A Practical Approach

Discussion forums have a way of increasing engagement, but they need to be used right. Considering the effects of COVID-19 and classrooms having to flip to a blended mode of delivery, how can we use discussion forums to increase engagement and track learner progress?

Background

Over the past ten years the adult education and training industry has been changing. Adult and further education is designed for students who are graduates from high school; however, the adult and further education section is also focused on second chance learners.

The Ministry of Education in New Zealand notes the purpose of the industry as being a “mainstream secondary education [that] can offer adults foundation skills or ‘second chance’ education. Adult students can have the opportunity to gain National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) qualifications that they didn’t achieve when they first attended secondary school as a regular student.” Adults are classified by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) as 16 years or over, which is the legal age at which a student can make their own educational decisions.

In this sector, over the last ten years, enrollments have been increasing in terms of the qualifications offered, such as trades training and apprenticeships. This is a key focus for the government to assist in rebuilding the economy and this training type is appealing to students due to the free fees structure. Meanwhile, the Tertiary Education Commission, as a government entity, had been changing its focus on free fees study where students are able to complete a full qualification without any financial cost to themselves. Additional emphasis has been placed on joint training ventures such as Trade Academic funding, where higher education providers work in collaboration with schools to offer unit standards and qualifications jointly on the framework. This has led to more employment within the adult education sector; however, due to the embedded literary and numeracy requirements, this is adding to the teaching load of staff.

This has been an important focus as it enabled students to gain an introductory course into a range of areas to help them gain an understanding of a suitable career direction. In addition, Youth Guarantee funding is aimed at 16- to 22-year-old students who do not have a formal qualification from high school. There is also a strong focus within both Trade Academy and Youth Guarantee funding on embedded literacy and numeracy. This adds value to the industry as graduates are more work ready. Some education providers are reporting a struggle in this due to a lack of training and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority updating the requirements of these standards.

Discussion Forums

Over the past two years teaching has had to change due to COVID-19 and our classrooms have had to be flipped and move online with a range of blended approaches while students and teachers recover. We can no longer just track engagement by students just logging in and submitting assignments.

Usually, the uptake of discussion forums is low. As an example, at a 12-week course which has a discussion forum each week, the uptake might be 50%. However, by allocating a small percentage of around 1% of a total course’s assignment allocation toward each discussion on the forums the uptake can be increased by another 20%.

How Do We Become More Active On Forums?

However, it is not just about the assessing of these discussions on forums, it is also about the tutor having an active presence within the course. Students are wanting to know that tutors are human and that they are reviewing work and providing encouragement.

With the change in learning environments, it is important that we consider how we as tutors can become more active. Being active is now not just about reviewing and monitoring students’ work but more about the completion of the learning alongside students. This means tutors now need to become more active and provide feedback on the students’ contributions to the discussion forums as they go through the course. This means tutors are now having to comment on individual posts, whereas historically, this feedback was provided overall.

The more the tutor is present within an online course the more engaged and at home the students feel. This in turn enables them to not only develop their own learning but to learn from other students. As tutors, we are there to facilitate their engagement, and courses with a strong facilitator presence in turn have higher engagement.

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