Discussion Board as a Tool for Low Stakes Writing

Digital tools are an increasingly common way for instructors to engage students in the writing process. The use of these tools can be a particularly effective strategy for instructors to facilitate low stakes writing, which is a core WAC concept. In their personal lives, students likely use technology such as social networking sites and messaging apps to communicate with each other on a regular basis. Thus the introduction of this technology into the classroom represents a natural extension, and a comfortable medium for many students.

In 2013 the Pew Research Center released a report in which they asked teachers about the use of digital tools in their instruction. These instructors cited three main ways in which digital technology can benefit student writing. These ways are:

  • digital technologies enable students to share their writing with a larger and more diverse audience;
  • digital technologies provide students with the opportunity to collaborate to a greater extent;
  • digital technologies facilitate creative expression on the part of students.

One digital tool that instructors can use in their classes to encourage low stakes writing is a discussion board. Discussion boards allow students to express themselves in an interactive manner. Students are put in a situation in which they have to articulate an opinion and defend their position against other students who may disagree.

When organizing a discussion board, the instructor must balance the desire for students to express themselves freely with the need to advance course objectives. If the discussion board is set up correctly, this balance can be achieved. There are a few things instructors should keep in mind when setting up a discussion board:

  • Good topic questions are key. This is a fundamental step to stimulate a lively discussion. The question should be tied to course outcomes. Further, there are many types of high quality questions. For example, one type is a comparison-type question where the instructor asks the students to compare themes or issues and take a stand. This is a natural way to create debate amongst students.
  • Maintaining a flow to the discussion is critical. It is the instructor’s role to make sure that the discussion is staying on topic and that students are not engaging in unproductive dialogue or conflict. This might require the instructor to reframe the question or ask more probing questions, particularly if the discussion has hit a lull. It also requires bringing closure to the discussion with some type of summary that ties the discussion to course content.
  • High quality, widespread participation is the goal. To this end, instructors might want to make participation in a discussion board part of the final grade. However, instructors will also want to be clear about what represents high quality participation versus comments for the sake of comments.

These are just some of the things to keep in mind when organizing a discussion board, and certainly a discussion board has its unique challenges. Nonetheless, discussion boards represent one interactive and fun way in which instructors can encourage students to write more. It also may be a particularly effective way to elicit participation from shy or typically quiet students.

Workshop Recap: Avoiding Plagiarism and Using Library Resources

On November 11, WAC Writing Fellows Claire Hoogendoorn and Jake Cohen, together with Bronwen Densmore of the Ursula C. Schwerin Library, led a faculty workshop on avoiding plagiarism and using library resources.  This was a lively workshop in which WAC Fellows and City Tech instructors shared their understanding of and experiences with plagiarism.

The presentation was organized around three main topics: understanding plagiarism, strategies for preventing plagiarism, and responding to plagiarism.  Some key points from the discussion are highlighted below.

Understanding Plagiarism

  • In order for students to avoid plagiarism, it is critical for them to know exactly what it means. The NYCCT statement on academic integrity is a necessary first step in this regard.
  • Not all plagiarism is equal: there are different kinds and levels of plagiarism.
  • Students commit plagiarism for a host of different reasons. Sometimes plagiarism involves an instance of pure cheating, however other times citation errors and/or bad paraphrasing are to blame.

Strategies for Preventing Plagiarism

  • Educating students about plagiarism – i.e. having an open and honest conversation about the topic – is the first step toward preventing plagiarism.
    • To this end, the WAC Writing Fellows will be organizing a student workshop on the topic next spring.
  • Part of the education process includes outlining the pedagogical purpose of research, providing examples of plagiarism, and modelling correct citation format.
    • There are also online quizzes (e.g. via the Baruch College Library) that can be used to reinforce the lessons.
  • Creating high quality assignments is a fundamental step in preventing plagiarism: Scaffolding assignments remains one of the most effective methods.
    • It is also helpful to use details in assignments and to empower students.
  • The City Tech Library has a number of resources to assist students in doing research and completing assignments.
  • Paraphrasing is difficult! This is true for both native and non-native English speakers.  Developing paraphrasing skills requires proper training and practice.

Responding to Plagiarism

  • Refer to the Academic Integrity Policy Manual for information about how to report cases of plagiarism.
  • We have to report every case of plagiarism.
  • There exist electronic resources for suspected plagiarism, e.g. SafeAssign

The slides and handout from the workshop are linked below…

PowerPoint Slides Handout