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Using a Discussion Forum on Nicenet.org
by Peggy Maslow

Nicenet.org is a free discussion forum which can be used by all educators. A discussion forum is a public classroom forum for creating, discussing and reflecting on ideas.

Characteristics are:

* An asynchronous experience (Writing can be posted by students at any time before the appointed date.)
* A place where assignments can be posted by the teacher and then students post their writing
* A place to post pre-selected links
* A place where a teacher can read student work samples and any member of the class can also read other students’ writing.
* A place where any member of the class, teacher or students, can reply to a posted piece of writing.

Students respond to various topics under what is called “conferencing,” usually posted in advance by the teacher. Depending on the purpose of the writing, it may be revised or not. The writing can be informal and shared with others in the class. Or it can be a final draft posted for assessment by other students and/or the teacher. It is expected that students will be respectful of the writing and opinions of others and that they will respond accordingly.

To see Nicenet.org for yourself, go to http://nicenet.org. Choose “create a class.” You will receive a class key, numbers and letters that need to be typed in so that a person can join the class you are creating. When you receive your class key, write it down. You will also receive the class key in your email. Use the user ID and password you normally use everyday so you don’t forget it.

Once you create the class, log out and then log in to investigate the functions. “Conferencing” is what you will use to create topics to which students will respond in writing and then reply to each other. “Link-sharing” is for you to post links that you think will be helpful to students. “Class administration” is important because it gives you the option of letting students also post conference topics and links. I chose to not allow students to do this. You have to make a decision, and then in class administration indicate who you want to be allowed to post conference topics and links. In class administration you can also delete student members if they register as anonymous. I require all students when they “join” the class to put both their first and last names.

The advantages of using Nicenet.org is that shy students, who are reluctant to speak up in class, feel very comfortable writing their opinions and replying to other students. Also, students can learn from each others’ writing, especially if you are using Nicenet for the posting of writing assignments. Students can learn to help each other by clicking on “reply” and asking questions if what they read is confusing or missing something. Students can reply by pointing out specifically what they like about a piece of writing. Many students enjoy using Nicenet, in my experience, and so it is motivating for them do their best work. They also look forward to seeing each others’ writing. I used Nicenet to have students post homework assignments, first draft writing assignments, final draft writing assignments, and class work writing.

Another advantage is that the teacher does not have to upload files to a remote server to have student writing published on the Internet. This is a very fast way to have student writing published on the Internet.

One disadvantage is that only the class members can view each others’ work and no outsiders can. So you can’t see my students’ writing. I would have to post the class key to the public, which I don’t want to do. The outsider who joins may write unacceptable comments, and then I would have to keep monitoring the site constantly to delete inappropriate comments.

Another disadvantage is that graphics and design elements cannot be easily used in Nicenet. Only writing can be displayed, no graphics or design elements. However, as a motivational tool to encourage writing, Nicenet.org is definitely a useful site.

To read more articles about how to use technology to reinforce instruction, visit our "How To" hub on our website. You can read articles by Peggy Maslow and other teachers using the Internet successfully in their own classrooms.