Monday, June 11, 2012

Decentralized Forum Spaces

Guglielmo, Letizia. “Feminist online writing courses: Civic rhetoric, community action, and student success.” Computers and Writing Online (Spring 2009). Web. 10 June 2012.

Gulielmo's article provides an examination of how four specific interventions in her online writing class impacted student success. Her goal in these specific interventions was to create a site for civic participation in her online class so that "instead of preparing students for the work they will do outside of the classroom, [she would] reinforce for students the need for civic participation within this virtual learning space" (Gulielmo).

More specifically, Gulielmo believed that fostering a feminist teaching and learning space would help students take initiative in forming this civic community because such pedagogy emphasizes "personal and group discovery through open discussion, collaboration, and process-based writing and reading activities [and is] broadly inclusive and embracing, nonhierarchical, student-centered communities" (Selfe qtd in Gulielmo). Desiring the ability to build such a community, Gulielmo relies on the discussion board of her CMS.

Gulielmo uses four strategies to help create this atmosphere: she provides an audio course site overview that emphasizes decentered teaching; she encourages students to post introductions to themselves that go beyond the academic (and posts one of her own); she invites the students to work collaboratively with her to establish the netiquette and posting expectations for the discussion board; and she makes use of a “Questions” forum on the boards to provide an outlet for students to voice concerns and questions.

Using responses to periodic class surveys and close analysis of the discussion board posting patterns for two of her online classes, she discusses how these strategies helped foster civic engagement in her classroom (which she believed would lead to success). Gulielmo demonstrates how by the end of the term her students were “aware of a shift in what might be termed a traditional instructor role”; it is likely this awareness began as a result of the direct way that she articulated her expectations from the beginning of the term using the audio comment she provided that emphasized her approach to decentered learning.

She provides another audio file to introduce each additional intervention—the self-introduction posts, the forum posting expectation discussion thread and the questions board. Each of these audio files shows the warm tone that Gulielmo has with her students as well as how she continuously emphasizes the student-centered nature of the classroom. In each of these posts the listener can hear the way she’s given students agency in making choices about how they participate in the community of learners.

This article provides a strong rationale for why these four exercises might be useful components to an online writing class with a discussion board feature. The article reminds the reader of the importance of articulating their teaching philosophy with students so that they become active participants in the philosophy rather than casual observers. Considering Gulielmo’s successes and challenges in this particular study, the online writing teacher walks away with practical suggestions for creating forum spaces that are student-centered.

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