Including a discussion board activity is not difficult but the fact that a different medium of communication is used makes instruction more varied and student learning more meaningful as learners actively engage not only with the readings but also with the opinions of their peers on the readings.
The project aimed to redesign an upper-level German course with an eye to enhancing learning through the use of various technology resources. The learning goals of the ongoing course GERM 161 Issues and Trends are twofold. Students learn about three thematic areas related to the salient issues in the contemporary German society—demography, patriotism, and military missions—while also exploring ways of constructing an argument and express various perspectives, including their own, in complex, academic-register German. The focus of the language acquisition was on written language with secondary foci on writing and listening.
The goals of the project were to enhance learners active engagement with the content of the unit and promoting argumentative language use. Principal Investigator Peter C. Pfeiffer (German) and his project team developed a series of prompts for conducting three rounds of online discussions within the second unit of the course, which focused on demography. The prompts were written in such a way as to elicit argumentation about the issues among the students who contribute to the discussion board as discussion initiators and responders. In order to scaffold the tasks the project team created a model for the discussion entries, both for discussion initiators and responders. The models were analyzed for the typical features of argumentative discourse with the purpose of modeling these features to the students for discussion board assignment and throughout the unit of the course.
The project was designed as a departmental effort in which faculty, graduate students and selected undergraduate students worked collaboratively to re-design the course, thereby also gaining experience with technologies that can be used in other contexts/courses. Findings from the study suggest that discussion board assignments can provide effective and new ways for learner cognitive and linguistic engagement with the content of the course and with peers. Given the results of this project, a new initiative was developed that involved the organization of a telecollaboration chat with partners in Germany within the same course but in a different unit. See "Fostering critical engagement with humanities content learning through telecollaboration in an advanced foreign language class," led by Marianna Pankova (German), to learn more about the Round 3 ITEL award that followed.