Using Online Forums in Language Learning and Education
Online forums are also known as discussion boards or message boards. They enable users of a website to interact with each other by exchanging tips and discussing topics related to a certain theme. Learning through online forums is an important learning strategy for students to improve their language skills. This article looks at the benefits of online forums in language learning particularly in improving students’ writing and communication skills, and with an emphasis on the potential for implementation in Malaysia.
Student’s learning and teacher’s teaching could be enhanced by technology if used appropriately. Technology could encourage more independent and active learning among students (McKimm, Jollie, & Cantillon, 2003). A key reason for the use of technology within a learning situation is to enhance the quality of learning and teaching (Groves & O'Donoghue 2009).
With the rapid development of computer-mediated communication, online forums have become more involved in classroom settings to promote student critical thinking, knowledge construction and language learning autonomy (Lim & Chai 2004; Marra, Moore & Klimczak 2004).
Computer-based online discussions or online forums have been used in a wide range of higher education setting to provide major learning environments for distance education or to supplement face-to-face discussion (Jacobsen 2006). Discussion board or online forums are one of the primary tools of electronic learning according to Harman & Koohang (2005).
The use of computer based online discussion through online forums is evident in the curriculum of many courses throughout the world in universities in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Scott & Ryan 2009). Although online discussions are employed by most universities in Malaysia (Sam and Lee 2008), schools may not be aware of this new technology.
In the Malaysian context, students in primary and secondary schools do not acquire enough practice and exposure in English language since it is taught for a limited period of time in the classroom. There is a need for teachers to encourage students to use new technologies such as online forums to gain more exposure in the language. As purported by So (2009), asynchronous online discussion forums, are some of the simplest computer-mediated communication tools that teachers can easily integrate into their teaching to extend discussions beyond classroom contexts.
This article is organized by addressing the following questions:
DEFINITION OF AN ONLINE FORUM
According to Sheri Cyprus (2010), an online forum is also known as a message board, online discussion group, bulletin board or web forum. It differs from a blog. An online forum is a discussion area on a website whereby members can post discussions, read and respond to posts by other forum members. A forum can revolve around any subject in an online community.
Like other internet-based learning environments, online forums provide a way for maintaining communication for learners who are not able to meet face-to-face or who prefer logging-on at different times (Sanchez- Sweatman 2001). Online forums are a kind of computer mediated communication which allows individual to communicate with others by posting written messages to exchange ideas. It uses asynchronous type of communication (Santosa et. al 2005)
Nelson (2010) postulated that an online forum can be defined as an accessible group communication space. Proper utilization of online forums can enhance the effectiveness of communication.
THE BENEFITS OF ONLINE FORUMS
Online forums provide many benefits to students and teachers. In a research conducted by Teine (2000), students have been found to be in favor of the self-paced, self-regulated feature of asynchronous discussions compared to face-to-face discussions.
On the other hand, Callan (2006), states that online forums create a discussion environment. Everything that gets posted gets read over and over again. Online forums rarely turn into heated arguments as people are given time to research and consider their comments before replying. This in turn, makes high-quality discussion.
Smith (2001) points out that well structured and appropriately facilitated online discussion can provide a learning environment that allows the immediate application of new information to learners' personal and professional lives. Besides, online forums are more flexible compared to face to face communication as they provide time to reflect and think and allow both introverted and extroverted students to be involved in online discussions.Continued on Next Page »