The Use of Threaded Discussions in the "Online Classroom"

The University of Illinois released its Online Pedagogy Report - a one-year study by 16 of the university's professors. The report found that " some students "seem to put more thought into written rather than oral discussions." (http://www.vpaa.uillinois.edu/tid/)

Paramount in the new technology and instruction is the use of hypernews threaded discussions. ("Hypernews Threaded Discussions in Instruction" - John Hartzog, California State University at Northridge, http://www.vcsun.org/~john/hypernews2.html) As a paralegal instructor using the internet in my paralegal classes, I have found a dramatic improvement in students' writing through the use of the threaded discussion.

What exactly is a "threaded discussion". A HyperNews Threaded Discussion is a Web-based electronic bulletin board. It organizes class discussions into easy to read threads ( a thread is a single posted message from one person, and to read the thread you simply click on the thread to read the message). The professor or instructor poses a question or hypothetical for the student to answer, and then each student is responsible to respond to the question.

It is very simple for students to use and is simple for faculty to customize to their own particular teaching needs. Here are some of the creative uses of hypernews in and out of the classroom.

Why do hypernews threaded discussions improve legal writing skills? In an abstract written by W. Webster Newbold of Ball State University, entitled " Transactional Writing Instruction on the World Wide Web" *, Newbold states "Evidence from real-time logs shows that learning about composing can and does happen in on-line courses. Students can be witnessed checking their understanding of an idea, verifying their grasp of a task, trying out ideas on each other, offering drafts for comment, expressing their re-thinking of those drafts, and so on." *
(http://english.ttu.edu/kairos/4.1/binder.html?features/newbold/bridgenw.html)

As Director of the L.A. Mission College Paralegal Studies Program, I have, informally, tracked the paralegal students in our paralegal program since May 1998, over the last seven semesters, who have been exposed to hypernews threaded discussions and compared the improvement of their legal writing with paralegal students in our program who have not used the threaded discussions. And, it is clear that, the students using hypernews enter into a dialogue with other students and with the instructor which both stimulates "critical thinking", and provides a wonderful forum of exchange and interaction with other students and the legal educator.

Hypernews actively involves the paralegal student in "telling, asking, and responding" in a written form. I suspect the reason that the "hypernews" student improves their writing skills is because of the "repetition of telling, asking, and responding in writing", and through their own observation of other paralegal students who are "telling, asking and responding". What, I believe, occurs to the "unseen eye" is knowledge, understanding, and competence accumulates, in small "unobservable increments" through the dialogic process of "telling, asking and responding" when such is required in "written form" from the paralegal student.

I also believe that the reason that the hypernews threaded discussions are so effective is they adhere closely to the “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education" first published in the March 1987 bulletin of the American Association of Higher Education.

What a novel idea, to improve writing, one just "writes, and writes, and writes".

Finally, what is even more shocking, is the possibility, that such improvement in writing might occur without, unaided or even in spite of, the careful scrutiny of the legal educator when the hypernews paralegal students actively engage in the "hypernews writing forums" directed by the legal educator.

Here are some examples of how we use hyernews threaded discussions in our Paralegal Studies Program at Mission College (http://www.lamission.org/hypernews/hypereg.htm) By the way, hypernews is free software and you may wish to download it to your college server.

David Jordan, Esq.
Director - L.A.Mission College
Paralegal Studies Program (http://www.vcsun.org/~djordan/)
March 29, 2001
The above article is located at : http://lamission.org/hypernews

Other Articles and Publications by David Jordan:
1. How to Construct your Paralegal Webpage
(http://www.vcsun.org/~djordan/webpages/)
2. Interactive Webpages in the Paralegal Classroom (http://www.vcsun.org/~djordan/paralegaled.htm)
3. Webpage Templates
(http://www.vcsun.org/~djordan/webpages/template/)
4. Webpage Utilities
(http://www.vcsun.org/~djordan/utilities.htm)
5. El Timbre - Weekly E-Joural Publication of La Mission College
(http://lamission.org/eltimbre)
6. Updates for Staff Development - published weekly for Mission College
(http://hyper.vcsun.org/HyperNews/djordan/get/updates.html?inline=-1)
7. Law Links - published weekly for the Paralegal Studies Program
(http://hyper.vcsun.org/HyperNews/djordan/get/lawlinks.html?inline=-1)
8. Student Retention
(http://lamission.org/retention/)
9. La Mission Org - a reference page for Students and Faculty - maintained by Staff Development (http://lamission.org)

updated: 3/29/01
dj