How rich media and discussion boards in online classes can foster student learning and an understanding of online social activism: a special focus on Black Lives Matter

Tia C. M. Tyree

Howard University, Washington, DC, United States

Discipline/academic areas addressed

This is not discipline specific and can work within an array of majors as simply an approach to structuring an online class.

Instructional purpose

In the digital age, how individuals protest and call for social change has completely changed. Gone are the days when activism hinged upon marching, boycotting, picketing, pamphleting, and small groups working with neighborhoods, nonprofits, and government officials to spark change. Further, public discussions and change no longer must happen in the epicenter of where the unjust action occurred. The democratizing nature of the Internet means anyone with access to a computer, smartphone, tablet, or electronic device with online capabilities can participate in and work to evoke change. Whether tweeting, posting, writing blogs, or uploading pictures and videos, individuals can now easily insert their voices and opinions in what is now a more active, activist society. However, what now is being called into question is how effective is online activism in amplifying individuals’ voices about a social issue, and does it ever really impact offline activism or what happens in real life? The view is online activism is simply superficial, lazy activism or what is often called slacktivism, clicktivism, armchair activism, or keyboard activism.

Students in online classes are already utilizing the Internet. They, too, have the ability to research, participate in, and experience online activism fairly easily. Comprehensively, this assignment provides the instructor with the ability to teach students about online activism, including what it is, how it is done and how to create online content to engage others who might be in support of or stand in opposition to

Unplugging the Classroom. DOI:

Copyright © 2017 Tia C.M. Tyree. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

a cause they personally support. The assignment provides instructors with the ability to create a vigorous and rigorous course structure that challenges students to demonstrate their cognitive knowledge of online activism by remembering lessons and course readings, researching and understanding what materials can be found online to substantiate their personal beliefs, and evaluate peers’ ability to articulate their beliefs, as well as create content to validate their thoughts and standpoints. Online classes pose significant issues with helping students interact with one another. When dealing with online classes, it is critical to understand how computer-mediated communication affects students. Asynchronous tools are rarely successful in establishing a sense of immediacy, interactivity, and shared purpose, and it is important to foster social presence in online courses, which is the feeling of community students experience as members of an online environment. If this does not occur, students can feel isolated and frustrated in online courses.

With the popularity of online classes, learning is no longer constrained to a specific time and place within the walls of academic institutions. Yet, as designers and facilitators of online courses, faculty must work to maximize student participation and engagement. Often, in more simplified learning management systems (LMS), the ability to see and hear other students does not exist. Or, as noted in a 2014 study of the uses of LMS, few faculty take advantage of advanced features offered within them. Therefore, students can spend most of their time interacting with the professor and the content, instead of classmates. Through a robust usage of rich media and discussion boards (forums), students can not only engage with multimedia content more stimulating than text, but they can demonstrate their understandings of online activism through postings and responses. Further, students are provided the opportunity to learn from each other. These interactions foster both peer supportive comments and challenges, all of which help nurture a dynamic online learning environment beneficial for students and even the instructor.

  • 1. The overall assignment’s purpose is to increase students’ critical thinking skills by challenging them in online classes to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of online activism through interactions with the instructor and other classmates.
  • 2. Using the tools available and instructional prompts provided by the instructor, students are able to interact with one another while applying what they learn in the course readings to the evaluation and analysis of peer and instructor postings and responses about online activism.
  • 3. It allows students in online classes to read assigned texts and explore supportive materials, such as videos, photographs, infographics, and other online content, provided by the instructor at their own pace. In addition, it supports students who embrace and appreciate online audio, video and visuals, which are proven to increase engagement among online users.
  • 4. Students are challenged to not only write, but also answer discussion questions. To promote autodidactic skills, they must explore online content to locate supportive materials to validate their responses. This requires students to investigate both sides of a social issue, work to understand what pros and cons might exist, and to structure informed responses that demonstrate their critical thinking and research skills.
  • 5. The assignment works to increase participation and motivation as well as foster social presence in an online course by providing a space via discussion boards for students to interact.
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