Clear As Fine-Grained Sediment Mixed With Water: A Discussion Forum Activity

Tuesday 4:30pm-5:30pm Red Gym
Poster Session


Karla Panchuk, University of Saskatchewan/ St. Peter's College
A discussion forum intended to span the gap between once-weekly class meetings, and to train students to analyze their own knowledge, yields consistently remarkable discourse.

Students participate in the discussion forum by posting their questions about that week's lecture. By the end of the week they also respond to at least two of their peers' questions. They are given a rubric outlining the criteria for their posts. Grading focuses on how clearly students articulate their question, and the extent to which they offer unique contributions to the discussion, but not on whether their responses to peers' posts are correct.

The discussion forum has provided valuable insights into what students find unclear or confusing, because students are very specific about what is confusing them and why. These are topics I address in the next class if they haven't been answered sufficiently in subsequent posts. What is remarkable is how often their questions are deeply insightful, anticipate important concepts we haven't discussed yet, apply class topics in ways far removed what we have discussed in class, address very complex ideas or processes, or land on issues currently the focus of research or controversy in the scientific community. Also remarkable is the quality of responses, both in terms of etiquette and content.

The forum works best with minimal intervention by the instructor. For a class of 23 students, grading takes 1 – 2 hours each week, and effectively involves a checklist. Addressing questions in the next class also provides an opportunity to model that most frightening of all situations, being caught not knowing an answer. I am clear about which of their questions had me stumped, and I explain how I went about finding the answer.

Presentation Media

Poster file (Acrobat (PDF) 5.3MB Jul20 16)