Contributor: Dr Nathalie Lebrasseur
School: Biological & Chemical Sciences
Tags: Forums, SBCS, Assessment & Feedback
Students in SBCS used a customised class forum to discuss aspects of their course they needed assistance with prior to exams.
Students at the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS) Staff and Student Liaison Committee expressed an interest in lecturers setting-up discussion forums to assist with revision (rather than them setting-up Facebook sites for this purpose) and it was agreed that a trial would take place on around twelve modules in the run-up to the exams.
They set up the forums under the title “Revision Clinic” on various first-year chemistry module pages using an eye-catching cartoon image of a scientist with a bubbling test tube to make it unmissable. As this was the first use of forums with these students, and at a time when they would not be on site to ask for help, care was taken to post very clear instructions for how they should be used. The new forums were launched immediately after Easter and students were asked to direct all enquiries to the forum, i.e. not emailing staff directly, but still indicating they could make appointments to see members of staff in person if they wished to do so.
The school allowed students the ability to include images, links and pdfs as attachments to forum posts and used Forced Subscription mode, so all staff and students who were enrolled on the module would receive an email update whenever someone posted to the forum. This mode was selected so that the email traffic would engage students who might not otherwise have started their revision and it was felt that the forum would be inclusive in that it doesn’t matter if students are in London or elsewhere. Members of staff also encouraged students to respond to other students’ queries if they felt they could answer them.
The school has noticed variable levels of use. The forum for CHE104 is currently one of the most active with 712 accesses in the first-week on a module with around 80 students (with probably a hundred of these being from a member of staff monitoring the forum). Dr Roger Nix, the former Director of Taught Programmes at SBCS, commented
“I feel this has been useful, as a way of clarifying misunderstandings about scientific matters and answering basic queries that might otherwise have been made many times over in separate emails.”
He notes that since SBCS is new to using this type of VLE, they did not make use of discussion forums during the teaching of the modules this year (although they will consider doing so in future)
Key points for effective practice in the future
- Should be allowed to unsubscribe from forums to opt-out of receiving emails?
- What are the best ways of dealing with students giving incorrect information when answering other students queries. Although this could be worrying in case those reading it believed the incorrect information, it could also be seen as way of identifying areas that students had misunderstood and tactful correction from a member of staff actually ensures that all those subscribed to the forum had been given the right information rather than only the student asking the question.
- A possible need for moderation and perhaps guidance on posting following one or two insensitive postings from students that may have prevented more timid students from posting queries and meant that only the most forthright students responded to other student queries
- It could be irritating when students post thank-yous to the whole forum and perhaps guidance on this should be included in the instructions for use