Student Collaboration in SharePoint forums

February 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Learning Gateways, SharePoint, Twynham School 

During this week I have been talking about how to set up SharePoint sites for high user adoption with students. We started our sites without web 2.0 features which was partly due to some limitations in SharePoint but more importantly to keep the project simple. We had 3 weeks to set up a Revision Gateway and therefore needed to build the sites from the centre. When we had the sites up and running and knew what students wanted we started to turn our attention to allowing students to interact both with their teachers and more importantly with their peers. The obvious place to start seemed to be forums.

One big early message we missed was the idea of forum etiquette. Do students know how to use forums appropriately? In our case the answer was no and given that we put no training or restrictions on the forums we learned a very difficult lesson. Clearly when a student does not realise that anything they say will have their name next to it they feel comfortable saying anything! Is the technology at fault here? The real lesson here is if we want to encourage students to interact we need to support them with training on how to use the technology and what they can and cannot say.

We came back to forums in September 2008 and this time with the lessons we learned from our first attempt we enjoyed more success. Year 7 (11 year olds) were working on a start up project studying the History of Christchurch (their town). Their History home page looks like this. Click on the image for a better view.

Hitory Gateway Year 7

Hitory Gateway Year 7 click to enlarge

At the bottom of the page is a forum to discuss the independent research students are completing. The key here is students are researching independently but this process also involves inter-dependance. When students click on the History forum they can select a topic which they view as follows. Again click on the image

History Forum- click to enlarge

Looking at the forum discussion above, nothing that the students are saying is profound. This was actually the first interaction between students on the forum and two students are telling the other to get of the computer and visit the site! Over time students have developed increasing sophistication in how they interact and share information. Although the forums were started by teachers they have increasingly been able to withdraw from the discussions or join at key moments. The vast majority of discussion are taking place between students and this form of collaboration is growing through SharePoint forums.