There’s lots of talk these days about using Web 2.0 to engage and encourage pupils and students as individual learners. What a lot of people have missed is the humble forum.
At school I was shy to the point of recluse – I still remember at around Y9 I finally had a group of friends and couldn’t stop asking myself why they would want to be my friends. I tended not toshy away from expressing my opinions in conversation for fear of having the group suddenly turn on me. That’s not to say I didn’t express my opnion in other ways, music being one, but I would often step back from commiting myself to a point of view I knew might lead to a falling out.
A number of years later I discovered Usenet (or Newsgroups), one of the earliest parts of the Internet and began posting under a pseudonym, HappyHippy. During the next few years I went from a shy lurker to an outspoken and regualer contributor in several newsgroups. The ability to post relatively anonymously, the experience of having been caught up in flame wars and come out unscathed and the eventual realisation that my opinions are often echoed and occasionally have some influence over others was a really important change that was necessary before I could even consider joinging a profession like teaching, where I’m required to stand up and talk to literally hundreds of people each day – all this from a lad who was almost in tears having dropped his script, gotten lost and then frozen entirely in front of 10 whole classmates during a completely inconsequential physics presentation.
At my school we use Moodle, and we have a course specifically set up for ‘Subject Support’. We have two forums there – one for on-topic discussions (eg. why this link in the VLE doesn’t work, what the concept in chemistry was really all about) and one for off-topic discussion (eg. whether Aqua are really better than Justin Timberlake). Three or four pupils there have really taken to it, including a Y7 pupil who has only been at the school for 5 weeks but has responded more than the rest of the school put together thus far (note: that’s respond, as in provide answer, not asking inane questions).
Maybe we could set up some more anonymous forums and let pupils anonymously battle it out. Seeing that they ought to come out of it with their physical being and their reputations intact (no-one would know that it was the class thug who so eloquently summarised his experiences or the shy little mouse who suddenly found he could suddenly express his insights), it might just do them some good.