Discussion Forums for Learning Communities?

We were talking Discussion forums on the Canvas list earlier this week, reconsidering our assumptions about forum designs based on the long-lived “threaded bulletin board”. Victoria Rasmussen suggested:

“…it feels like it might be better if community is formed around solving a problem together and the communication is an intrinsic result…”

Victoria, I think you’re on to something here.

It may be that our tendency to manage and count discussion activity is based on a desire to measure what’s quantifiable, but not necessarily what’s central to learning.

It does seem like the “flat” discussion format discourages deep investigation of disparate ideas or lines of thought, but then maybe the discussion forum is not the best place for those deeper, often tangential conversations; maybe we need to encourage those to occur elsewhere, let’s say on a student’s blog, or in peer review conversations, etc.

At the same time, building a temporary, quasi-authentic learning community in a tool that was created and refined for on-going, intermittent, voluntary, self-organizing learning communities may not be the best use of the technology. I certainly get the sense in my small-ish (15-25 students) courses that the “flat” forums encourage participation in breadth if not depth.

Or, maybe a discussion forum is the best place, properly structured. It’s certainly worth experimenting with.