By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
Changes in teaching practices and ideas occur from experience as well as from student and faculty involvement with information technology in the classroom and students’ daily lives. With today’s technology, artificial intelligence could be used to improve multiple online platforms, including discussion forums.
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Evaluating Student Engagement in Discussion Forums
Social media has changed over the last 10 years, with an increase in 24/7 linking of friends and strangers using an evolving variety of multi-media electronic devices with live video and audio discussions. With these social media changes, we need to find the best ways to improve student engagement in weekly forum discussions. Student engagement is the important metric in these online forums.
Student engagement can be measured by the number of student postings, the weekly replies and the word count of each post. The faculty or administration can decide what statistics work best to understand how many students actively participate in the discussions. The numbers can be calculated as an average for a day, a week, a month or for the entire course.
There are three basic characteristics for this suggested modification to discussion forums:
- Control the output of the students
- Have a stable format for discussion content and topic
- The student must be able to learn, adapt or evolve as a result of this change
How Could Engagement Be Increased in Weekly Forum Discussions?
There are multiple ways to improve student engagement in forums. For instance, students could be challenged to:
- Write a humorous story. While each student may not know one that relates to the week’s forum discussion topic, ask them to look for a video link that has some funny angle related to the topic.
- Make a video and tell a joke. Not all students will want this very personal option. But there will be those who do want to show off a bit, and the rest of the class will enjoy it. A humorous example is how package labels can be disastrously wrong.
- Take a funny picture. In a logistics class, for example, a student could show a picture of packages being crushed with the nearby sign, “Do Not Stack.”
- Examine a business or function that is totally opposite to their experience. The student would be asked to explain it in the terms relating to the course and their experience.
- Find funny video clips on the topic or subject of the class. If your students are in the military, they will already know of some clips, such as cargo coming out of a plane and bursting open on the ground while the parachute gently floats to the ground.
- Examine a business that is in their line of work and ask a question related to the week’s forum instructions.
- Team with another student in the class and debate the pros and cons of the week’s forum discussion topic. The students could be asked to create a short video of the debate using YouTube and summarize the five top debate points.
- Write a course final exam question to answer that counts 10 points out of 100.
- Post the next week’s forum discussion questions with a set of instructions. The instructor will choose the best questions for posting, or the students can vote on the best questions to address the following week.
- Ask the teacher one question in each weekly forum discussion.
- Read a mid-term report on their progress. The instructor would provide the report on Day 1 of Week 5. The report will be an evaluation of each student’s strengths and areas needing improvement to be completed successfully during the final four weeks of class.
- Solve a case study that begins in a forum and continues for two successive forums. Perhaps this could begin in Week 2 and end in Week 5.
Metrics Could Eventually Enhance Forums
By using metrics, we can improve the educational experience. The metrics used will become a measure of utility for changing the discussion communications strategy in the weekly forum discussions.
Does this mean redesigning the forums? Since information about communications technology changes and affects our students and teachers, communication technology changes us. These suggested changes will help to improve the real conversations among students and between students and faculty.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was 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 from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.