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Discussion Tools & Technology-Rich Learning

How can threaded discussions be used in the classroom?

What's a blog?

How can I facilitate effective online discussions?

man with laptop on benchFrom forums to video conferencing there are many different ways for students, teachers, and librarians to communicate and share ideas.

Students hold classroom discussions every day. Why not hold virtual discussions with students from around the world? Discussions can be held from anywhere. With a wireless connection at your school or library, your students could even be outside. Discussion tools can be used to facilitate global understanding and sharing.

Use the following resources on this page to learn about four different approaches to discussions and interaction on the Internet.

Discussion tools are a great way to actively involve every member of your class in a conversation. Even the shy students excel in online interactions.

eye means essentialRead Literature Discussion in Cyberspace: Young Adolescents Using Threaded Discussion Groups to Talk About Books by T. DeVere Wolsey in Reading Online (2004, January/February, 7(4)).

Threaded Discussion Forums

There are a number of existing discussion forums and forums with advertising. Before using these with students, you'll want to check them out.

Read Free Discussion Forum Hosting Services (TESL-EJ, September 2003) to see a comparison of free services and how to evaluate discussion forum services.

Discussion Forums

Asiaco Forum - advertising banners

Board2Go - advertising banners

Subscription, free trial

Google Groups

Nicenet.org star means quality
Nonprofit, no advertising

QuickTopic - advertising banners

VoyForums - advertising banners

World Crossing - advertising banners

Yahoo Groups - advertising banners

Discussion Software

If you wish to build a bulletin board from scratch, check out the following open-source software options.

Discussion is only one aspect of this free, open-source course management system. You must download the software and put it on yourweb server.

Open-source bulletin board package.


Technology Integration

There are many existing discussion projects you can join or use to gather ideas. Let's get started by exploring a few examples.

eye means essentialRead Learning Through Discussion: Designing Tasks for Critical Inquiry and Reflective Learning by Karen Ngeow and Yoon-San Kong (ERIC Digest, EDO-CS-03-06 December 2003).

Go to Writer's Window - Discussion Board. Read their Frequently Asked Questions. Notice their emphasis on safety and their registry requirements.

Read Classroom Discussions for the Twenty-first Century by Beth DePasquale and Tom Miller (Technology and Learning, August 2002).

Read Bulletin Boards: Expand and Improve Written Communication by Joe Pauley (Technology and Learning, May 2001).

Discussion Projects

BookSpot - Book Discussion Center star means quality
Links to online book discussions.

Dave's ESL Cafe Discussion Center
Specifically designed for ESL students and teachers.

Epals Discussion Boards star means quality
Join on of epals' many special or ongoing discussion boards. All discussions are moderated, so postings may take a few hours to appear.

Study guides each have message boards such as Lord of the Flies (Use care, not moderated).

Teenlink from New York Public Library
Join a threaded discussion and discuss poems, books or other issues.

To Kill a Mockingbird Discussion Area
Discuss this novel.

Writer's Window - Discussion Board
Join a discussion board about writing.

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In the late 1990s, the weblog or blog was introduced as a place where web users called bloggers could post links, articles, news, and commentaries. For example, the "what's new" section of a website is often organized as a blog. Some people consider online diaries and journals as blogs.

Read A Brief History of the Blog (PDF document) by David Wiley in A. Kovalchick & K. Dawson (Eds.) Educational Technology: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

eye means essentialCheck out the Annual Weblog Awards page called the bloggies to see some examples of the best blogs.

In most cases, a blog is a web page containing a series of entries listed chronologically with the most recent entries at the top of the page. This organization makes it easy for return users to skim through the most additions. The content of blogs varies from family news and personal ramblings to movie reviews and corporate project updates. The audience for blogs can be personal, family, business, classmates, or the world. Some blogs are created by individuals while others are intended to be collaborative. Many blogs are open to the public, while others are password protected. Many blogs allow some or all users to post comments, add to discussions, or share ideas. Keep in mind that blogging is time-consuming. Most blogs are quickly abandoned.

eye means essentialGo to Escrapbooking: Blogging for lots of classroom integration ideas.
Brainstorm ways you could use a blog in your school library or classroom.

What kind of person would make an effective blogger?

Also, read The Art of Blogging - Part I and The Art of Blogging - Park 2 by George Siemens.

Simple Blog Services

There are many ways to create a blog. If you have coding skills, you can install server software and write your own code. You can also use a script developed by someone else. Finally, you can simply use a free or inexpensive blog service such as Diaryland and Pitas.com.


Class Blogmeister

Diaryland. Great for free, online diaries. star means quality

Earthlink Blogging. Great, but must have an account.


Pitas.com. Simple free blogging tool. star means quality


Blog Directories


Blogdex. Lists the most popular blogs (read epinions).

BlogStreet - Top 100 popular blogs

BlogStreet - Top 100 important blogs

Eatonweb. Lists over 14,000 weblogs.

Open Directory Project: Weblogs. Provides links to blog resources including hosting services.

Weblogs.com. Lists recently changed blogs.


Blog Software

MoveableType. One of the most popular options star means quality


Technology Integration

eye means essentialRead You Blog, We Blog: A Guide to How Teacher-Librarians Can Use Weblogs to Build Communication and Research Skills by Theresa Ross Embrey in Teacher Librarian (Volume 30, Number 2, December 2002).

Read How to Write a Better Weblog: A List Apart. It discusses techniques for writing in this new format.

Blogging from LearnNC

Blogging for Librarians

Blogs for Educators

SchoolBlog News

Useful Resources and Reading

d2r: an introduction to weblogs by Diego Doval

Weblogs: a History and Perspective by Rebecca Blood

Weblog Resources FAQs from Robot Wisdom

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Live Chats and Video Conferencing

Live activities have their own opportunities and challenges. Chats involve typing messages to another person(s). These messages are logged on the screen in a long list as they are written. Other live interactions such as audio conferencing and video conferencing can use the same software. As a matter of fact, some people, chat, audio conference, video conference, and share files all at the same time!

Chats and video conferences involve students in two-way or many way conversations. These interactions are synchronous. In other words, people are writing or talking in "real-time" as the event happens. Depending on the speed of the connection, there may be a slight delay, but this doesn't generally interfere with conversation.

Pros and Cons

Pros. The benefit of live interaction is the immediacy of the communication. Questions can be posed and answered immediately. You can quickly see the reaction of your audience to your work. It's also a great way to collaborate because suggestions can be provided and resources uploaded "on the fly". For example, a person on one end may be updating a web page while a person in a remote location is providing suggestions.

Cons. There are a number of drawbacks. First, since the interaction is live, the parties must be available. Through services such as AOL Instant Messenger a buddy list shows who is online and available to write, talk, or video conference. Second, the conversations can be overwhelming for people who think slowly or have trouble typing. When multiple people are chatting together, the messages fly by and some people have trouble following the flow of a conversation. This seems to be a problem that can be overcome with practice. The final problem is the technology. Not all of the services work together. For example, you might have a camera and software set up to use MSN and your friend might have a Mac and AOL. The technology can also be slow for video conferencing unless everyone has high-speed Internet access.

Popular Services for Chats and Video Conferencing

Chats can be accomplished through a web-based system or through stand-alone software. In some web-based systems, plug-ins must be downloaded for use with your browser.

AIM star means quality

Students need skills in using the discussion tools. However, it takes most students only a few minutes to learn the basics. Teach enhancements like adding graphics and URLs to discussions as students become more skilled.

MSN Messenger

Technology Integration

The following resources will provide lots of ideas for using chats and video conferencing in the classroom and library.

Author Chats
Participate in online chats with authors.

Classroom Conferencing
Explore classroom conferencing options and activities.

Read In
Online interaction with children's authors and illustrators.

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Netiquette and Safety on the Net

How to Keep Safe in Chat Rooms
A website on chat safety that explores the dangers of chatting with strangers.

Netiquette from Indianapolis Marion County Public Library

This is a short story that reminds students about the importance of not giving out personal information on the web. It would be a great article to read with the class before starting an online chat or discussion!

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