Monday, August 04, 2014
Wise and worldly readers, what do you think? Have you seen this done well? Alternately, have you seen it done badly in ways that offer useful lessons?
I have not seen this in a college context.
However, my profession (actuary) has an informal bulletin board (actuarialoutpost.com) which serves this function for many of us. We take self-study exams (3000 or so hours of studying) to get our professional credentials, so there's a significant commonality with online students.
Things that seem to make it work well:
1) Limits on entry; generally, you have to be an actuary or student to want to be involved, and you have to sign up for the board.
2) Moderation: this has deteriorated over the years, but an unmoderated forum is worse than useless. The best moderation guide I know of is this one: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006036.html
(The students create their own Facebook groups in our case.)
What worked (for student questions/confusion) in this context was the tech support person for the entire sequence of courses. He responded to in-the-moment questions and longer-range questions. He responded within 24 hours, always.
Of course, students could also post questions about how to use the system or how to interpret the syllabus on-line to each other too -- and since they were on line 24/7, they could get answers quicker from each other. But for the gold standard, they went to the tech person.
It was a formal, 1-semester, undergrad partnership where senior undergrads were partnered with first years to help them navigate the university labyrinth and provide moral support for the first-semester transition to university. You just signed up and the program partnered you with someone on the week classes started. You were required to talk at least once a week - recommended minimum time was 30 minutes - for at least one semester.
I could see an online program like this with an online sign-up; you can weed out spam by requiring student ID's to sign up, or integrate it into your software as a non-credit "course" or something similar. Once registered, you would be partnered with another student and you can chat online/e-mail, all using your institution's IT system.
The advantage of this system is that it is 1-on-1 which gets over the anonymity problem that plague large-group approaches. This way, it's small, and in-house, and completely online.