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Using a discussion board to support Maths students (3 minutes : 10 seconds)

Joel Feinstein (School of Mathematical Sciences).

I understand that you’ve been using WebCT a little bit last year and the feature you’re particularly wanting to use was the discussion boards. How’s that worked for you?

Joel Feinstein, Mathematical Sciences:
That’s right, yes. I wanted the students to be able to ask questions of each other, of me, interact with each other, post queries. Also, occasionally, I would post questions and see if they would respond to those. Now, from the year before where I was using the portal, the students had said that they would have posted more comments if they could have done it anonymously. So I moved to WebCT, which does allow anonymous posting, and that worked quite well, especially for the second years.

I got a reasonable number of posts, they didn’t really interact with each other very much, a very small amount. There was a little bit about "How do you do proofs?" "What do you find hard/easy in proofs, and there was a bit of interaction there amongst the students. But mostly it was me asking questions and them giving some answers, then occasionally they would ask questions and I would give the answers, but very little interaction between the students.

Do you have any ideas how you might modify your usage of it to get that little bit more interaction?

I really don’t know what it is. I don’t know whether the students are finding it a little bit of a fuss to get into WebCT in the first place, and perhaps if there was something more direct from my webpages themselves, because they’re using the module webpages a lot, and if there was some sort of button that took them straight to the discussion page without having to log in again to WebCT and go through a few hoops, before they can get to what they need, that might be better.

And you were saying that you were using WebCT as a way of asking some questions and things. Was that mainly about getting feedback on how they were experiencing the course or to find out the problems that they were having?

I did various different things. First of all, I wanted to get the feedback on technology, and I did this by various means. I emailed a question to the whole class, but I put a discussion question on WebCT as well, “How did you find this works?" "Has it helped your experience?" "Do you find it distracting, or do you find it positive?" and so on. And I got feedback on that, which varied. As I got more used to the technology, it improved.

But that was just about the technology. I did also have issues I wanted to raise, I wanted to get people discussing, if possible, about what’s their experience of mathematical proof. "Did they find mathematical proof hard?" "Did they feel that they were more able to do it now after some of the issues that I’d addressed during the module?" "Did they know how to start a proof?"

A lot of people find the hardest thing is to know where to start. Once they got started it was a fairly logical progression as to what they should try next, but they didn’t know what the very first thing they should write is, and so they couldn’t start, and that’s the sort of thing people write. Now I got more comments last year than this year, and I don’t know why that is, either.

Produced: June 2007, in collaboration with the University's Promoting Enhanced Student Learning (PESL) initiative.

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Module design: Types of feedback (inclusive teaching)

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