“Continuing the Conversation”
Using WebCT Vista’s Discussion Function: The Thread, Blog and the Journal
There are many challenges in engaging student participation during in class discussions:
Lack of familiarity or lack of comfort with the content
Fear of speaking in front of others
Insufficient time to explore and challenge ideas and craft
In Success Matters, a first year General Education course, students are exposed to ideas and strategies
designed to challenge the way they perceive success in both education and the workplace. It is a course
essentially about them and how they can, with effort, become better at identifying what they want, and
how to go about attaining it. Their development in this regard is measured by assessing and ultimately
evaluating a personal Portfolio, a group project, a formal interview and a series of personal reflections.
The shared purpose of all of these tasks is that they allow students to demonstrate their understanding
of the content in relation to whom they are at that time, as well as who they want to be and the path
they plan to follow in their post secondary school studies and beyond.
A key component of the “conversations” students are encouraged to engage in is the Discussion
function available on the WebCT Vista Learning Management Software. The Thread is the most
widely used component in this course as it allows for:
Development in that each time a student sets out to craft a response to a specific question, or reflect on
a strategy, they have the benefit of reading what they were thinking about the last time. As an
“assessor” of student progress, and work, it allows for the professor to provide “timely” feedback and
encouragement in order to bring about improvement. The fact that the content changes each time a
student crafts a response is of secondary concern; what is more important is that they begin to hone
their written communication skills as well as skills, like self assessment and evaluation, that are crucial
to success both in education and the workplace.
Reinforcement in that the activity encourages the student to reflect on the material as well as the need to
be an “assessor & evaluator” of themselves.
Engagement in that to respond or reflect meaningfully the student must not only attend class but be
active in taking notes, and participating in class.
One of the earliest topics for discussion calls for students to respond to the information and ideas
presented in the introductory lecture. When feedback is provided to students it is done through the
Thread and I am conscious of the need to:
Encourage them that if there are questions posed that they are to answer them.
Inform them that what is required is to reflect on the information rather than simply recall it; they are to
analyze the information and respond to its importance, validity or lack thereof in their life; that these
responses are “self assessments” of who they are and “where” they are at that moment in time.
Such a start to the thread and the course as a whole provides not only an introduction to the type of
learning that they will engage in on a daily basis but also a “post or marker” that will allow them to
measure and reflect on their progress throughout this course. It is undeniably the skill set I would have
each student master above all else as it provides them with the tools to become better self assessors/
evaluators but also with the attitude that to do so means to improve their chances of future success.
If the Thread is to engender thoughtful “responses” the Blog is a forum which allows for students to be
more “reactive” oftentimes during a computer lab setting. In the Success Matters course this function is
used to gauge how students are functioning in their dealings with the course’s content but also in other
Another component of the Discussion Function used to provide students with a “less public” forum for
personal responses is the Journal. The Journal unlike the Thread or Blog is not an open forum
discussion wherein all posts can be read and responded to by all parties. In fact the Journal is a private
response which allows the student the freedom to explore and respond to a topic and receive feedback
only from their professor.
Anyone interested in getting more information about the Discussion Thread available through WebCT
should contact the Innovation Center at Durham College to set up an appointment.