1 Université de Sherbrooke (CANADA)
2 University of Craiova (ROMANIA)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN11 Proceedings
Publication year: 2011
Page: 443
ISBN: 978-84-615-0441-1
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 3rd International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2011
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Our conference paper aims to present two educational experiments conducted in different academic learning environments, the first in Quebec (Canada) and second in Craiova, Romania. The two experiments were designed to explore how the use of discussion forum can contribute to the creation of learning communities: what knowledge, skills and attitudes can be developed by the learners in the learning environment? What are the challenges faced by learners? What necessary changes in the university teaching practices does the implementation of this educational device require?
The first experiment was conducted in two Quebec universities. Students enrolled in programs of pre-service teacher training were invited to participate in discussion forums around the required readings in the course. The platform Moodle (open source) was used in both cases. The task consisted of two parts: 1. Reviews of the text, which included the following steps: summarizing the text to read, identifying three areas considered most significant in the text and justifying the choice, then formulating a question related to a significant aspect of the text, 2. Interaction with other participants, by giving answers to questions raised by other participants. The observations of the teacher and student feedback are used to identify the characteristics, advantages and challenges of this type of activity included in the discussion forum. Among other benefits that will be discussed, we mention the development of analytical skills, a deeper understanding of concepts, the acquisition of attitudes of openness and dialogue. All students, without exception, exceeded the requirements of the course, taking part actively in discussions on the proposed texts. Among the challenges recorded, on the side of the teacher we can mention the time allotted for the forum moderation and monitoring of individual students. The functionality of the Moodle platform facilitated individual monitoring and enabled the visualization of each student’s contribution as well as of the discussion thread.
The second experiment took place during the academic year 2009-2010 at the University of Craiova (Romania) and consisted in the use of Moodle platform towards the preparation of the examination of pragmatics, a discipline taught to distance learning third-year students of French as a foreign language. At the beginning of the semester, via the Internet, the 10 students were given the detailed program of curricula and bibliography, as well as topics for reflection and discussion of the proposals which they were invited to answer. The teacher also suggested a virtual fixture on the discussion forum. In time, students’ questions multiplied, while their interventions became less timid and more relevant. A very pleasant surprise for the teacher was the fact that the dialogue between learners continued outside the scheduled appointments. Finally, the forum helped "to tame" a subject judged inaccessible, encouraged debate, motivated students to solve exercises and applications that seemed extremely difficult at the beginning of the experiment and ensured feedback. We estimate that 80% of the educational success of students in the final exam was due to this instrument.
After a comparison of these two experiments, we shall discuss the winning conditions for the use of the discussion forum in the implementation of distance learning communities.