Monday, August 20, 2012

Word Clouds

I started taking word clouds out of my Web 2.0 bag of tricks.  They just weren't very educational. Sure they were fun, but what do we actually learn from a word cloud? They are almost too easy. So I started coming across some really great ways to use word clouds in education.

Apparently I have underestimated the humble Word cloud.

So this semester I am using Word Clouds as a way to introduce ourselves in my online class. Trying to come up with key words that sum up your personality may be one of my favorite ways of using word clouds, plus it is much more interesting to read as a participant.  Every student is asked to create a word cloud and post to the discussion board (see previous post on my love/hate relationship with discussion boards).

Here is my Tagxedo Introduction Word Cloud

This allows me to introduce Word Clouds in a fun way, but also hint at some of the potential later on, without spending a good deal of time on them.

Sometimes just because it's simple, doesn't mean it's easy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship with Discussion Boards

I love teaching online. I love taking classes online. I love meeting my colleagues and fellow students virtually online. BUT I hate discussion boards! Now not all discussion boards are created equal, but the majority of the discussion board posts I see look like this:
Read the assigned document for this week. Make one post about what you liked/disliked about this reading by Monday, post a response by Wednesday to another student's initial response.
The above to me does nothing but confirm (or try) to the instructor that the student read the article. It does not create community and ends up becoming busy work. So how do we improve discussion board posts? Well, I have a few ideas and suggestions:

Create Debate discussion boards:

In Moodle create a "Choice" activity where students can choose a side. Set-up areas for students on each side to construct their Opening statements (I used Google Docs, but a Wiki could work). Post opening statements to the discussion form, allow for a Q&A period for debate, and then have students work on a closing statement.
Why this works: Debates are great for getting students to see opposing viewpoints, or find evidence to back-up their own ideals. It creates a more dynamic discussion forum and you will (hopefully) never see the words "I agree"!

News & Announcements or Q&A forums:

Use forums as a way for students to ask questions about the class. This can be a great place to start an FAQ for the class. If a student asks you a question offline or in e-mail. Ask them to post it in the Q&A forum. Post all your Announcement in its own forum. In Moodle you can require students to subscribe, which will automatically email all of the students in your class. So when the email gets "lost" they can always go to one place to see changes.

Peer Review or sharing of student work:

One of the issues I have with online classes is that most work in the class is done between a student and an instructor. Discussion forums are one of the few places in a LMS that will allow for students to post files or links that can be shared with the rest of the class.

So traditional discussion forums are not all bad, and in most cases just need a great guided question, but I'll keep doing it just a bit differently!

There are lots of other ways to use discussion boards - how do you use them?