Many online courses today have some component of online forum for discussion about the course material. This is especially true for the educational environment as students are often encouraged to provide feedback (and answer questions) based on course.
But creating an effective forum takes more than having the proper technology in place. As the facilitator (and admin) there are some techniques you can employ to help maximize your online discussions for you and the students.
Below are a few quick tips for generating a positive, thoughtful community for your elearning.
Start Simple – Before asking users to answer questions based on content, get them used to the program you are using for your forums. For example, you can have them upload an avatar and post in the introduction section.
Set a Structure – Never start your online forum without ground rules, and make sure that all participants have a clear understanding about what is expected of them in terms of behavior and their contributions. Having some form of “sign-off” for these ground rules is a good idea, perhaps as the first post that a student makes on the site.
Be Supportive – Ask questions of the learners that relate back to key objectives of the course. Request that learners provide more details to back-up their opinions with references to the material and personal experience.
Promote Community – Give other students an opportunity to facilitate (or lead) discussions in the forum. In the right circumstances, promote some users to moderators. This will foster a sense of ownership, and ultimately pride, in the discussions.
Provide Assistance – Make sure you have a place in the forum (or on the site) where students can vent their frustrations, request for help, or report on unacceptable forum behavior.