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By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
Weekly discussion forums are a standard part of online college classes. Usually, the professor provides the class with one or more discussion questions that relate to the topic being studied that week and the students compose individual answers.
In my classes, for example, the discussion questions might be:
- What are the current issues with inventory management?
- How will the current tariffs affect farmers exporting crops?
- How do you solve complex problems at your work?
These forum discussions run the eight weeks of a standard online college course. To earn a grade of 100, each student must post at least four comments. For instance, a student has to post a 250-word comment on the forum question, provide 150-word answers on two other students’ posts, and respond to any comments from the instructor or other students on their own post. Some students even write additional comments beyond the basic requirements.
Forum Posts Grow More Professional as the Class Progresses
The first week is usually very exciting for students; they are often asked to provide a short biography or life story during the first week. After that introductory post, the rest of the discussion posts take on a more professional and formal structure, involving fact checking, online searches for news items, and standard procedures or definitions from the text.
Professors might also throw out a few questions that students had not previously considered, which is what professors do best. They already know the issues and problems related to the forum discussions and will dangle a few questions to tax students’ brains and to encourage some educational amusement along the way.
If you notice how the professor phrases a question in a reply to a forum post, it is often a one-directional idea designed to elicit an insightful answer from you. Ever notice that after you provide an answer, your professor then follows up with a second question that you really thought would be part of that first question? Professors are tricky that way.
As a professor, I usually offer advice on how the coming eight-week course will unfold. I give a few hints on problems to identify and solve. I also provide my students with a short video to introduce myself so that they know I am not a robot and have expertise in my field.
Using Creativity in Your Weekly Forum Posts
As a student, you might find that forum discussions, papers, tons of reading and nonstop Internet searches tend to wear thin after a while and become mentally exhausting. If this ever happens to you, stop and think about what you can do to spice things up in those discussions.
One method is to create some positive “tension” in your forum post. For instance, consider writing your normal forum post with some provocative content or entertaining anecdotes in it.
Another option is to create a video to answer the forum question. You could make a short, simple video of one to two minutes to answer the forum question. Your video might even include a demonstration of some activity related to the discussion topic.
When other students follow your lead and make their own videos, the class has a much livelier discussion forum.
For inspiration, find some short, comical commercial videos on the Internet. These videos explain a lot about a topic but are not obvious at first. FedEx, for instance, has a comic video that showcases the company’s lightning speed in its movement of goods, an element of logistics management.
Use examples from your own experience to make your video. You can also create an interesting background by going outside; just be creative.
The Best Time for Creative Forum Posts
When is the best time to create this type of creative forum post? Week 4 is an appropriate time as you’ll be in the middle of the course.
Pour on your creative juices – make up song lyrics or give your answer as a poem. Stretch your brain, use your creativity and critical thinking skills.
After all, going to college is all about seeing something ordinary in a new light. With creative forum posts, you may be surprised at the number of replies you receive – it often goes off the charts.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was the program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics.
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