Faculty designing distance learning environments can’t simply attempt to replicate good f2f learning environments.
For example, my wife is in her last semester of a blended MA where the ‘blended’ aspect comes from two annual 2-week residencies. The rest of the program is delivered through various distance modes, including typical online discussion forums.
Here is where a policy imported from a f2f environment can create difficulties. The prof has indicated that students are not to post on a topic that has already been posted in an earlier thread. Granted, this is a policy which makes perfectly good sense in a f2f discussion, and even some sense in an online discussion, if the students are co-located. However, because this is a program delivered by distance to students across North America and Europe, those students who are in eastern time-zones are at an advantage over those in the west.
While my wife was asleep, students in the eastern US were up posting their thoughts and it doesn’t take much reflection to realize that in a class of 50 students or more, the prime topics will quickly be taken. So regardless of the time my wife puts into preparing for her post, if her topic has been taken, she is S.O.L. and she needs to start again.
Furthermore, this puts students who live on the west coast and who take a deeper approach to their learning, those who take the time to prepare a thoughtful post and who anticipate and address problems with their view, at an even greater disadvantage.
Here is a better strategy.
Instead of having a free-for-all discussion forum where those who post first are advantaged due to their geographical location, set up your discussion forum so that students must post before they can read any other posts. Then, if you encounter duplicate topics, merge those into a single thread, or provide links between the two.
Or don’t. Let the two threads evolve naturally and see what comes from the two, then create a third thread to allow students the opportunity to synthesize the two discussions into a coherent whole. Encourage students to identify the different assumptions that lead to different conclusions…give students the opportunity to THINK.