As you may have read here before, I'm currently in the process of data gathering for my dissertation in online collaboration and critical thinking.
I've managed to engage some of the students online, including a wikispaces page with a 'flipped classroom' activity on web scripting languages which was reasonably successful, and I've had all the group at least get onto the VLE and post a message.
A few weeks ago I set up a forum page on our VLE to discuss 'cookies' on websites. One student engaged with the activity well, and made a couple of posts which demonstrated criticial thinking, but no-one else posted at all, which was disappointing. I reminded the group of the activity on their next Monday morning lesson and commented on the lack of posts, at which point two other students told me (rather indignantly!) that they had made a post on Sunday evening. Excellent news.
On visiting the forum later that day, I must admit that I got rather exciting at the fact that three more of the students had made some really good posts which were great examples of how they had extended their classroom discussions and developed their thoughts on the topic. I think I may have even exhaled a quiet 'whoop' to myself - not because I have now got some 'meat' for my dissertation, but more because I had actually managed to get the learners thinking beyond the classroom and trying to find out things for themselves.
Funny how activities which we persue in order to develop ourselves further have such a great impact on our learners. Would I have put this activity in if I wasn't doing a dissertation? Possibly, but probably unlikely. Now I know how I felt when I read their posts, I feel encouraged to continue to put such discussion forums on for my learners.