University. He is also the Chief Openness Officer of Flat World Knowledge and Founder and board member of the Open High School of Utah. He was formerly Associate Professor of Instructional Technology and Director of the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning at Utah State University. David has been a Nonresident Fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, a Visiting Scholar at the Open University of the Netherlands, and a recipient of the US National Science Foundation’s CAREER grant. David is also the Founder of OpenContent.org and was recently named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business. His career is dedicated to increasing access to educational opportunity for everyone around the world. David lives in Utah with his wife, Elaine, and their five children.

More information can be found at our journal site – http://ineducation.ca/participate

Too over the top? Right on point? What do you think? Keep in mind that I may have to ask some of these professors to sit on my dissertation committee. Did I cross the line? I tried to offer practical suggestions on ways to improve. This whole thing has left me wondering why it seems like so many higher ed professors feel like “read an article, respond to article and reply to a colleague” makes for engaging online discussions and/or valuable learning experiences for college students. Your thoughts?