Too often, instructors get caught up in seeing forums as a quantitative measure of how much a student has learned, gauging understanding by replying with prompts that are, frankly, as boring or as tedious as some of the material students have been asked to read. One of the best ways to get students more involved is by offering prompts that enable students to use their own previous education— and prod them to use their imagination.
When teaching a modern epic fantasy course or anything dealing with Arthurian legends, I ask students to create their own medieval roundtable with historical or fictional characters. This exercise enables them to comb through their own knowledge base in an effort to build the strongest roundtable possible. For example, when reading Mists of Avalon, students craft the roundtable only with women. They must explain what role each woman will play and why she is the best choice for that role. Students believe it is easy at first, but when they realize they are voting on who will be the best team member, they take a more thoughtful approach to their choices. They research. They offer more in-depth responses. They share and share. They bond.
These conversations between students have more depth and more personality because they are creating, building, having fun and interacting. They are not just replying to a prompt. They are using their imaginations. The process brings an energy and passion that engages them.
Class discussions are among the most imaginative ways for students to share what they have learned and to bring in their own personalities. We need to offer assessment opportunities that do more than gauge completion of assigned reading. Students need to feel connected to each other, and the best way of doing thatis to create forums and assignments that allow them to do more than prove they have simply done the assignment. Online students yearn to interact with each other in ways that are fun, imaginative and original. Tapping into their imagination is one way to accomplish this goal.
Creating questions that enable students to combine their own creativity with knowledge gained from the assignment is the easiest way to assess student success and learning from these forums. We are not writing research-based questions, but rather questions that allow students to manipulate lessons they learned in a more imaginative way. Few instructors want regurgitation. Instructors are not grading the quality of the imagination, but the information wrapped up in it. In the above example about the Mists of Avalon, asking students to compare their choice of knight in their roundtable with one from the novel is one way of assessing the students’ understanding of the characters in the novel while allowing them free reign of their imaginations.
In the words of Einstein, “imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand while imagination embraces the entire world.” We should choose to offer our students the entire world; the world that is in their imagination.
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