M. Rudneva, T. Popova

This study presents an attempt to integrate MOOC discussion forums posting into the curriculum of teaching English for specific purposes. Academic writing seems to be the least appreciated component of the ESP courses, which can be partially attributed to the fact that students lack natural environment for quasi-professional discussions on their major subject. Besides, writing lengthy academic papers presents a massive challenge for beginner students, both due to their level of English proficiency and insignificant expertise in the chosen discipline. However, writing in small chunks in the forum posting format appears manageable and even motivating.
Although discussion forums have been widely used in MOOCs and there have been a few studies on those, their pedagogical effect is yet to be researched. It has been pointed that discussion boards increase engagement (1) and also foster a certain level of commitment that results in higher completion rates (2). However, negative impact of discussion forums on student motivation has also been acknowledged (3). Large volumes of unsearchable posts appear to be hard to process and fragmented structure does not foster better understanding (4). Fini (5) admits that MOOC participants prefer perceptive participation to active one.

In this paper we are presenting the results of a pedagogical experiment that took place at the Ecological Faculty of the RUDN University in November 2016-March 2017. 15 first-year students aged 18-19 were asked to participate in the experiment, registering for the MOOCs on environmental sciences and completing the tasks in the semi-flipped classroom mode. Apart from watching and reading the materials of the MOOCs they were specifically asked to write postings on the discussion forums and submit print-screens to the English instructor. Upon the completion of the experiment the students were asked to complete a survey on their reflections upon writing assignments. Besides, a small corpus of postings was compiled for further qualitative and quantitative analysis.

The paper elaborates on the outcomes and challenges of using discussion forums posting in ESP classes and outlines the pedagogical effect of the experiment.

[1] Thomas, M. J. (2002). Learning within incoherent structures: The space of online discussion forums. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 18(3), 351-366.
[2] Kizilcec, R. F., Piech, C., & Schneider, E. (2013) Deconstructing disengagement: analyzing learner subpopulations in massive open online courses. In Proc. 3rd Int. Conf. on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (pp.170-179) ACM.
[3] Baxter, J. A., & Haycock, J. (2014). Roles and student identities in online large course forums: Implications for practice. The Int. Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(1).
[4] McGuire, R. (2013, August). Building a Sense of Community in MOOCs. Campus Technology, 31–33.
[5] Fini, A. (2009) The technological dimension of a massive open online course: The case of the CCK08 course tools. The Int. Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(5).