Students as Partners: Developing a Community of Practice using Padlet and Discussion boards Faculty Spark - View, reflect and apply
Last updated on 19/04/2021
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A number of strategies, tools and activities were incorporated into a Masters course on Sociolinguistics to create space for sharing ideas, experiences and expertise among students and the lecturer.
The topics in the Sociolinguistic course cover many aspects of language and its relationship to cultures, power, history, etc. These can be potentially controversial and sensitive areas for discussion so I wanted to create a space that was safe and yet challenged our assumptions and pre-conceived ideas. I also wanted spaces for lively, engaged discussion in which students could share their own experiences. Students in the Masters of TESOL program are from many different backgrounds, disciplines, cultures and have diverse life experiences. I wanted to create a space where they could share their knowledge and experiences with other members of the course, and learn from each other in order to develop a Community of Practice. These discussions and sharing would hopefully extend the students ideas for their assessment tasks, but also for their identities and professional practice as English language teachers. This approach was used in the Sociolinguistics course for the Masters of TESOL program with 20 students initially enrolled.
The course was being redesigned for mixed mode delivery, so required online platforms. Then Covid-19 forced classes online so these online tools were even more vital.
During the first session, we spent some time discussing appropriate conduct when talking about potentially sensitive and confronting issues in our course. We co-created guidelines for our classroom. The aim was to have a space where we felt comfortable sharing our thoughts and experiences, and a place to challenge our current views (in a respectful way). Two key online platforms were used for discussions and sharing of ideas and resources; Padlet and Discussion Board.
The Padlet wall was used initially as a place for responses to discussion questions related to weekly readings and pre-session videos (Asynchronous). These reflection questions acted as a spring board for further discussion during class time and as a starting point for students’ assessment tasks. Padlet was also used for sharing group responses during break out room discussions and for individual responses to questions asked during sessions (Synchronous). In one session, students had created mini Powerpoint presentations in order to share photographs of linguistic landscapes. They shared in breakout rooms and discussed each photograph. They then added some basic information for each photograph on the Powerpoint. The student uploaded their Powerpoints to the Padlet. When the class was together again in the main room, we reviewed some of the Powerpoints and the differences in linguistic landscapes, through screen share. Students could also look at other Powerpoints after the class. In addition, students who had not attended the session could view and add their own comments or resources to the Padlet wall. Students also shared articles from journals or newspapers on Padlet. These resources were in response to the topic of discussion and often enhanced the discussion or led to new discussion.
The Discussion Board was used to house the Weekly Blog posts that were an assessment task for the course. This function of Blackboard was chosen for the option to view all posts by a single student when marking the assessment. At the beginning of the course, students were given clear instructions on the purpose of the blogs and the expectations for contributions. Not only were the students expected to write a weekly blog post, they were also expected to respond to at least 3 other posts throughout the trimester. These blog posts were sometimes discussed during the sessions and were the basis for other assessment in the course.
Another aspect of my approach was to incorporate all languages and cultures of the students wherever possible. I shared resources that were in multiple languages and students often shared aspects of other languages they knew and other cultures.
The students in the course really embraced the opportunity to share their life experiences and their knowledge in these online spaces. They shared their understanding of topics through the lens of their own, individual viewpoints and shared numerous resources which enriched our communal understanding of these topics. Through these activities, we created a Community of Practice, where we had a common interest of English language teaching and learnt from each other as we explored the weekly topics and related them to our teaching practice. For example, we learnt about language maintenance efforts for Russian minority languages, we compared different writing systems across the home languages of students in our class, students shared their experiences of learning English in countries outside Australia, we shared LGBTQI+ friendly teaching ideas, and so much more. This course would never have been so rich if I was relying on my own knowledge and experiences alone.
The Padlet was an excellent platform for the sharing of initial ideas and for sharing articles, Powerpoints and other resource. The discussion board was used frequently with over 400 entries over the 12 week period. There were many conversations that transpired in this space with the students asking and answering each other's questions and elaborating on their experiences, knowledge and ideas. They often shared links to resources in this space also, such as groups in the community, journal articles from other courses/research and even television series in particular Vietnamese dialects. These conversations also informed my teaching during the sessions together as I could follow up on new ideas, elaborate on the topics of interest and share our collective knowledge.
I believe a key factor to the success of these tools was my presence in both spaces. I regularly read the blog posts and added comments and questions. I spent time in the first few sessions outlining the expectations and provided questions to consider for both their individual posts and their responses to others. I also commented on posts and shared resources on the Padlet. Another key factor was the value placed on these tools. I mentioned the tools regularly during the sessions, and shared comments, ideas from students’ posts. I also linked the activities and posts to their assessment and the broader concept of our community of sharing and take-aways as teachers. I also made it very clear that there was no expectation for ‘excellent academic writing style’ in these platforms. I wanted students to not feel pressure when contributing and not spend too long rewriting and making it an onerous task. The goal was to share initial ideas and reactions and the only expectation was to write using logical, understandable sentences.
In one of the final sessions, students shared their ideas and outlines for their final assignments – a literature review and teaching recommendations on one topic. Trust had been built within the group and they were comfortable sharing these ideas with each other. It was another great opportunity for shared knowledge, constructive feedback and for the community of practice to grow further. They even requested to be able to read each other’s final assignments in order to learn more about the chosen topics.
There was great feedback from this course with students valuing the in-depth discussions and sharing that occurred. For example, “I liked being able to discuss experiences and opinions openly with other classmates on the discussion board and I was surprised at how well everyone participated. It was a good opportunity to learn from peers.” Students also commented on their changed views on these topics and the safe environment created for discussions. Another comment stated:
Some tips when using these tools for creating engaging discussions:
- Consider what the purpose of the tool is prior to choosing it and setting it up.
- Provide clear guidelines for what is expected (examples of questions, ‘rules’ for respectful conversation, etc)
- Don’t keep these types of tools in isolation of each other. Tie them in to the other aspects of the course, so students can see the benefit for contribution.
- Provide space for students to be creative in their sharing. Sometimes the students in the course wrote about their response to the reading, other times it was more self reflection related to their experiences, other times the focus was on the teaching context. When a post was a little ‘different’ or interesting, I made sure to comment and validate the contribution.
- Read the comments and contributions regularly and comment, both on the platform and during teaching sessions. This was vital at the beginning of the course, but as students become more engaged and contributed more regularly, the conversations evolved themselves between students.
- Consider these spaces to be opportunities for students to share their expertise and experiences that move the collective group beyond the instructor’s knowledge.
Next time I teach this course, I will use Padlet more frequently and introduce more diverse functions of images, drawing, videos etc earlier in the course. We can then build more resources into the course for students to develop their ideas on the topics- both for assessment and their future interactions outside the classroom.
I will encourage students to be creative in Padlet and use the variety of functions to share their ideas and resources – Padlet is so much fun, I want that fun aspect within the course.
I want to take the experience from this course to create similar sharing opportunities in my other courses. I would love to know which tools and activities are being used in other courses for engagement, sharing and building communities of practice.
Arts, Education and Law
School of Humanities, Language and Social Sciences
Dr Kelly Shoecraft
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Students as Partners: Developing a Community of Practice using Padlet and Discussion boards. Retrieved from https://app.secure.griffith.edu.au/exlnt/entry/9769/view(2021).