In addition to the convenience for students that comes with asynchronous communication, compositionists, teaching both face-to-face and online writing courses, frequently note the benefits of discussion board postings, including the extra time allowed for reflection, the increased contribution by female students and by those who typically may not speak up in a f2f environment, and the added practice writing and considering the needs and reactions of a real audience (Alexander, 1997; L. Blair, 2003; C. Selfe, 1990; Yancey, 2003).
For the online writing course in particular, the discussion board can become the tool through which citizens—or writing students, in this case—are united and are invited to shape the larger community. Assigned frequently throughout the semester, even weekly if the course design allows, discussion prompts should promote student engagement with course materials yet also with other members of the course, including the instructor.
Although the burden for response and evaluation may fall primarily on the instructor, one strategy for fostering community and the co-creation of knowledge in an online writing course is to require students to respond to one another’s posts as well as to the initial prompt. While this exchange mirrors in some ways the discourse of the face-to-face classroom, the online environment
- allows all students to contribute
- provides a written record of the discussion
- invites students to participate in an ongoing exchange over the course of the semester
As a result, these discussions also become sites for collaboration and student-centered learning, again, foundations of both first-year writing and feminist pedagogies, and respond to a need described by Simmons and Grabill (2007) for coordinated efforts among citizens (p. 441). What is more, although online writing instructors may withdraw from discussions in attempt to promote a student-centered environment, their careful and deliberate participation may further support feminist teaching.
Beyond modeling responses as Kathleen Blake Yancey (2003) suggests (p. 113), an instructor may follow up on a student post with questions that solicit clarification or invite the student to draw upon personal experience that promotes the construction of identity. This ongoing exchange and move toward critical thinking also creates opportunities for increased response and civic participation among students enrolled in the course.