Online Discussion Tools

There are some great tools on the internet for discussion facilitation.  Many kids have an easier time expressing thoughts and contributing to discussions when they do not have to do it in a context that hinges on the spoken word and on-the-spot participation and articulation.   It makes sense to try to use some of these digital tools, not for the purpose of replacing spoken conversations, but as a means of diversifying the discussion and allowing the kids to efficiently determine which questions are important.  Google Moderator, among others, allows the students to post questions and then to vote on which questions they think are the most important.  They can also comment on those questions.   This could have immense value in the classroom.  Kids enjoy democratically prioritizing questions, and this is a fast and fun way of allowing them to do that.  If you want all class to be spent actually talking, then this tool could still be useful for homework assignments, etc.  I like a sort of hybrid electronic/oral classroom environment.


Here are two of those tools – google moderator and live question tool.


1.  Google Moderator is a Google service that uses crowdsourcing to rank user-submitted questions, suggestions and ideas. It was launched on September 25, 2008.[1] The service allows the management of feedback from a large number of people, who can vote for the top questions that they think should be posed and ask their own. The service aims to ensure that every question is considered, lets the audience see others’ questions, and helps the moderator of a team or event address the questions that the audience most cares about.[2]

In December 2008, Google Moderator was used by the President-Elect Barack Obama’s transition team in a public series called “Open for Questions”, in which they answered questions from the general public. The first series ran for less than 48 hours and attracted 1 million votes from 20,000 people on 10,000 questions.[7][8] The second series ran for just over a week and attracted 4.7 million votes from 100,000 people on 76,000 questions.[8] (Wikipedia)


2.  Live Question Tool.  Here is some information that they provide about their service:

Why is it significant?

The simplicity of this tool is one of its greatest assets, making
it easy to activate and use. As with student response tools like
clickers, the Live Question Tool offers an opportunity to con-
structively rethink the lecture. Like student response systems,
the Live Question Tool helps build interactivity into the lecture,
providing a backchannel for conversation and inquiry and allow-
ing students to help shape the class discourse. In offering votes,
students assess the work of others and take responsibility for
shaping the class discussion by determining the order in which
topics will be discussed—activities that represent higher-order
skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Students also actively reflect on the
lecture material and formulate questions. If an institution hosts its
own archive of sessions, this collection can be of use not only to
the students who were present but also to students and instruc-
tors in future sessions.
Further, the Live Question Tool gives instructors in large classes
an opportunity to structure the social backchannel that is an in-
creasingly common component of Internet-connected lecture
halls. The tool offers many of the engaging features found on a
social networking site—a conversational venue, the opportunity
to comment on what is happening, and participation in a larger
community—but does so within the structure of the course. With
the instructor as an active participant in the backchannel, stu-
dents may be more likely to keep questions on topic and to use
the questions to reflect on the lecture. This ability to harness the
dynamic of social networking could transform the lecture model
by encouraging students to engage more fully in the process of
their own education.

What are the downsides?

The open-source service of the Live Question Tool has no regular
update structure and no user support. Institutions are free to host
the tool on their own campuses and incorporate it into institutional
systems, providing the opportunity to archive their own sessions,
but using the hosted solution, while convenient, means sessions
are archived only until routine cleanup on the site is performed.
Only students with a computer and Internet access can participate
in the online discussion, and even among those, not all will want to
join. As a result, what is recorded in the tool may represent only a
fraction of the class involvement. Because lectures themselves are
not captured, archived sessions lack context. The Live Question
Tool provides an opportunity to change the classroom dynamic
by opening the online space for discussion, but this means that
instructors must relinquish some control to the audience, intro-
ducing an element of chaos that some lecturers will embrace and
others will dislike. This puts the burden on instructors to set com-
munity expectations and establish protocols for appropriate use
of the tool.

Where is it going?

The simplicity of the Live Question Tool, which makes it so inviting
to use, leads to a wish list of more advanced and integrated fea-
tures. However, because it is open-source, other institutions are
welcome to devise more sophisticated integration into their exist-
ing course management systems. By the same token, those who
want to archive their sessions can use the code to build their own
tools that tie into library resources so sessions can be recalled by
anyone with approved access. The result might be a large col-
lection of lesson plans and study materials. In combination with
webcasting, a simple application like Live Question Tool can open
classes, presentations, and brainstorming sessions to interactive
participation by anyone online. As a result, such technology has
application well beyond the lecture hall. Events ranging from staff
meetings to press conferences may soon employ such applica-
tions, some of which will be accessible by mobile devices.

What are the implications for
teaching and learning?
The Live Question Tool and other interactive applications are
changing the nature of lectures and presentations. These applica-
tions, which push tools from physical spaces into the online arena,
create a new middle ground for instruction that is collaborative and
participatory. The tool can be employed in a classroom of 20 as
easily as one of 200, and its anonymous login feature may invite
shy responders to join the conversation. This anonymity may be
important where classroom content is sensitive or controversial,
eliciting questions around topics students are not confident dis-
cussing aloud. The tool raises new opportunities to teach students
not just that they should question the world around them but how
they should go about it. The formation of a valid question, one that
triggers thought and opens a path to understanding, is the first
step in any quest for answers. This focus on the question emerg-
ing from the student rather than the instructor offers promise for
blended classes, uniting the audience in activity that is the same
for those physically present as for those participating remotely.

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