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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Online Discussions: Trick or Treat?

I love Halloween!  There is something about wearing a costume that is fun and liberating!  Who does not love to pretend to be someone or something else for a night?  I guess that is the appeal for many when they choose to represent themselves as someone else online. 

We often hear of the negative aspects of children using online discussion formats.  Hiding behind screen names is often the impetus behind cyber-bullying, etc.  However, using screen names and avatars in online discussions may also be the impetus for our students to get engaged in class discussions.  Guiding conversations, monitoring input and documenting transcripts of discussions can provide the supervision you need to eliminate the risks of using this format with your students.
Classroom discussions are usually dominated by a few “alpha” students who are eager to participate.  We can all envision those students, hands stretched high, waving fingers, literally or figuratively saying “ooo, ooo, pick me, pick me.”  How do you get that student who is desperately trying to NOT make eye contact with you or anyone else in the classroom involved in the conversation?  Social media may be the answer. 
I have seen web 2.0 tools such as, and the SCAN tool at TregoED  transform students from reluctant participants to vigorous commentators.  Online tools offer students a platform that they are familiar and comfortable with and give students a voice that is heard with equal merit to the rest.
Properly supervised, social media can help us get all kids in on the conversation and allow them to practice the skills they need to carry over to those times when their conversations are not monitored.  My experience has been that the benefits of online classroom discussion outweigh the risks.  What has your experience been?

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