Discussion Boards for (ESL) students

The eLearning Experiences in ESL group sparked my interest with their look at discussion boards, and their exploration of how they can be an obstacle for ESL students was most thought provoking.

The points I found most interesting were;

  • Some ESL students prefer to use discussion boards to make their points (rather than verbally in the class) as it gives them an opportunity to check their work before submitting;
  • Others “prefer to listen” rather than submit discussion points online and worry about their spelling and grammar in online postings (this is something we found in our Shanghai case study).  The “feeling of being judged” is sadly a real experience for many students, particularly those for whom English is a second language,
  • Many ESL students find the discussion board format confusing and struggle to know where and what to post.  More scaffolding of discussion board usage from the learning institution could help students to become more comfortable with using discussion boards.

Additionally, modelling on early discussion board topics from the moderators/teachers can help students to feel more secure in their posting, particularly if the teacher/moderator sets a tone that is is casual and relaxed.  As discussed in the Block class, making disucsion boards assessable tends to constrain students,  introduce stress, and create more verbose posts with heavy academic writing and multiple references.  Surely this is not the point of a discussion board? 

As an educator, I strive to keep discussion boards fast, fun and friendly as well as thoughtful and thorough.   I believe this makes them a greater vehicle for real learning.