Sunday, 17 October 2004

The Dreaded “Sage on the Stage” Comes Back -- In the Discussion Boards!

Instead of responding directly to the issues raised by E-Learning Queen, I'll try to explain why I prefer not to use discussion forum myself after having study it intensively 20- years ago. (A shameless plug: my M.Ed thesis was "an ethnographical study of electronic bulletin board system for teacher support" back in the 80s of the last century.)

To explain why I come to this conclusion, let us look at some characteristics of discussion forum first. Please note that these characteristics can be used both positively and negatively - just like most technology, the value is dependent on the utility.

  • Discussion forum is a "cold" media. The communication bandwidth is thin. You cannot transit body language which comprises of 70% of message if we are in face to face situation.

  • Discussion are permanent. Every word we enter into the discussion forum is stored and can come back to "attack" us.

  • While there are studies showing that discussion forum can liberate "shy" students, unfortunately, these studies do not look at how discussion forum also "intimidate" online users.

  • Like any traditional learning spaces, in the discussion forum, the moderator (professor) has huge power over the students.

  • If you are a working adult who happens also take an online course, you trend to attend this discussion forum not at the best of your ability. It may be late at night when all the children have gone to bed, or ...

  • Not all professors are skilled in leading online discussion forum

  • So, what I would recommend today? Surprise! surprise! Online role play simulation! While the media is cold and discussion are permanent, these encourages rational thinking and careful planning. The simulation space reflects the social structure of the persona, not the social structure of a learning institute verse the learners. The professor really has no role in the role play unless s/he is also playing a persona. In that case, s/he is just another persona - and usually, the players do know such persona is actually played by the professor.

    Moderating a discussion forum is a tough job - so is moderating a role play. The difference is that moderating a role play is like playing - time just fly. How many times you have when you mark assignments that you will be laughing all the way throughout the marking process? In role play, that is the norm.


    Scot said...

    Hi Albert,

    An interesting topic and one that bears looking at more closely.

    You may be interested in a similar thread I raised today on my Blog:



    Albert Ip said...

    thank you for your comment Scot. Just for the reader, the permanent URL for Scot's post referred above is I have a comment on this as well. See