One of the great ways of having students interact with each other, inside or outside of the classroom, by the means of ICTs, is to have them participate in a class forum. As mentioned in Technology and the ESL Student, using online discussion forums allow student to interact with the rest of the class in real time.
Many activities can be done using this communication tool. First of all, time can be allotted during class hours for real time communication, or the teacher can ask students to communicate via the forum as homework. One great thing is that any topic can be used for the forum. For example, as Thurnau suggests, you can ask your students to read a story, and to post their opinion on the story on the forum. You can also have them ask questions related to the story, and answer other students’ questions. Apart from the story idea, forums can be used for writing activities. For example, you tell your students that for their homework, you would like them to write their best memory and to post it on the forum, and to read at least one of their classmates’ posted memory and to comment on it. The forum can also be used to discuss about difficulties regarding content, homework, or an upcoming exam. These are only a few examples; anything can be used as an excuse to communicate using this great tool. I think that this tool can especially be great for students who are shy to communicate in class, or who don’t necessarily raise their hands to interact in the classroom and are often not communicating enough in English.
I find discussion boards amazing because they allow teachers to save time and paper by posting important information, or simply information related to the homework, on the forum. What is also great about discussion forums is that the posts are classified by topics so you can easily find the information you are looking for. Furthermore, I like forums because as long as it is running, the information is kept, so one question/answer exchange can serve for a long time and for many different people. Two important things to think about when establishing an online discussion forum your class: establishing your rules, and figuring out if and how you will use the tool for evaluation purposes. Tips related to these two aspects can be found here. Please feel free to share any great ideas you have regarding the use of a discussion forum in the ESL classroom!