One the most rewarding experiences a tutor can have is for a group of learners to get involved in a really good conversation. A discussion, one that develops and flows, maybe with a suggestion here or a question there to provoke further thought or move the group in a particular direction…….and then, your session time is up, people have to catch buses and the moment has passed.
But it needn’t pass, because you can extend your group’s involvement with a learning topic by using an online forum. There are two immediate advantages – the conversation can continue without people having to be physically together in one space, and people can have time to reflect on their own contributions and those of the rest of the group.
An online forum also shares the ‘confessional’ element. There are many learners who don’t want to open up in real time, in front of people. The forum gives these less assertive people group airtime in a way that is more comfortable and which can put them at greater ease for contributing in real time in a future session.
There are many ways available to tutors who want to add an online forum to a course. WEA provide forums as part of their website. Facebook, Blogger and Google groups are all free, and provide very flexible ways of allowing a group to interact online.
This is not to dismiss the digital divide or the need for forum users to have minimum literacy levels. Tutors using the internet need to apply safeguarding awareness. And it’s essential that tutors apply technology intelligently to their own group needs – definitely not one solution to fit all.
But lastly, with Ofsted promising to visit WEA in 2012, I’d like to suggest a case for online forums being yet one more area in which tutors can demonstrate learning in action, in an a very rich and yet astoundingly cost-effective way.