Facebook Killed the Discussion Board

I’ve long been an advocate of class discussion boards. But, I think, now, they are passé.  It’s time to let go.

When I was a student in the 1970s – 80s, if the teacher showed us an educational video in class, we thought it was fantastic; an exciting blend of education and entertainment!

Fast-forward to 2011.  Any video longer than YouTube-clip-length played in class will fail to hold the attention of many students.  The video might still be educational, but it just can’t be entertaining any more. Like it or not, students’ expectations have risen regarding what makes compelling viewing.  It’s pretty hard for an educational video, even a good one, to compete in the entertainment space with mind-blowing CG movies like ‘Avatar’ or bizarre amateur videos on YouTube!

I think we are seeing a similar thing happen with discussion boards.  When I first introduced a discussion board to my class in 2004 students thought it was fantastic!  The idea that you could go online (via dial-up modem)  to ask a question, or read posts by classmates any time of day or night … that was cool!  It’s not perceived that way any more.  How could the pedestrian, text-based discussion boards offered within most Learning Management Systems (including the Ultranet), possibly compete with the vibrant, media-rich experience of modern social networks?  Like it or not, students’ expectations about what comprises compelling online interaction have risen.

That’s not to say that the LMS is dead or that there is no value in the Ultranet – these platforms offer a range of other useful features but so far as an online discussion forum is concerned, a Facebook Group is now the desire path to pave.

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15 thoughts on “Facebook Killed the Discussion Board

  1. I left classroom teaching last year, at which stage my younger students in yr’s 7 and 8 would gladly watch a 50 min video in class, but signs of restlessness were emerging. I guess it’s the interactive web fueling this, to passively sit and watch a video is no longer the norm for many students.
    Re discussion boards, I’ve used them for my own online learning but never with students. I can understand why Facebook is more appealing than commonly used LMS which enclose and separate discussions.

  2. An interesting perspective. With younger children who don’t have access to facebook, using page comments, community chat and message boards in the Ultranet leads to nothing short of euphoria in the student community. I also wonder about the depth and rigour of written responses in a facebook and similar forums. Just blurting out what we think is not writing nor rigorous – adults tend to do this more effectively as they have learned the craft of writing; students are learning and as such need a variety of forums to practice in

    • I don’t doubt that is true. I can quite imagine that Primary students who are not on social networks would find a threaded discussion board to be great – just as my senior secondary students did in previous years. It’s just that a bright star looks dull against an even brighter one.

      Regarding depth and rigour Im not sure if the url of the forum has much to do with the ‘depth and rigour’ of what is written (unless of course there is a character limit like there is in Twitter). I am also not sure that a discussion board/forum/wall of any kind is the most appropriate place for truly rigorous writing. In my view, these are for community-building, for discussion, for Q&A, for crowd-sourcing … For more rigorous writing there are indeed other places that are better.

      Thanks for your input and perspective 🙂

      • I agree with you about Facebook being a more lively and interesting platform than discussion boards. I use Facebook to engage with family and friends, but I see my 18 and 20 year old daughters (both students) using it much more creatively than me. They are constantly sharing ideas, music, images and events with friends. It’s very rich. The main point I think about any forum is that students need to feel inspired to participate. I was once, as a student, put into a situation where I was assessed on how many comments I put on the discussion board. This is a total misuse of the idea of forum. As a teacher, I see more possibilities for engagement with Facebook than with other options.

      • That’s actually a very interesting point Bronwyn! And I have to plead guilty to having once made forum participation an assessment requirement for a year 8 class I taught myself! 😳

        I think it’s actually quite common for teachers to bribe students to participate in a discussion forum. Whether the bribe offered is extra grades or some extrinsic reward (chocolate frogs seem popular). In fairness the latter (when I have seen it) was just to get the forum-ball rolling, but still… if you have to bribe students to be involved in something, you’d have to wonder how engaging it is for them.

        I haven’t had to bribe students at all to be involved in the Facebook group.

    • Thanks Howard. I have read that paper – and agree with most of it. There is no doubt in my mind that a forum can be incredibly rich – especially (perhaps only) if the teacher puts a lot of energy into creating the right culture in the class, as Gallagher clearly has done. I think the success of my own discussion forums in past years has likewise been somewhat due to the work I put into creating a culture of community right from the outset. Without that hard work the success of a forum is less certain. I’ve seen a number of other teachers create a forum and really just open it up “there you go kids – a forum for you” – and under those circumstances it seems to flounder.

      Also I checked out your website at socialmediaclassroom.com and was impressed by what I saw. The forum there is certainly better than many – if for no other reason than there is as you say, the ability to embed images etc. If teachers were looking for a forum, but wanting to avoid Facebook – this would be a better choice than most. Are teachers able to use it yet with a class – or is it still just in development stages? I was able to join the community of practice, but couldn’t see how to create a site/group/forum for my class.

  3. Really interesting reading Andrew. I can see how Facebook could be used with students. How do your students feel about mixing their social communication with their schooling? There has been a bit written about students not wanting to mix the two but to keep them separate. Is that still the case or does the use of smart phones and the pricing systems ie no download costs for Facebook, make that research obsolete? I would be interested on hearing your thoughts.

    • Thanks Debra,
      Although the class Facebook group is on Facebook, just as their personal social network is, the two really are quite separate. A student doesn’t need to “friend” anyone else in the class to share in the discussion on the Facebook group. The two are really quite separate. As far as I can see, it has all the advantages of being a “mixture of the two”, and all the advantages of being separate sites.

  4. Pingback: Why the Facebook Group My Students Created for Themselves is Better than the Discussion Forum I Created for Them. « Douchy’s Weblog

  5. Your blogs is one of a number I have just read today regarding the death of forums. I have just loaded one onto my website, but then started thinking whether anyone uses them anymore and if facebook has taken over. Facebook definitely has the features and ease of use for videos/photos etc, but it all seems to be just short comments and ‘likes’. Not a lot of discussion or content, so in that regard there maybe a place for forum boards still.

    • Thanks for your question Mike. I can only speak of my own experience. I think it would be true to say that the average post length on our Facebook group wall is shorter than the average post on my discussion board – so it creates an impression that there is more brevity. But in reality, I think that there are just as many long, deep and well considered posts on the Facebook group wall, it’s just that there are ALSO a lot of short ones from students chipping in on the conversation which did not happen on my discussion board. In total, there are simply far MORE posts there and a bigger percentage of students in the class are involved (especially true of the weaker students who did not tend to get involved on the discussion board but seem to feel more comfortable chipping in on the Facebook wall – or simply “liking” a question asked by someone else to show that they also would like to know the answer to that question.

      I guess what I am trying to say is that it seems to me to be much more interactive and continuous than the discussion board was. Since my main reason for having an online discussion board is to inspire anytime anywhere collaboration and a team approach to learning and sharing the learning experience, Facebook serves me better. I don’t know if a discussion board is the best place for formal writing in the first place, so even if there were fewer long posts, I think (in my case) it would be a good trade off anyway. But as I said earlier, I think all the long and detailed posts are still there … just scattered amongst the to and fro of short questions and quick answers.

  6. Great, but after some time students might get immune to the online videos, hence they just don’t watch them anymore? How are they going to participate in classroom discussions? Any methods to track them?

    • Thank you for your questions uksuperiorpaper.

      I think the classroom discussions are enhanced for two reasons.

      Firstly they can ask as many questions as they want to at the time they think of them via the Facebook group. Since they can take their time to compose their questions and answers in this medium – in my experience at least – weaker students who are less likely to ask a question in class, start to participate.

      Secondly by flipping the classroom, you create more time for discussion in the classroom. (The teacher no longer needs to be lecturing in that time – so there is MUCH more time for discussion, debate, conversation etc.). In my own classes, I would argue this was the most valuable result of flipping. It’s not really about the videos themselves – it’s about what you can do with the class time that is freed up.

      As far as immunity to a medium is concerned – You may be right. I suppose time will reveal the answer. Perhaps if all teachers were to use this method students might lose the excitement that they felt at first. Still, most students spend their time at home now, doing traditional homework – which many students don’t find very exciting either. It’s all relative. An educational video about genetics is not going to compete well for student attention with a blockbuster movie like The Avengers – but I think it competes very well with text-book homework.

  7. Facebook is where people go to post inane statuses and drunken photos for the sake of attention. Forums are for intelligent discussions based on exclusive content. A lot of people don’t actually use Facebook anymore, seeing how the company keeps screwing their consumers around with dumbed down features that make it an inconvenience.

    Most forums are currently stagnant, but not dead. Therefore, forums will never go away. Sorry.

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