Case Study 3:Discussion board (Kathryn)

I would like to share with you the experiences of having used digital assessment in the way of an online forum within the Early Years Top Up year.  Most of the students involved had recently completed a Foundation Degree in Early Years at University of Northampton so were familiar with NILE and the use of technology within their teaching and learning.

Historical background

The assignment

To discuss and debate a controversial issue in Early Childhood within an on-line debate forum.

Word Submission: 4,000 word equivalent

Intentions and benefits of the assessment style

The on-line forum facilitated an interactive environment where students could discuss and debate a controversial issue in Early Childhood with the time to consider their responses having reviewed and considered those of others.  By using this platform the students had opportunity to;

  • Gain and utilise academic references to support their arguments and respond to those of others, demonstrating a wide knowledge of recent legislation, regulatory frameworks and current research.
  • Read and consider previous entries before responding, demonstrating their ability to identify and critically evaluate criteria for determining quality in early learning within established contexts.
  • Follow and respond to developing arguments, demonstrating their ability to formulate their considered, professional response.
  • Express, discuss and present their knowledge, ideas and viewpoints in writing to a variety of audiences with confidence and clarity, utilising ICT to communicate in various forms.

This platform permitted the students continual access to written accounts of the debate entries that could be revisited and considered as responses were formulated in ways that are limited within other debate styles.  As controversial views were expressed and considered this gave students opportunities to identify common themes that they could support or critique through their own research within professionally toned responses.

The online debate also permitted a wide range of tools to be employed as students utilised still images, video clips and graphics to support their arguments and provided links to other materials to provide additional source of debate.

Guidance and support offered to the students

In the first session of the module students were given a classroom introduction to the assignment and the opportunity to select a topic related to an aspect of early childhood provision, policy or practice.  Within groups of 4 or 5, the potential for debate within their chosen topics were considered.


The roles within the debate were explained and assigned;

The Launcher – Provide the title of the debate, a brief explanation of the issue and individual comments as to why it might be a controversial topic.


The Presenter – Provide the initial thread, setting out the main argument in favour of a particular position on the chosen topic.

First Responder – Provide a counter argument by considering the comments that have gone before.


Subsequent Responders – Take it in turns to pick up and expand on previous arguments and issues raised, evaluating and challenging one or more points of the argument.

The session then moved to the IT suite where they learnt how to participate in an on-line debate through NILE and engaged in some practice on-line debates around the room considering everything from the best colour M&M to characters best axed from EastEnders.


The assessment

The live debate ran for four weeks, the students then had a further two weeks to submit their contributions to Turnitin.  Each student was required to make at least 5 contributions of not more than 500 words to encourage a succinct and punchy debate supported by references and a bibliography.

When marking the assignment two screens certainly helped, having the live debate on a laptop so that the developing arguments could be read and followed, as well as Turnitin on a PC displaying individual student’s submission.  As the debate went on individual students submissions could be repeatedly accessed, marking them an entry at a time.  Although no longer to do than 5 individual student’s essays, these did have to be done a group at a time, to break midway would have caused a loss in the threads of arguments that were developing.

The students received feedback as a group that commented on their chosen area of debate, the flow of arguments and discussion and their responses to each other, as well as individual academic feedback on their contributions.  This method of assessment evaluated students’ ability to;

  • Formulate well referenced and formulated arguments
  • To respond to emerging arguments presented by others, identifying common threads and responding appropriately
  • To engage in a live debate that can respond to current affairs
  • To utilise a range of ICT and media
  • To work within a group, dependent on each other

The student voice

5Initially students felt daunted by the prospect of engaging in an online forum, however the supported experiences in the ICT suite helped to assuage this. Having played within practice debates, seeing how to embed video, images and links, they saw the opportunities of engaging in a dynamic assessment tool.


As the live debate commenced, concerns centred around two themes; feeling that the chosen debate was a little one sided and they would be challenged to find counter-arguments, and secondly waiting on group members before they could take their place in the debate.  Both of these areas provided opportunities for students to take responsibility for the nature and quality of their work which varied significantly within a group.  Once completed, students expressed a greater feeling of engagement within the process than they had expected, or that they would usually feel from the writing of an essay.







from slides used at ITTE:

Course: Early Years BA top up

Year: 3

Module: EYS3121 Specialist Option: Education

Assignment: To discuss and debate a controversial issue in Early Childhood within an online debate forum.

Tools: Blackboard discussion board on Northampton ILE

Marking strands: formulate and respond to arguments; utilise features of the  discussion board; work as a group; professional responses

Student feedback:

Inspiring and motivating – student comment above

Encourages interaction and dialogue – by its a very nature and design a discussion or debate does this

Relevant and authentic – through the discussion topics chosen, of relevance to the students working the field of Early Years

Personal experience – opportunities to use experience from work based practice alongside wider academic reading

Choice -of which arguments to pursue


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