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Using bulletin boards for learning: What do staff and students need to know in order to use boards effectively?

Alison Bunker and Rod Ellis
Centre for Learning Innovation and Future Technologies (LIFT)
Edith Cowan University

Theoretical framework -What is effective use of bulletin boards?

What do we know about learners?

Learners retain more information when they have worked actively with it. There are a number of ways of working actively with material and discussion is "one of the most commonly used pedagogical techniques in the online classroom... because it can promote several types of thinking" including higher level thinking (Berge & Collins, 1996, p.1).

Questions can be used to get interest & attention, recall facts and information, allow expression of affect, and divergent questions can be used to promote discussion (Borich, 1996, Hunkins, 1972, cited in Muilenberg & Berge, 2000). From this perspective, distance students responding to and collaborating on these types of questions should have a more effective learning experience than those not.

What do teachers need to do to exploit the relationship between the learners and the content?

Chickering and Reisser (1996, cited in DeBard & Guidera, 1999) identified seven principles of effective teaching. Table 1 outlines the ways bulletin boards can be used to enhance each of these principles. They are particularly useful with off campus students for encouraging cooperation among students, encouraging active learning, facilitating prompt feedback and allowing for diverse ways of knowing.

Table 1: Seven principles of effective teaching and
potential enhancement through bulletin board use.

PrinciplePotential enhancement by bulletin board use
1.Encouragement of student-faculty contactBulletin boards can make the lecturer more accessible to both off and on campus students.
2.Encouragement of cooperation among students.The sharing of ideas encourages sharper thinking and deeper understanding. The writing of ideas requires more reflection before sharing.
3.Encouragement of active learningThe key to better learning is to rework the information. Active learning is promoted by collaboration between students, for example when working in small groups to produce something. The interaction required acts as a catalyst for further thinking.
4.Provision of prompt feedback.Peer feedback is especially useful and bulletin boards can be used by off campus students to give each other feedback. However, successful peer feedback is dependent on a developed sense of community and trust. Observing discussions between off campus students gives staff more opportunity to diagnose and check learning, structure and redirect learning, and manage student learning.
5.An emphasis on time on taskWhere there is strong alignment between the task and course objectives, more student time is on task. Be wary of bulletin board activities that are regarded as supplementary (either intentionally or not).
6.Communication of high expectationsThis can be facilitated through lecturer's use of probing questions to elicit more thoughtful responses.
7.Respect for diverse talents and ways of knowingIt may be easier for some students to participate online than in a face to face situation. Students using a bulletin board can take the time they need to make a response, and can have more opportunity to speak. However, the loss of visible cues may increase the possibility of being misunderstood and the occurrence of discourteous comments, so it is important to establish some courtesies of online interaction, and make these publicly available.

The five step model of bulletin board use

Salmon's (2000a) model for learning to use bulletin boards is based on research from a staff development program in CMC at the Open University (UK). It is developmental and offers a way of understanding and coping with different levels of student experience increasingly brought to the online classroom. For example in Step 1, experienced users can be encouraged to work with new users. Salmon suggests that participants are required to master certain technical skills, learning facilitation skills and e-moderating skills at each step. The model can be used to classify the type of errors and support needed at each stage. It also indicates that most online interactivity can be expected at Steps 3 & 4. The model can be viewed at http://oubs.open.ac.uk/e-moderating/fivestep.htm (Salmon, 2000b). Table 2 summarises the steps and the lecturer skills required at each step.

Table 2: Salmon's 5 step model for teaching and learning online

Technical skillsSkills to facilitate learningE-moderating skills
Step 1: Access and Motivation

Key task:
Individual access and ability
* Use check list for skills.
* Provide detailed help.
* Choose a user friendly system.
* Motivate students to learn.
* Match their needs.
* Make it enjoyable.
* Acknowledge anxiety, hand hold if necessary.
* Welcome students individually.
* Keep the bulletin board work clear and simple.
Step 2: Online socialisation

Key task:
Establish online identity and find other students to interact with
* Provide help.
* Use meaningful names for the conferences and postings.
* Don't change it once a course has started!
* Praise.
* Encourage students to read other messages.
* Encourage short purposeful message.
* Ensure there are ways for students to establish their online identities.
* Emphasise transferable skills, links to other experiences.
* Encourage practice.
* Allow lurking.
* Offer activities that encourage students to share interests and find others with similar interests.
Step 3: Information exchange

Key task:
Participants give information relevant to the course
* Check basic skills have been mastered.
* Offer tips.
* Provide more advanced info for those that want it.
* Devise tasks that require finding and sharing information.
* Provide relevant and purposeful topics.
* Provide activities that couldn't be done off line.
* Deal promptly with any dominance, lurking, etc.
* Provide links and resources.
Step 4: Knowledge construction

Key task:
Course related group discussions occur
* Ensure e-moderators have advanced skills for setting up and managing bulletin boards. * Design insightful questions for discussions. Ensure all collaborate. * Develop e-moderating skills - share with other e-moderators, eg, know when to join in and when not to.
* Summarise, summarise, summarise.
* Hand out e-moderating tasks to students.
Step 5: Development

Key task:
"Participants look for more benefits from the system to help them achieve personal goals, explore how to integrate CMC into other forms of learning and reflection the learning process" (p.25)
* Ensure that people can set up their own conferences. * Encourage students to become e-moderators and mentors.
* Provide a space for students to reflect on their own learning.
* Expect and welcome challenges.
* Actively seek mentors.
* Encourage meta-reflection on CMC.

The Staff Development Program: Using bulletin boards for online learning

This PD program was designed to:
  1. Meet the technical needs of staff
  2. Make staff responsible for student training
  3. Encouraging staff to think about worthwhile bulletin board activities through use of exemplar activities and reflection.
  4. Encourage then to be responsible for providing sound learning activities
  5. Help staff to appreciate what students will experience using bulletin boards, (especially for first time users).
Staff who already had units online, or were writing units to go online, were invited to participate in a six-week course where there was no face to face contact until a final debriefing session. Staff participated in the course 'online', that is, via emails and bulletin boards. The extended approach, rather than a one off workshop, was designed to give staff a more meaningful appreciation of the nature and use of bulletin boards as an educational agent. The course involved 4 logical phases, roughly corresponding to Salmon's Steps 2, 3 & 4:

Phase 1: Setting the scene - 1 week before course starts

Printed material and a welcome email containing information about their first activity were sent to students.

Phase 2: Getting familiar with going online - 1 week

This phase covered the skills needed to use a bulletin board. Participants were sent an activity sheet that outlined the kind of thing they would need to be able to do where to find it information on how to do it.

It was assumed that with the brief notes sent out and the information available on the Virtual Campus Home Page, staff would be able to understand the basic mechanics of bulletin boards. There were encouraged to contact one of the tutors if they were having problems.

Phase 3: The bulletin board discussion forum - 4 weeks

Task 1 required each participant to raise an issue about using bulletin boards. They then chose someone else's issue to research, 'claimed' it, so no one else did, and then researched it and posted an answer. For practical purposes, this researching could be replaced by a thoughtful response. The original author of the issue then responded to the response.

In this way a simple exchange of information requiring some thoughtfulness was scaffolded as a bulletin board activity and the need to teach students how to have online asynchronous conversations was modelled.

Task 2 was designed to give the staff experience in working on a more extended discussion in a small group. Participants were divided in to groups of 4 or 5 and a leader nominated by the tutors. Ideally, the leader role would rotate around the group members.

Task 2 required the participants to produce a set of guidelines for students using bulletin boards. The task was deliberately ill defined, with the over riding purpose "to make the student experience with bulletin boards easy, enjoyable, efficient and effective".

Each group was given their own discussion space, and the final product from each group was posted to the main board. The guidelines developed by staff covered a range of issues concerning Step 1 in Salmon's model and technical aspects of other stages.

Phase 4: Reflections on the discussion forum and the training course.- 1 week

Staff were required to reflect on their learning and evaluate the course in a final online discussion, before they got together for a face to face debriefing. Things we learned include: There have been two significant developments. Firstly, we have increased emphasis on the value of reflective work for teaching portfolios. Secondly, we have established a 'Senior Common Room' where 'graduates' can discuss issues and ideas about activities.

The staff would recommend the course to others, but asked for more examples of bulletin board activities.

What makes a good bulletin board activity: What considerations, beyond the theoretical, should be taken account of?

Staff participating in the course identified a number of areas needing to be considered when planning to use bulletin boards for learning. These have been categorised using Salmon's framework of technical, learning and e-management issues. This is not a complete or exhaustive list. Most of the issues relate to Step 1: Access and Motivation, and Step 2: Online Socialisation with some attention to Step 3: Information Exchange.




What are effective bulletin board activities?

Following the staff development course, many staff went on to use bulletin boards in their own courses. Many adapted the two tasks from the staff development course, but we did not see much evidence of adapting successful face to face activities. In addition, we have been asked to provide examples of more activities suggesting that staff still need a lot of support in designing bulletin board activities.

With this in mind, we can summarise that an effective learning activity:

  1. Should be an authentic use of the space: it should increase motivation, socialising, information exchange and knowledge construction.

  2. Will acknowledge and use the delayed time effect to allow for reflection and research.

Question for discussion:

What is effective use of bulletin boards?
Responses to the theoretical framework and Salmon's model.
What makes a good bulletin board activity?
What considerations beyond the theoretical should be taken account of?
What are effective bulletin board activities?
- What have we tried?
- Which face to face activities adapt well?
- How is an online debate, or role play organised?


Berge, Z. L. & Collins, M. P. (Eds) (1996). Computer mediated communication and the online classroom (Vol 1). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

DeBard, R. & Guidera, S. (1999). Adapting asynchronous communication to meet the seven principles of effective teaching. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 28(3), 219-239.

Muilenberg, L. & Berge, Z. (2000). A framework for designing questions for online learning. DEOSNEWS Feb 28, 2000 (Vol 10, No. 2). [viewed 6 Dec 2000, verified 6 Feb 2001] http://www.iddl.vt.edu/trackf/frame.html

Salmon, G. (2000a). E-Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online. London, UK: Kogan Page.

Salmon, G. (2000b). E-moderating: five step diagram. [verified 12 feb 2001] http://oubs.open.ac.uk/e-moderating/fivestep.htm

Authors: Alison Bunker and Rod Ellis
Staff Development Officers
Centre for Learning Innovation and Future Technologies (LIFT)
Edith Cowan University, Perth, WA.

Please cite as: Bunker, A. and Ellis, R. (2001). Using bulletin boards for learning: What do staff and students need to know in order to use boards effectively? In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Expanding Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 7-9 February 2001. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2001/bunker.html

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