I mentioned earlier that when we went remote due to the pandemic, I forced myself to be trained as an online instructor and received credentials from the school to teach online courses. While I do not intend to be an online instructor, many of the lessons and technique that I learned from such training are actually quite useful even when I eventually went back to in-person classes.
One of the aspect of online classes that I'm keeping even for my in-person classes is the discussion forum. At first, it seems that discussion forum might be a bit of a waste of time, considering that we all meet each other during classes, and can easily engage in conservation and discussion. It turns out that online discussion forum has been quite useful for me. Here's how I implement it in my in-person classes.
I always start the semester with the first discussion topic in Week 1, which is for the students to introduce themselves. I ask them to write a brief description of who they are, what their majors or intended majors are, and what career to they aspire to. I ask them about their hobbies, and anything else that may be interesting and unique about them.
What this gives me immediately is the information on what they are interested in, especially with their ares of study. I like this because I can invoke examples in my lessons that apply to what they want to do. This is something I do frequently, which is a conscious attempt at making the physics lessons relevant to their area of study. Even if it is not applicable to their major, I can also connect this to something they are into, especially if they are musicians and play a particular instruments, when we talk about sound waves, resonance, pitch, etc. Last semester, one of my students was a college tennis player, and we had a long discussion on air flow, Bernoulli principle, etc. when we were discussing fluid dynamics.
But you may ask "Yeah, ZapperZ, this is all interesting and useful, but why do you have to do this over an online discussion forum? Why can't you just ask them in person?".
The answer is, not every student is comfortable with speaking in front of a group of people. In fact, many students are terrified of being the center of attention during class. I am offering a form of engagements in which many of the introverts will be more comfortable with and are able to be more open in sharing who they are. The more extrovert ones are more than welcome to introduce themselves during class time. In the spirit of Universal Design in Learning (UDL), I am trying to provide more than just one means of engagement for the students.
This is not the only topic that I use in the online discussion forum. I'll make another post on another topic that make use of the discussion forum to get a snapshot on how the students think and analyze a particular scenario.