Using Online Forums in Language Learning and Education

By Manprit Kaur
2011, Vol. 3 No. 03 | pg. 1/1

Abstract

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 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 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 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 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 , 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:

  1. What are the benefits of online forums?
  2. What are the characteristics of a good online forum?
  3. Do online forums improve students’ writing skills?
  4. Do online forums improve students’ communication skills?

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.

Chinedu (2008) expresses that by participating in online forums, access to knowledge is free. Futhermore, Chinedu (2008) posits that forum members could willingly share their wealth of knowledge and experience with other members. In return, every member of the forum can benefit from this infusion of free knowledge.

Here are some potential benefits of regular online forum participation according to Pavlina (2005):

  • Intellectual exchange
  • Learning new ideas and refining old ones
  • Enjoying community membership
  • Influencing the forum's evolution
  • Contributing to others
  • Making new friends and contacts
  • New business leads
  • Keeping up with current events
  • Learning about new opportunities

There has been evidence that the messages composed by students in online forums include longer solutions for problem-solving, and consist of deeper reflections compared to face-to-face discussions (Hara et al. 2000). Researchers have found that students can take more time to read, craft, reflect on their responses, and find relevant information when composing messages in such an environment (O’Neill et al. 2006; Wang and Woo 2007).

Peterson and Caverly (2005) established in their research that online discussions build a motivating social practice of current generation students, who use technology to contact friends and family throughout the day.

In online forums, students develop their autonomy in language learning. Each participant is given more authority to shape or lead the discussion in the direction they prefer, while teachers may have relatively less control over the learning interactions (Choi et al. 2005).

The Characteristics of a Good Online Forum

There are numerous characteristics of a good online forum. Martyn (2005) discerned seven elements of a good online forum. They are:

  • Require students to participate
  • Grade student efforts
  • Involve learning teams
  • Structure discussion
  • Require a hand in assignment
  • Learners use their own experience in posing questions and scenarios
  • Relate the discussion to course objectives

Qing Li (2004) in her research recognized nine characteristics of a good online forum. They are:

  • Establish a friendly, open environment
  • Use authentic tasks and topics
  • Emphasize learner-centered instruction
  • Encourage students to give constructive feedback and suggestions
  • Let students experience, reflect and share the benefit of using threaded discussion
  • Be sure that instructors facilitate collaboration and knowledge building
  • Encourage dialogue and referencing of other student postings
  • Use humor for motivation
  • Use emoticons to help convey ideas and feelings

In addition, according to Peterson and Caverly (2005), good online forums provide a social presence, in which students and instructor are able to present themselves as "real people" and communicate with their personality.

Online Forums Improve Writing Skills

A well-structured online discussion forum can provide students with extensive practice in writing. The online forum allows opportunities for the facilitation of curricular objectives via modern technology. Online discussion forums provide an authenticity in writing and therefore serve as a meaningful supplement to the writing curriculum (Pauley 2001).

Aileen Ng (2008) in her study discovered that the implementation of the online forum appears to provide reinforcement tasks to enable students to practice their writing. Besides that, the online forum also facilitates collaborative learning. Students could share their ideas and opinions in order to produce better quality writing as compared to if the tasks were to be completed independently.

Schuetze (2010) conducted a research in the University of Victoria and the University of Kiel in . The study showed that most students of both universities felt comfortable writing online and they wrote more than ever before. They used the forum more actively than in a face-to-face classroom or chat. In turn, some students also mentioned that they liked to read what other students posted in online forums.

In a study among twenty-five Chinese and Kiwi learners, Gerbric (2005) encountered that online forums provide opportunities specifically for particular groups of students. Chinese students found the virtual and text-based nature of the medium allowed them to enter discussions more easily and they felt more comfortable with their written responses compared to face-to-face discussions.

Online Forums Improve Communication Skills

A number of studies have found that online forums are beneficial in developing communication skills (Abrams 2003; Blake 2009). The greatest potential for effective use of online communication as a learning tool is when the students are ‘at a distance’ from the school and their teachers (Crowell & McCarragher 2007).

Holmes (2004) acknowledged a period of increased communication between online participants of his study after 10 days of interaction on online forum and asserted that input from teachers or instructors during this period led to maximized learning opportunities.

Scott and Ryan (2009) in their study discovered that online members become more engaged in discussions and interacted effectively when they were set appropriate tasks. For an example, a complex task that requires research and discussion is more suitable for small groups to work on collaboratively. When students are given problems related to their prior experience, the discussions show higher levels of interaction, and the participants show more passion for the topic (Puntambekar 2006).

Peterson and Caverly (2006) in their study discovered that through online forums, teachers are able to document the growth of their students' ability to support a point in their messages. Students improved their ability to respond to a classmate and to make a point supported with evidence.

Online forums are a good way of communicating, especially when the teacher or lecturer is unavailable. It is also a good way to communicate with everyone as it creates a good communication between students and school (Greig & Skehill 2008). In concurrence with the statement, Yu (2002) affirmed that students were more comfortable and less aggressive when participating in online forums. Online forums also offered more equal opportunities for group members to voice their opinions.

Research conducted by Yang (2007) shows that students demonstrated very high levels of interaction among group members. Online forums are regarded as a social interaction that reduces students’ reliance on the face-to-face discussions.

In a study carried out by Schellens and Valcke (2005, 2006), asynchronous discussion forums attained a higher proportion of higher phases of knowledge creation compared to face to face discussions. This occurred due to the vast majority of communication in the asynchronous environment was task oriented.

Conclusion

The online forum is an ideal place to put a learning community and its learning objects on the same page (Harman and Koohang 2005). In order to offer a successful discussion forum, teachers need to be fully skilled in practical use of the sites and committed to engaging with them, believing in their relevance and benefit for students and willing to spend dedicated time every week on the discussion forum with students. As Salmon (2004) advises, teachers need to take time to induct students to the online discussion tools and focus on familiarization and socialization into the online forum from the outset.

Anderson et al. (2001) stated that active involvement of a teacher is critical in maintaining the interest and motivation of students in online discussions. Russo and Benson (2005) reported that student perceptions of teacher’s presence were significantly correlated with student learning satisfaction.

In sum, online forums may provide a way for teachers to improve the quality of their students’ language learning skills. Thus, language teachers in Malaysia should consider integrating online forums into their language teaching to develop students’ writing and communication skills.


References

Aileen Ng. 2008. Using Discusion Forums for ESL Communication Skills The TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 10.

Anderson, T. 2001. The virtual conference: Extending professional education in cyberspace. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 2(2/3), 121-135.

Abrams, Z. I. 2003. The effect of synchronous and asynchronous CMC on oral performance in German. Modern Language Journal, 87(2), 157–167.

Blake, C. 2009. Potential of text-based internet chats for improving oral fluency in a second language. The Modern Language Journal, 93(2), 227-240.

Callan D..2006. Pros and cons of having a discussion forum. Internet Marketing Articles http://www.akamarketing.com/forums-pros-and-cons.html

Chinedu E. 2008. Seven Benefits of Internet Forums. Ezine Articles http://ezinearticles.com/?Seven-Benefits-of-Internet-Forums&id=1813184

Cyprus, S. 2010. What is an Internet Forum? Wisegeek.com http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-an-internet-forum.htm

Choi, I., Land, S. M., & Turgeon, A. J. 2005. Scaffolding peer-questioning strategies to facilitate metacognition during online small group discussion. Instructional Science, 33, 483-511.

Gerbric, P. 2005. Chinese learners and computer mediated communication: Balancing , technology, and pedagogy. In H. Goss (Ed.), Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education Conference: Balance, Fidelity, Mobility: Maintaining the Momentum? (Vol. 1, pp. 241–251). Brisbane: Department Call for Teaching and Learning Support Services, Queensland University of Technology.

Greig and Skehill. 2008. Increasing Staff and Student Capacity to Use the Communication Social Work Education: The International Journal, 1470-1227, Volume 27, Issue 6, Pages 634 – 646

Groves, M., & O'Donoghue, J. 2009. Reflections of Students in Their Use of Asynchronous Online Seminars. Educational Technology & Society, 12 (3), 143–149.   Hara N.,.Bonk C. & Angeli C. 2000.Content analysis of online discussion in an applied educational psychology course. Instructional Science

Harman, K., & Koohang, A. 2005. Discussion board: A learning object. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, 1, 67-77. Retrieved October 16, 2009 from http://ijello.org/Volume1/v1p067-077Harman.pdf 

Holmes, K. 2004. Analysis of asynchronous online discussion using SOLO taxonomy. From http://www.aare.edu.au/04pap/hol04863.pdf

Jacobsen, D. M. 2006. Learning Technology in Continuing Professional Development: The Galileo Network. New York, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press

Lim, C. P. & Chai, C. S. 2004. An activity-theoretical approach to research of ICT integration in Singapore schools: orienting activities and learner autonomy. Computers & Education, 43, 3, 215–236.

Marra, R. M., Moore, J. L. & Klimczak, A. K. 2004. Content analysis of online discussion forums: a comparative analysis of protocols. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52, 2, 23–40.

Martyn M.A. 2005. Using Interactions in Online discussion Forums. Educause Quarterly No.4

McKimm J, Jolie C, Cantillon P. 2003.Web base learning. BMJ 326870–873.

Nelson . 2010. How to Use Electronic Forums to Improve Group Communication. E- how.com
http://www.ehow.com/how_6338777_use-forums-improve-group communication.html#ixzz10k19bcQj

O’Neill, P., Duplock, A., & Willis, S. 2006. Using clinical experience in discussion with problem-based learning groups. Advances in Health Education, 11, 349–363.

Pauley J. 2001. Bulletin Boards: Expand and Improve Written Communication. Tech & Learning Article
http://www.techlearning.com/article/18364

Pavlina LLC. 2005. Effective Online Forum Usage. http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/effective-online-forum-usage.htm

Peterson, C. L., & Caverly, D. C. 2005. TechTalk: Building academic literacy through online discussion forums, Journal of Developmental Education, 29(2),

Peterson, C. L., & Caverly, D. C. 2006. TechTalk: What students need to know about online discussion forums, Journal of Developmental Education, 29(3),

Puntambekar, S. 2006. Learning from Digital Text in Inquiry-Based Science Classes: Lessons Learned in One Program. In S. A., Barab, K. E Hay & D. T. Hickey (Eds.) Making a difference: Proceedings of the seventh International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS). pp. 564-570. Mahwah: NJ. Erlbaum.

Qing Li. 2004. Knowledge Building Community: Keys for Using Online Forums Volume 48, Number 4

Russo, T., & Benson, S. 2005. Learning with Invisible Others: Perceptions of Online Presence and their Relationship to Cognitive and Affective Learning, Educational Technology & Society, 8: 54-62

Salmon, G. 2004. E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online (2nd ed.). London, UK RoutledgeFalmer, Taylor and Francis Group.

Santosa IP,Yeo GK, Lin J . 2005.Understanding Students' Online Forum Usage Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Applications; Vol. 133 Proceeding of the 2005 conference on Towards Sustainable and Scalable Educational Innovations Informed by the Learning Sciences: Sharing Good Practices of Research, Experimentation and Innovation

Sam H.K and Lee J. A. 2008. Postgraduate students' knowledge construction during asynchronous computer conferences in a blended learning environment: A Malaysian experience. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 24(1), 91-107.

Sanchez-Sweatman O.H. 2001. using problem-based learning in distance education. In E. Rideout (ed), Transforming nursing education through problem based learning (pp311-324), sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers

Schuetze U. 2010.Motivation to write online: Chats and Forums. Gfl Journal No.1/2010 ISSN 1470 – 9570

Schellens, T. & Valcke, M. 2005. Collaborative learning in asynchronous discussion groups: What about the impact on cognitive processing? Computers in Human Behavior, 21(6), 957-975.

Schellens, T. & Valcke, M. 2006. Fostering knowledge construction in university students through asynchronous discussion groups. Computers & Education, 46(1), 349-370.

Scott A. and Ryan J.2009. Digital Literacy and Using Online Discussions: Reflections from Teaching Large Cohorts in Teacher Education. In Comparative Information Technology Globalisation, Comparative Education and Policy Research, 2009, Volume 4, 103-120, DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-9426-2_8

Smith, T. 2001. Asynchronous discussions: Importance, design, facilitation, and evaluation. Retrieved May 10, 2003, from http://www.ion.illinois.edu/pointers/ 2002_11/pagel .html

So, H-J. 2009. When groups decide to use asynchronous online discussions: collaborative learning and social presence under a voluntary participation structure Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 25, 143–160   Tiene, D. 2000. Online discussion: A survey of advantages and disadvantages compared to face-to-face discussions. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 9(4), 371–384.

Yu, F. Y. 2002. The efficacy of electronic telecommunications in fostering interpersonal relationships. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 26, 2, 177–189.

Suggested Reading from StudentPulse

The mere mention of the English Language Arts content area, for many people, might conjure images of ancient, dusty tomes, the sound of a classroom full of pens scratching across college-ruled paper, or the palpable befuddlement of students staring down a school year full of challenging texts and writing. Enter technology, and along... MORE»
Language difficulties are cited as the most critical issue facing international students today. This study particularly looks into the influence of language difficulties on the wellbeing of international students. The study was conducted at a student accommodation in Melbourne, Australia using an Interpretive Phenomenological Approach... MORE»
Language use is a major factor in defining one’s cultural identity. People learn slang, lingo, jargon, idiomatic phrases, and other language tools, and with them participate in a cultural, social environment in which they can thrive. For ethnic minorities, however, there is the additional problem of the “heritage language... MORE»
The ability to control one’s sexuality and make informed, responsible decisions about one’s sexual health is a basic human right. The Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, France and Germany protect this right by providing comprehensive sex education in their schools and implementing public programs to promote sexual health. Abstinence-only education in the United States denies American youth the right to sexual autonomy and prevents them from... MORE»
Third grade reading proficiency is believed to be an important benchmark in education. The transition from third grade to fourth grade marks the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” other subject material. Third grade proficiency is also an indicator of a student’s later academic success... MORE»
Submit to Student Pulse, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Student Pulse provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Student Pulse's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow SP