R. Torronteras1, F. Córdoba García1, P. Alonso Martín2, A. Canalejo Raya1

1University of Huelva, Department of Environmental Biology and Public Health (SPAIN)
2University of Huelva, Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology (SPAIN)
At University, the use of discussion forums based on digital platforms of learning is reaching a high level of application as they contribute to reach the aims of building learning in an active, social, significant way, developing critical thinking, motivating students, reducing space-time limits of communication, meeting multi-level groups, making autonomous work and group discussion easier. The resource of forums also strengthens the skill to manage information, time and space both virtually and face-to-face. Nevertheless, there are problems to evaluate objectively individual participation in such forums due to the difficulty of assessing all the contributions of students in the forums in a suitable way. Thus, new evaluation methods are required to allow teachers to summarize and record the interventions and individual work from participating students.
Accordingly, the main aim of this project was to develop and implement new objective methods to evaluate students’ participation and collaborative learning in forums of digital platforms and their specific application to Biology subjects.
The study was carried out on the subjects of “Biology 1” included in the curriculum of Environmental Sciences and Geology, with 78 students registered, and Biological Principles for Early Childhood Education, included in the Virtual Campus of Andalusia, with 76 students registered. Both are virtualised in the Moodle Platform of the University of Huelva.
We developed an evaluation method based on the simultaneous use of academic forums and e-activities on the forums. Firstly, students participated on a proposal of work established on a forum. There, they sent their messages with suggestions, ideas, reflections, criticisms, synthesis, concepts enlargement, etc. Then, students had to attach both their interventions and the elaboration of their learning after their mates’ contributions in the forum to a worksheet created ad hoc. Finally, they had to send the worksheet to e-activity files in the subject platform. Students had a worksheet activity for each of the proposed forums. In this way, the whole production that the student had managed to learn and share in the forum was recorded in an ordered, compiled, summarized way. For the teacher, the reading, managing and assessment of these worksheets is easier than the continuous reading of all the messages sent to the forum. Furthermore, it releases him or her from searching for all the participations of a specific student and allows valuing the learning progress.
In order to encourage students’ participation and to value them for it, at the evaluation point, the teachers not only assigned a mark, but they commented on mistakes, achievements and learning evolution through worksheets. In addition, self-assessment tests for each forum, developed with “Hot PotatoesTM” software, were available for students. Thus, they could get a self-assessment mark that we could compare with the mark obtained by the evaluation of the worksheet. Notably, both evaluating methods showed quite high and similar results, which is a suitable way of validating objectively the evaluation method that we have designed.
Conclusions. The dual system “forum – worksheets” allowed students to reach a very satisfactory level of conceptual knowledge by means of collaborative learning. And above all, we have achieved an objective, easy, fast method to evaluate academic forums.