In distance education, or more specifically in online education, discussion forums have been the most useful tool for improving interaction between the students as well as to promote collaborative learning. From the time of its inception, the discussion forums although was known to have potential to improve the status of online learning to further highs, not all training programmes gained much through its inclusion. One aspect which can be thought of as influencing the poor contribution was how the tutors handle such discussion forums. Thus, this article hopes to illustrate few areas that we as online tutors need to look into when taking charge of an online discussion forum.
Limited number of students:
One of the most important aspects of a successfully managed discussion forum would be the number of students per forum. Thus, in order to give one to one attention as well as to comprehend the postings that were made by all students in the forum, smaller groups would be the key.
Frequents contributions and facilitation:
Being academics with many other duties besides being an online tutor, it is possible that we may not be able to devote our full time towards the students in the online environment. But, it is our duty to at least login to these forums once a day and take a look at how things are proceeding and focus on instances where the students have deviated to a great extent and the discussion forum is not yielding what is expected of it. Thus, we need to address these issues by pointing out the direction in which the discussion should proceed as well as elaborate on the instances where the postings are not up to the standard.
Encouragement and motivation:
Encouraging or motivating the students is another important aspect of being an online tutor and such effort would pave way for building more enthusiasm as well as to improve the quality of the postings.
Giving feedback within an accepted time period would be another important action which can improve the interactions and learning in the online forums. Delays in giving a feedback can obviously cause the students to lose hope and interest and might also badly affect the continuity of the discussion as well.
Being a facilitator:
Lastly, as an online tutor, our role most likely to include a facilitator task than being a knowledge provider. But, from time to time, we may have to provide the basic input based on what the students are discussing and have come up with within the discussion forums. Providing links to obtain more information as well as examples from the actual practice are some of the facilitatory actions that we can perform.
If these aspects are taken care of, it is more likely that the students would benefit through the discussion forums and therefore the online learning would achieve its intended objectives.