3 Reflecting on student experiences of online learning forums
Now, you are going to see what some students from The Open University have said about online learning forums. In the next activity you will reflect on what seven different students have said about getting involved on online learning forums.
Activity 3 Responding to student voices
1. Table 1 lists a range of views from seven students who took part in The Open University study exploring student perspectives on online learning forums which was reported in Griffin and Roy, 2019.
For each statement, note down whether the student is fearless or fearful of using forums, what their views tell you about using forums, and any other comments you have about their responses.
Table 1 Student perspectives on online learning forums
|What student said about using online learning forums||What you discovered about online learning forums from the student’s statement|
1. ‘It aided me in my learning, it is informative and improved my communication skills. The forum is important as it allows people to give alternative viewpoints with great discussions.’
2. ‘What I liked was that I could see Q&As from others but I was not so keen on posting on there myself because it's so open for everyone else to see.’
3. ‘I found that the …. forum was a good way to communicate and ask other students how they were getting on, especially if I was struggling. The other students were really supportive in offering advice and helped me to keep faith in my studies.’
4. ‘It was like tumbleweed rolling through it most weeks! Not many participants and felt a bit flat.’
5. ‘… it allowed me to find how my ideas differed from other students. It also helped me gain some confidence when my ideas were very similar, I would feel as though I could add to the group and this boosted my self-esteem and pride in my learning. It showed evidence of my learning to myself in a distance-learning setting. Connecting with fellow students who had similar struggles helped as well.’
6. ‘I posted relevant activities on there and always had replies from my tutor. I was disappointed to find not many students using it and they didn't post their activities on there for me to compare mine. It would have been much more useful if others had used it too.’
7. ‘I liked the fact that we could bounce ideas off of each other as well as just keep in touch to help you feel less alone in your journey through the course. It also gave you an opportunity to share articles that had been published either in the news or on social media to potentially spark debate.’
Example 1 shows how valuable and useful the forum was for the student’s learning and, indeed, how it helped to develop communication skills. Interestingly, this student went on to say:
The drawback is that I don't enjoy typing everything onto the forum. I sometimes have problems in articulating my words, which makes me nervous when talking with others as some people have greater skills in writing.
This is an interesting example of a student who found clear, tangible benefits from getting involved in their online learning forum. But they were also a little nervous about actually expressing themselves in writing on the forum.
In Session 2, you will be introduced to the idea of playful forum writing. This technique can help you to relax when writing on a forum. Remember – this course will build your confidence and help you to reduce any feelings of nervousness you might have about getting involved on forums.
The student in example 2 seems to be saying that the online learning forum is a great place to get information and pick up answers to queries. This was a common theme from the students in the study. The student also reports being a little nervous about making their thoughts visible to others by posting on the online learning forum. You might be interested to know that this student concludes by saying ‘I do think it's [an online learning forum] a good idea though’. So, again, as in example 1, this student found clear benefits to online learning forums but, at the same time, felt a little uneasy about posting to one.
Student 3 had a great group of supportive peers. Although this student sometimes struggled with the course itself, fortunately they found support from their peers. Indeed, this student went on to say:
the forum is a valued source of emotional support not just purely for academic use.
Another student in the study said:
It was nice to feel at times that others were in the same boat as you and to have people to talk if you had queries, etc. It meant you didn’t feel as isolated by distance learning.
This quote highlights another potential benefit of online learning forums. By providing peer support, they can reduce feelings of isolation, or being alone, which can affect you as an online distance learner.
In example 4, like other students in the study, the student actually liked the online learning forum and would have probably enjoyed using it. However, they found it a bit ‘flat’ or lifeless because fellow students didn’t get involved. This highlights how important more group involvement is for online learning forums to be that ‘valued source’ of support, as noted in example 3.
Student 5 clearly found the online learning forum valuable and learned a lot from getting involved. There is some evidence to suggest that this student was a little nervous and lacking in confidence. But by getting involved, they gained confidence and their self-esteem was ‘boosted’.
Example 6 is a clear case of a student who would have liked to engage in much more discussion with their peers, but who was disappointed that fellow students didn’t get involved. Similar to student 4, this highlights the importance of everyone getting involved on online learning forums – not just for your benefit but to help your peers’ learning too.
This student’s words very clearly highlight the benefits of getting involved on an online learning forum.
2. Can you think why engaging in a forum would be useful to you? Would you be willing to try it?
Note down your thoughts in the box below.