Faculty Exchange/Rita Rahoi-Gilchrest Discusses Discussion Forums

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General Information

  • Audience - All WSU instructors interested in using online discussion forums in their courses.
  • Interview Date - 8/2/2010
  • Tools Used - Desire2Learn Discussion Tool

Meet the Faculty Member

Dr. Rita Rahoi-Gilchrest, WSU Professor in Communication Studies, received her B.A. in organizational communication and public relations, minoring in technical writing, from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. She earned her M. A. in Communication Theory and Ph.D. in Organizational Communication (additional emphases in rhetoric and quantitative methods) at the Ohio University in Athens, OH. For several years, she lived and worked in St. Louis, MO before returning to the Midwest. Since returning to teaching after corporate work in St. Louis, she has taught internationally at Bergen University in Oslo, Norway, as well as at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, NZ for the 2005-06 school year.

Viewing the Interview Segments

NOTE: The video segments are temporarily unavailable.

The full interview is divided into nine segments. Select play to begin viewing Segment 1. Switch to other segments at any time using the right and left handles on the sides of the viewer or by mousing over the bottom of the viewer to reveal the segment thumbnails and clicking one to move to that segment. Mouse over the top of the viewer to reveal the current segment title. Brief segment descriptions are listed below.

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Segment Descriptions

  1. How are you using discussion forums in your courses? Rita describes two general ways in which she uses discussion forums: to help students apply class concepts and to support collaborative projects. Key terms: application, group memory, test preparation, group projects.
  2. What learning outcomes are best supported by discussion forum activities? Rita describes three major outcomes: demonstration of conceptual understanding and the ability to apply that understanding, demonstration of good communication skills, and management of group process. Key terms: application, personal experiences, civil, accountable, communication, rules, facilitate, group process, social outlier.
  3. What expectations do you set for students, how do you structure the activities, and how do you assess student performance? Rita explains what she expects from students in terms of the quantity and quality of their participation. Key terms: syllabus, civil, reasoned, discourse, rules, depth of insight.
  4. Do you allow students to post anonymously? Rita describes why she requires posts to be identifiable based on grading and behavioral concerns. She talks about the benefits of online discussion, especially for high communication apprehensive and international students. She shares some findings from her own courses in terms of participation rate and the effects of recognizing individual student participation. Key terms: anonymity, accountability, grading, tracking, civil discourse, communication apprehensive, first generation, response framing
  5. Do you have any additional evidence that the discussion activities are effective? Rita describes the connection between discussion board work and students’ ability to conduct a thorough and insightful case study analysis. She has observed that practice applying concepts on the discussion forums helps students with the case study questions on the exams. Key terms: case study analysis, application, confident, memory
  6. What is your role in moderating discussion forum activity? Rita describes her "hands-off" role in the day-to-day discussions and how she monitors project group discussions and responds to questions directed to her. If she needs to respond to an individual student, she does it privately and not on the forum. Key terms: safe space
  7. Are there other instructional strategies supported by discussion forums? Rita describes dynamic use of special discussion forums for preparing students for difficult topics. These discussion forms become an organizing structure, but she is careful not to overwhelm students. Key terms: reflect, preparation
  8. Were there any challenges or unexpected outcomes that emerged? Rita describes observed difference between less experienced students and advanced students have more experience with D2L. 100 and 200-level groups don’t use the discussion boards as much to manage project work. Key terms: group process, project management, differences
  9. What advice would you give to an instructor interested in using discussion forums? Rita offers advice for faculty trying discussion forums for the first time. Don’t panic, reuse topics across courses, you don’t need to set up all of them prior to the start of the term, avoid the temptation to monitor them continuously, and more. Key terms: advice, transferable, reuse, workload

Good Practices

  • Provide students with a choice of discussion topics. In one of her classes, Rita asks students to participate in 5 of 24 chapter discussion topics during the course of the semester. Twelve topics are available during the first half of the term and another 12 during the second half. Students can chose the topics and the time during the during which they prefer to participate. Students receive 0 to 5 points per discussion topic based on fullness of response and insight. They can post a direct response to the topic or a reply to another student’s post. (Segment 3)
  • Describe the benefits of participation to students. Rita tells her students that, based on past experience, those who participate in the discussion forums and who spread that participation evenly across the semester, tend to do better in the course. (Segment 3)
  • Recognize notable student contributions publicly. Rita calls attention to notable posts during class and uses them to stimulate and support discussion. (Segment 4)
  • Design discussions to encourage modeling and practice. Rita designs discussion activities that allow students to practice or model the depth of thought and careful communication of complex ideas that will be required on exams and class presentations. (Segments 5 & 7)
  • Don't be overly critical of student posts on the public forum. Rita avoids criticizing student posts on the forum. Instead, she responds privately. (Segment 6)
  • There is no need to reply to every post. Rita removes herself from the day-to-day discussion, responding only when necessary. This reduces her workload and prevents students from developing a false sense of affirmation. (Segments 6 & 9)
  • Support entry-level students. Rita has observed that new students tend to need more support than upper-level students, particularly when using discussion forums to facilitate group projects. (Segment 8)
  • Pace yourself and don't panic. Rita emphasizes that there is no need to come up with all of the discussion topic at the start of the semester. Instructors can pace themselves and make adjustments on the fly.

Key Outcomes

  • Improved students' conceptual understanding, communication skills, and management of group process. (Segments 1 & 2)
  • Improved students' ability to conduct a thorough and insightful case study analysis. (Segment 5)
  • High communication apprehensive and international students opened up more. (Segment 4)

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