We used Google Groups for discussion in our ENG099's. You can see the coolness HERE.
Last semester, Ximena, Luke, and I decided to try a group interaction on The Matrix film using Google Groups. Our primary interest at the time was to test the tool out live and with 70+ students across several different levels (ENG099 through ENG103) all interacting online. Dr. X and Dr. V may disagree with me about the particulars, but my impression at the time was that the tool was a little "chunky" compared to other "discussion forum" tools like BlackBoard in that it did not automatically update when students posted, so they had to continually "refresh." On the other hand, Google Groups (as many Google tools) is designed to run on any computer anywhere and anytime. Their essentially empty, and iconic, search page sort of sums up what I see as their philosophy: "make sure it works." And, I must say I have had no, that is zero, problems with Google Groups whereas I had all sort of problems with discussions in BlackBoard. In any case, our exercise went well, though as it was a "one-off," we had little follow-up as a group.
This time, Dr. X and I decided to start off by getting our students used to the platform in our classes and, after a few disagreements, we agreed to share one group, or one "page", for all four of our classes. Some confusion ensued [only in one of my classes--X], but not as much as we expected and students though it was pretty "cool" (and I am ironically remembering that I used an almost identical tool with basic writers in 1994).
[Google has updated Groups so it is easier to work with and you can see the thread of the discussion better, but the user has to click on "Use the New Google Groups" to get this version. Several of my students and I did. Piece o'cake--X]
We had a set of questions for them to respond to [about The Truman Show--X].
This time, however, we built the discussion into the learning objectives of the class by adding one rule. They had to post in the following format:
[We did try this format last semester, remember? We just have better instructions and follow-up this semester--X]
You can see the group page, discussions, and even join in HERE (though you will need to "join group" on the right hand side of the page to post).
Our students read and wrote and wrote and read for over 90 minutes and had a good time doing it. For basic writers that is close to miraculous. [Mine only for 60, but the responses are generally clear and accurate, demonstrating they understand the three concepts (Bloom: Comprehension Level) and use them to argue and judge other people's arguments (Bloom: Evaluation Level).--X]
[Next week we will repeat the exercise but mix classes so students will be responding to people they have never met--X]
I need to think about Bloom's Taxonomy for this one. I'll follow up later. [Done--X]