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Asynchronous Discussion Forums

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Messages sent via e-mail or posted to newsgroups or Web discussions are know as asynchronous, meaning that messages are exchanged over an extended length of time rather than back and forth simultaneously. Writers can take as much time as they need to compose. Additionally, since most of these forums reproduce the some or all of the text that authors are responding to, writers can see ideas in the context of a written discussion and situate their own projects within a larger conversation. If students are working on a research project, this kind of exposure will not only broaden their understanding of their topics, it can also provide valuable resources which they can incorporate into their work.

To involve your students in these conversations in useful ways, be sure that you build enough time into assignments for fruitful asynchronous discussions to catch hold and develop. Students will also need to spend the early stages getting acclimated and learning the conventions of each forum.

Further, think of the conversations in these forums as supplementing or complementing traditional resources. Students who have already developed an understanding of some of the complexities of their topic either through library or Internet research will be in a better position to query the forum for relevant information and to participate more fully in the discussion that develops.

Also be sure to integrate discussion forums activities carefully into your overall course design. Encourage involvement by using participation requirements or by selecting some students to act as moderators for each week's activities. You'll need to allow for and find a way of giving credit to these activities to successfully integrate asynchronous forums into your courses.

Finally, stress critical reading of the sources that students cull from asynchronous forums. Since the relatively unfiltered nature of these forums can lead to a range of sophistication and accuracy in the messages that students come across, they will need to evaluate resources with extra care.

You'll have three basic opportunities to engage in real-time conversations:

Email Discussion Lists
If students are comfortable with e-mail logistics and have enough time to become interested (if not active) participants on a discussion list, they can find debates between invested members of multiple intellectual communities. For more information see
The CompSite Email Discussion List Pages
Here you'll find more general information and links to resources.
Usenet Newsgroups
There are (at last count) over 20,000 Usenet newsgroups, each devoted to a specific topic. Newsgroups, usually involve less investment than e-mail discussion lists. With so many clearly prescribed forums available (even with the large percentage that are devoted to nontraditional scholarly issues) students can quickly find a forum related to their topics. You can get more information at
The CompSite Newsgroup Pages
These pages have links to resources and additional information.
Web Message Forums
With these forums, you can participate in asynchronous exchanges. These forums are likely to be available at your institution via an instructional software package. If not you can access discussion forums on the Web. For more information see
Reference.Com's Search Page
Search for Web Forums by keyword.




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Author: Daniel Anderson
© copyright 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 Allyn & Bacon
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