I decided the other day to install some kind of forum software for my students’ use, and I was looking for someone free, easy, and somewhat configurable. Given that I’ve never installed a forum, or maintained a board, I was a little nervous about how setting it up, but I went off and downloaded a copy of Vanilla and spent about five minutes setting it up, about half an hour grabbing some extensions and prepackaged themes and styles for it, and about ten minutes setting up those, and now I have a functional discussion board on my website. (Not this one, the my students use.)
What was relatively painless, and while there might well be better software solutions out there, this one was easy for me, just barely configurable enough, and it looks like it will do the trick.
I’ll have install a second board (with a different address) for my writing class, sometime tonight: I’ve decided that setting up a forum with the same “blog” template I’m using on the board I linked above is easier than reconfiguring an existing blog template to make it do what I want it to do… which is, in fact, to give central prominence to posts and threads already under way, while offering an up-front and easy opening for students to start their own discussions as well. We’ll see how this changes student participation in the “blog” component of the course; I’m hoping it’ll become more interactive. One bonus is that the forum doesn’t distinguish between posts and comments, making it easier for me to scale participation in some ways… though I’ll have to pay closer attention to the discussions there if I’m to stay on top of things.
I’m also thinking of getting students to do collaborative writing work (in a couple of classes) using the document share function on Google Documents. Streamline, streamline, streamline. Who knows, maybe they’ll be the most efficient human beings on campus in a few months?
Yeah, yeah, I know… teachers should nurture modest hopes. Then again, it wouldn’t take to many technological hacks to boost the average student’s productivity, if the student were willing to pick up and use the technology deposited at their very feet. We’ll have to see, I guess!