Bulletin Boards as Dialogic Constructivism for Learners
The advent of technology in the classroom has brought many new acronyms into teachers' lexicon: MOOs, MUDs, VREs, as well as chats and Discussion boards. Such technology, when students are loosed upon it, decenter the teacher and empower the student. Such a transition is firmly grounded in the ideological work of Friere who admonished that learning requires that students create knowledge and not be mere "receptacles for received knowledge." Discussion Boards, particularly, extend the notion of "classroom discussions" into a realm much more inclusive, and often more beneficial for students. Such peer learning aims to "sharpen academic skills…and enhance subject matter mastery by promoting deeper levels of understanding based on discussion and a free exchange of ideas" (De Lisi 5). The socio-cognitive implications for both ESL and native-English speakers will be examined to demonstrate the practical value of using discussion boards to enhance student learning.
Classroom discussions, in part, are well grounded in the now current notions of constructivism and postmodernism: "Most simply put, the transition involves a shift from the notion of knowledge as the apprehension of universal truth…to the notion of knowledge as the construction in language of partial and temporary truths by multiple and contradictory individuals" (Cooper 143). In such a paradigm, students are contributors to knowledge, which is jointly constructed by all the contributors, who may even produce multiple knowledges. In fact, Cooper tells us, students "need to be able to engage in the process of knowledge construction" (144). Discussions in themselves "emphasize the communal aspect of knowledge making" (Baker and Kemp, qtd in Cooper, 143).
Evidence from the field indicates that such knowledge-making is a great enticement for students. Ellen Hendrix, in her forthcoming article “A Language All Its Own: Writing in the Distance Learning Classroom” reports on the experience of Georgia Southern University of creating web-based classes on the commercial tool WebCT. She reports that "online communications activities significantly improved students' ability and willingness to interact" (our emphasis). Online communications media offer tools that facilitate what Britton calls "expressive" communication (Britton 136). Expressive discourse allows the speaker/writer to express his or her views of the world. The bulletin boards allow students to be "expressive,” says Hendrix, in that they can demonstrate "an interest in the writer as well as in what he (sic) has to say about the world" (Britton 136). "Likewise, the bulletin board allows all students to be writers in whom other students take interest" (Hendrix).
Hendrix outlines the process of using the bulletin board in class as follows: The process begins with the teacher posting prompts related to reading assignments. Students then respond to those prompts and also...