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By Terry Freedman

This is a brief run-through of the facilities available which enable people to participate in discussions or contribute to a conversation in other ways.

You can set these up yourself if you have the right web server set-up and access, or you can use 3rd party services.

This is not intended to be a definitive list, but hopefully will give you some ideas.

Remember: the higher levels of the UK’s ICT Programme of Study, and similar schemes in other countries, require students to discuss issues, act upon feedback from others, and so on, ie you can’t achieve the higher levels just by being technically competent or even technically excellent.

These are a quick way of canvassing opinion on particular issues. To some extent you can achieve the same thing with an electronic whiteboard and a student voting (response) system, except that the main difference here is that you can set up a survey and give people a certain period of time in which to respond.

The responses to, and results from, such exercises can provide a useful starting point for discussion in a classroom.

Forums provide an opportunity for a more discursive discussion of an issue.

It’s a good idea to make it necessary to log in in order to add or edit comments, otherwise you can spend a lot of time deleting inappropriate entries.

Forums are also useful in that there is a record of a discussion so that issues raised can be chewed over in class at a later date. They also tend to show how students are thinking, which can be useful for assessment purposes, and also the amount they contribute. It is not uncommon for students who are very shy and retiring in class to “come alive” in the context of a written discussion.

Forums can also be used to elicit general feedback, say about a website, although it is probably more appropriate to set up a form or survey for this purpose.

You can see an example of a more structured approach here: http://www.terry-freedman.org.uk/over to you.htm.

There’s an interesting article at the BBC website about instant messaging (IM): http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3031796.stm

IM is a great way to carry out a conversation in real time, which is one of the main ways it differs from a forum. That is to say, with IM you answer each other there and then, whereas with a forum you say your piece whenever you like.

It’s useful to have the IM set to keep a record of the conversation, so that you can see who contributed what at a subsequent time.

It’s a great pity that many schools’ response to IM is simply to ban it. Whilst it may not be appropriate to allow access to the commercial services available,

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