One of the biggest struggles I often face is how to have sustained, high-quality discussions in an online context. I know I am not alone here. Now, I know I can force the issue with students. I could require them to post X number of times in a given week, or I could require X number of responses to the replies of others. But I don’t want to do that.
In previous courses, I ran class blogs. As a part of those blogs, I required students to post comments each week. I asked them to post a minimum of one comment to a post that they did not write and one comment to a blog that was related to the course but written by a different person/group.
And I view these actions as completely different things. Why?
First, with blogging, I viewed the students’ comments as part of learning to be a blogger. It was authentic. I was teaching them how to be a part of a community, and the community requires a certain level of participation.
And that word, community, is what’s important. And it’s why I think I, and probably most of us, struggle with having online discussion boards that work in our online classes.
Why An LMS Is Not A Community
An LMS is not a community It’s a learner management system. It’s a place to manage learners. Says it all right there in its name. A learner management system cannot be a place for a community to grow and thrive. It’s simply a set of tools for you to manage your learners.
God. Now I hate the LMS more than ever. While there’s certainly a place for good management strategies in our courses, I don’t need to have my course inside a space that is first and foremost about managing them.
But it is simply not possible, or at the least it is very difficult, to expect to have discussions in an online class, inside an LMS.
Related: The Campus LMS – Bound to the System
First, as I have been saying, an LMS is not a community. It’s a closed space that functions for a specific period of time (the duration on the course). Take my course last fall, most of my students are in my course now. This is because the course is really a two-parter. There is one student in there who was not in my class previously.
And, because we operate on a semester system, inside an LMS, we have a whole new course shell. Any discussion from last semester would be lost. Even if students could access it, we wouldn’t be adding to it. And what would the purpose be? If the purpose is to learn information and get a grade then we’ve accomplished that. We don’t need to stick with that particular discussion board anymore.
Maybe everyone else has this figured out. But, to me, the reason I struggle with fostering high-quality, meaningful discussions (where I don’t have to mandate how often to post) is because I’m supposed to have them within an LMS. And an LMS is an inauthentic space that is not about community building. It is about management – and those are two entirely different things.