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Should we make participation in discussions and bulletin boards in online learners settings compulsory?

Ron Oliver
Edith Cowan University
Discussions and bulletin boards in online learning settings are valuable tools for learning. They enable learners and teachers to communicate in both structured and unstructured ways as part of the learning process. They provide a means for learners to explore issues with peers and create settings which help students to derive meaning from the learning. And they provide a means for teachers to help develop a community spirit among learners for sharing knowledge and collaborating. Everyone seems to benefit from the informed and planned use of online discussion and bulletin boards in online settings.

But many students are disinclined to participate. Experience shows that many students approach online and flexibly delivered courses in ways which limit their willingness and abilities to participate in online chats. Some students will miss deadlines and fail to participate because of other commitments. Some students will read and digest posting but prefer to lurk rather than participate. Teachers often become frustrated with the lack of participation of some learners in what is clearly a valuable learning task.

The dilemma I present is whether we should consider making participation mandatory in such activities. Clearly mandatory participation will help to achieve course aims but is it the responsibility and the right for teachers to be making such decisions for their learners? But mandatory participation comes at a price. The purpose of this presentation will be to discuss this dilemma and to seek to understand what might be optimal paths to take to ensure quality learning in these forms of setting. The discussion will encourage teachers to share their experiences and solutions to developing effective and meaningful discussions online.

Author: Ron Oliver, School of Communications and Multimedia, Edith Cowan University. r.oliver@ecu.edu.au

Presentation format: Dilemmas in teaching or teaching/learning research

Please cite as: Oliver, R. (2002). Should we make participation in discussions and bulletin boards in online learners settings compulsory? In Focusing on the Student. Proceedings of the 11th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 5-6 February 2002. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2002/abstracts/oliverr-abs.html


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