Forums on Internet

 Not: Bu araştırma TBD Eskişehir şubesi tarafından düzenlenen Biltek 2005 Kongresinde sunulmuştur. (Uluslararası Bilişim Kongresi, 10-12 Haziran 2005, Eskişehir) 

Forums on Internet: tools for teaching and learning? 

Abdulkadir ErdoğanEquipe DIDIREM, Université Denis Diderot - Paris 7, Paris ' ); //--> Bu posta adresi spam botlara karşı korumalıdır, görebilmek için Javascript açık olmalıdır "> 

 Özet. Bu çalışmanın temel amacı Internet üzerindeki forumların eğitim ve öğretime olası getirilerini incelemektir. Bu amaçla, bazı forumların, özellikle matematik forumlarının gelişimleri, işleyişleri ve geçirmiş oldukları evrimler incelenmekte ve bir didaktik çerçeve içine oturtularak, onların hangi şartlar altında eğitim ve öğretime bir katkılarının olabileceği tartışılmaktadır. 

 Abstract. Our aim in this work is to study the possible contributions of the Internet forums to the teaching and learning of the school subjects. By remaining within the framework of the mathematics as a discipline, we initially analyze the appearance and the functioning of certain mathematical forums, in particular the ones which aim to help the pupils in making their work by answering the mathematical questions that they pose on these forums. Then, while situating them within a didactic framework, we analyze their evolution and we discuss the conditions under which they can effectively contribute to the teaching and learning of mathematics, and more generally to the whole didactic process.



The effects of the recent developments in the field of the new technology are felt more and more in all the fields of our life and in particular in the teaching area. The appearance of the projects of teaching assisted by computers, the use of powerful calculators in scientific courses can be regarded as the most concrete effects of these developments. The fast expansion of the Internet networks since ten years and its increasing accessibility for a very great majority of the population in the most of the countries thus make inevitable the question of its use for teaching. Today, the majority of the schools in a lot of countries in Europe already have an access to the Internet in their computer laboratories and make use of it in the teaching of certain subjects.  Within sight of these evolutions, scientific research which studies the possible contributions, but also the possible disadvantages of such use, seems to take a major importance.The forums of questions and answers, appeared spontaneously with the development of the Internet networks, present themselves today as interesting means of exchange and communication, and testify for this reason to an inevitable effect that these developments could have on the teaching and learning. In particular, the forums which are designed to contribute to the pupils’ school work by answering the questions that they ask there, seems to become today a didactic space and a space where one can observe didactic phenomena[1]. In this work, we are interested in the appearance, the functioning and the evolution of such forums and try to identify the conditions under which they can effectively contribute to the teaching and learning of the school subjects.  More precisely, while locating them within a theoretical framework, we discuss initially the conditions necessary to a didactic functioning of these forums. Then, by studying the functioning and the evolution of some forums compared to these conditions, we at the same time try to clear up the didactic and data-processing problems and explain the reasons why certain forums disappear whereas some of others continue to develop.     Throughout this work, we limit ourselves to mathematics as a scientific discipline and consequently, we study only the forums concerning the mathematical questions. We put at the end the question of a possible extension of the results obtained to other disciplines as an open question.We know that the possibilities given by Internet to the process of teaching and learning are not limited to the forums. A simple research will enable us to become aware of diversity of the devices set up, from the traditional courses to online dictionaries while passing by drafting and experimentation packages. The forums however have some particular characteristics which constitute the principal motivation for our work.  On the one hand, they are able to allow the interactions between a person who puts a question and a person who answers. On the other hand, this interaction is based directly on the satisfaction of a request, of a need for information. Whereas the devices quoted above seem deprived of this potentiality and consequently, their possible success seems to depend mainly on the capacity of a person to seek, find and interpret the information which he or she needs.


The forums in question in this work, as we specified above, are those which propose to contribute to the pupils’ mathematical work by giving an answer to their question. Beyond their didactic potentialities, this choice is based in fact on an observation. In a previous work, we showed that the pupils really needed help in the making of the work which is required of them, such as school exercises and homework (ERDOGAN 2001). This need indeed seems to come from particular didactic phenomena which we will not study here. 2.1 Some general characteristics of the forums of mathematical questionsOften held by educational associations, the forums of mathematical questions are initially forums open to everyone. Without subscription, nor inscription, any person who wishes can go on these forums and ask a question or answer a question already posed. The persons in charge for the forums affirm to have the right to remove any messages which are not appropriate for the objectives of the forum, and it is announced on certain forums that the messages are systematically controlled before being sent on the forum. It is in this point that certain forums seem become today the forums known as “moderate”. It would be noted that this functioning - although it has its advantages - presents some disadvantages from the didactic point of view. For example, it is often impossible to identify the mathematical level of the pupil who puts a question, what makes sometimes difficult the preparation of a response adequate to his level. For a better understanding of the social phenomena that they represent and the didactic questions on which they depend, it seems important to us to study some representative forums. 2.1.1  Forum “Cyberpapy”[2]Opened in 1997 with the support of the Boulanger Foundation, the site of Cyberpapy is composed of the forums of eleven school subjects and claims to be the first “free” site of school support.By aiming the establishment of a space of exchange between the pupils and people likely to help them, the principal objective of the forum is presented as a pedagogical help, especially aiming the pupils called “in situation of school difficulty”: This Web site has the role to propose a tool for dialogue and solidarity in the universe of education and training. It is intended to offer a new educational concept in complement of the traditional courses.
It is a question of setting up an intergenerational school support. The site proposes, free, to put in relation avid juniors of knowledge or in situation of school difficulty, with seniors available, able to help them to organize their work and to transmit their knowledge in pedagogy to them.

Mitigating a form of dehumanization generated by the new technology, this educational sponsorship seems a true bridge between the generations apart from the family structure. With the recent installation of a particular system of support, based on the recruitment of the teachers, the forum also seems to aim for a better preparation of the pupils for the examination of the baccalauréat[3]. This support is especially supposed to answer a need of working method and organization.   
 As from the 5th May 2003, within the framework of the campaign S.O.S BAC, the voluntary seniors will be supported by 8 professors of final classes (2 for mathematics - the most wanted matter, 1 for philosophy, 1 for English, 1 for German, 1 for the history-geography, 1 for physics-chemistry and 1 for biology.
Cyberpapy does not have the role to answer the definitions and the theorems, already present in the textbooks. But, 8 professors propose a method, an organization of the work and a comprehension on the globality of a subject.Marked however by the significant number of the questions put by the pupils of secondary school and of the first classes of the high school, the site gives the following figures concerning its success: “300 000 help for homework since its creation, 50.000 visits per month, 5000 questions/answers per month, 90% of the questions obtain an answer.”  2.1.2  Forum “Intermaths”[4]Created in 1997, the same year as the Cyberpapy forum, Intermaths belongs to associations of pupils of Ecole Polytechnique[5]. It mainly receives questions from pupils in the last class of the high school and from the students in the first years of the college.  The answers seem often written up by some people, probably graduated of this school.  The objective of the forum - which is to ensure a help both in mathematics and physics – and some rules to be respected are specified in the homepage: You have a mental block on a mathematical exercise? You do not know in which direction the engine will turn? You do not manage to find the pH of the solution? Do not hesitate, put your question on the FORUM.  X and others are there to answer you!The purpose of this site is to help the pupils in their homework and their lessons, mainly in sciences (Maths, Physics, Chemistry…), but also other matters. To put your questions, use the FORUM. Your questions will appear in the same page…  2.2. The social dimension of the forumsOf this short presentation, we can initially deduce that the forums make visible a social phenomenon.  Since it acts, on the one hand, that the forums are open to all those who seek an answer to a question, who require a help for a problem encountered in the school or even in professional life. On the other hand, it acts as a space for those who are interested in various questions either by a didactic concern or quite simply not to forget all that was learned a long time ago. This social phenomenon relatively insignificant seems in the case of the forums to be translated especially by two dimensions; accessibility and the speed to obtain specific information in a relatively short time on the one hand, the need for help felt by the pupils in the making of requested work on the other hand. We are then in front of the two quite different dimensions of the forums. One dimension “proposing” which relates to the demonstration of a need to learn and one dimension “answering” which is characterized by an intention to satisfy this need. 2.3 The didactic dimension of the forumsIndeed, the social dimension of the forums above implies a strongly didactic assertion. Within the terms of the theory of teaching and learning, the learning is based on the one hand, on an intention to teach, on the other hand on an intention to learn around an item of  knowledge (Mercier 1992). By allowing the interactions between a person who puts a question, showing consequently an intention to learn and a person which tries to answer this need and showing an intention to teach, is created then a didactic system. In other words, even if the forums are not directly attached to the educational system, by satisfying the two conditions of the process of learning, they appear as auxiliary didactic systems where some learning related to the school learning can take place[6].2.4 Do the forums really exist? Why do some of them disappear? The appearance of the forums, we can now affirm it, comes from two dimensions; social and didactic as specified above. But do they really exist? A relatively long observation enabled us to see that certain forums were born, regressed and at the end of a certain time disappeared from the scene whereas some others continued to exist despite the didactic problems which we had been able to identify without difficulty (Erdogan 2001).It seems to us that one of the principal reasons of this disappearance is the very slightly didactic functioning of these forums. More precisely, to be able to exist as an auxiliary didactic system, the forums should deal with certain didactic responsibilities concerning the contents of the messages and the forms of the interactions. These responsibilities being completely or mainly related to what the principal didactic system, i.e. the school, accepts as legitimate and in conformity with its objectives. To be able to study this assertion, it seems necessary to us to locate the forums and the exchanges which are done there within a didactic framework.  3. THE FUNCTIONNING OF THE FORUMS FROM A DIDACTIC POINT OF VIEW From a didactic point of view, we can suppose that the work requested from the pupils such as school exercises and homework, comprise rather particular didactic stakes. By trying to do this work, which is a personal and individual work, the pupil is initially led to occupy an autodidactic position. The accomplishment of this work in conformity with the objectives of the institution is supposed to enable him to ensure the acquisition of knowledge which is introduced and studied in class.  The pupil, as a didactic subject, has then the responsibility to accept this work like his and then try all alone to conclude this work. This responsibility fits indeed in a system of the reciprocal responsibilities and implicit rules between the pupil and the teacher, called “the didactic contract” (Brousseau 1997). It is established progressively, with the advance of the courses and according to the specific interactions between the pupils and the teacher in connection with the items of knowledge. But it can exist one moment where the pupil would not manage to do the work requested within the time and the effort he would devote to it. In this case, she/he is led to ask help to somebody, not to do the work which is under her/his own responsibility but to help her/him to do this work (Chevallard 1995). It is only under this condition that it seems to us possible to affirm the presence of a didactic help. An answer, without identifying the possible or encountered difficulties of the pupil, without an interrogation on a better way of answering, seeking not to denature the didactic stake of work, will be quickly ineffective from the didactic point of view.  In other words, a correct functioning of the forums as an auxiliary didactic system poses true problems and seems to be at the origin of the inefficiency of several forums, causing their disappearance thereafter. In the same way, this affirmation supposes that the forums which continue to exist and to develop should have found the least necessary compromise between a keen demand and a didactic stand back with respect to this demand. To clear up our matter, we will proceed to a comparison of the current functioning of these two forums, Cyberpapy and Intermaths, with the functioning which they had 4 years ago.3.1 Evolution of the forums  In our previous work (Erdogan 2001), by analyzing the questions and the answers that came in only one day on these two forums, we had arrived at the following results: The majority of the questions had been posed without any comment. I.e. the pupil who had put the question had not explained in what he had difficulties, what he had made to solve, what he proposed as a step of resolution etc. Some questions were very long and consisted of several questions, not having sometimes any relation between them. In addition, a simple observation of the answers showed that they were given without worrying about the didactic role of the pupils’ work. In certain answers, all the step of the solution to be followed was explained, in some others, a complete solution to the question had been written, thus being unaware of the need for a whole strategy of resolution which the pupil was supposed to seek and apply to learn. Moreover, the exchanges were often composed of a question and of an answer although they contain sometimes ambiguities. In other words, it missed considerably the interactions necessary between the “proposing” and the “answering” which would ensure the identification of the true need and the writing up of an answer adapted to this need.  All this had led us to qualify the functioning of the forums of the slightly didactic contract whose characteristics were described by Brousseau (1995).   The transmitter agrees to organize his message according to certain “theoretical” characteristics of his interlocutor. He assumes certain responsibilities as for the contents for this message, but any as for its effects on the receiver, even if he is conscious of modifying his system of decision. In the same way;[…] The transmitter answers a request of the receiver for a use which he is unaware of, there is a constant control of the competence of the transmitter but not of that of the receiver. The transmitter does not know if he really understood, nor not even received, if the receiver does not express any reaction. The transmitter writes or says the knowledge of his field, in the terms which enable him to express it. These terms are provided to him by his initial institution. The informed keeps the responsibility for the interpretation and the use of this information.This slightly didactic functioning seems indeed not have left indifferent to the persons in charge for the forums. Certain measures seem today to be taken. For example, there is a clear evolution in the charter of the forum of Intermaths and the forum of Cyberpapy created a card of method on the preparation of homework for each discipline which it treats. As example, we can compare some different points between the two charters of Intermaths. In 2000, the charter on this forum underlined the following didactic problems: -   For the one who wants to ask questions:  one does not make your  homework for you! On the other hand, one can give tracks, indications or explanations. But not complete corrections. For several questions: write several messages by changing the title. For a long problem: only some items[7] can be approached. Specify what poses difficulty to you, and indicate the answers already obtained. Think of your exercises before asking them here.-   For the one who wants to answer: incite to make comply with the preceding rules. And write only if you have information to add. Your objective must be pedagogy only. If you consider remarks necessary, they must be courteous… “Today, the way in which the problems tackled above in the charter testifies to an increased sensitivity among persons in charge for the forums for the didactic and pedagogic problems:·   An exercise has the role to train you[8]. You do not come here to seek its solution, but a help to approach it or to free you on precise questions. In the same way, we do not want to replace your teacher.  Thus we will be able only to explain to you a point of the course which you will specify and not to make again an entire course. ·   Indicate in the statement the answer already found and specify your ideas and difficulties (for a whole problem: specify the blocking question) ·   Patience: All the correctors are voluntary, when they have time. (There is in any way no urgency: to understand is an investment.) ·   To the correctors: thanks for inciting to make comply with our rules. Remain courteous and initially pedagogic. It is not a question to solve but contribute with independence and to stand back (Any answer must be done in this spirit). According to these proposals, the “proposing”, i.e. the pupil who puts a question has to clarify the points of difficulties, to be only in the search for help for her/his problem. In the same way, it is specified that the forum does not have the goal to replace the professor who, only, can ensure a total help to him. In addition, it is requested from the “answering” to adopt a teaching point of view and to contribute with the pupil’s autonomy and awareness. But the evolution of the forums during these 4 last years is not limited to some general lines above. The contract between the pupils and the “answering” seems also advanced. To realize it, it is enough to look at the messages passed on these forums. We indeed note a very clear evolution in the way in which the questions are put and in the treatment of the answers. Without making an in-depth study here, we can say that the majority of the questions are not posed any more with the image of a mathematical statement. Their authors seem from now on to worry to explain their true need and to be in search for the precise information, likely to help them effectively. The attitude to explain the encountered difficulties, to submit the resolution carried out also seems already started. The “answering” shows himself increasingly didactic and seems to be aware of the didactic role of the pupil’s work. The necessary stand back before any attempt at answer seems from now on belonging to the ‘answering’ didactic and pedagogic culture.  The persons in charge for the forums, as for them, do not seem any more to hesitate to react over the questions and the answers. Certain complete answers are removed locally, the authors sometimes are called to re-examine their answers. All this allows us to affirm that the forums in question are today in a constant evolution, corresponding in the search of a better satisfaction of the didactic need which was that of a help to the pupil’s personal and individual work.  3.2 Problems of data-processing natureThis evolution of the forums is also accompanied by the installation of some data processing tools, essential to a correct functioning; the constitution of a data base, a thematic search engine, the distribution of the subjects by level can be given as examples. However, certain problems involved in the developments of data processing seem always to exist as an obstacle with a better communication. For example, the forums currently do not have an adapted text editor. Consequently, the lack of convention on the mathematical writings and notations poses sometimes problems with the reading and the understanding of the messages. Although certain forums already specified a convention on the possible writings of the mathematical notations and formulas, the respect of this convention remains very marginal. The use of a specific text editor, integrated by certain forums, does not prove either the most adequate solution. Because, once written, it is then necessary to save the text in the image format on the computer and then to transfer it as an attached document.  It is not possible either to insert the graph of a function or to join a figure to a statement of geometry. This requires today, initially the recourse to a particular  software, then the use of the function – attached document. The writing up of a message, without a practical and adequate editor would prove in certain cases a real difficult, expensive task in time and effort. Consequently, this could have an influence on the true text that its author would like to write, in particular for long explanations and answers.  4. CONCLUSION4.1 Which future for the forums of mathematical questions?However the encouraging evolution of the forums towards the constitution of the effective auxiliary didactic systems does not imply the assumption of a better learning of mathematics at the pupils. As long as the question of the possible causes of the need for help of the pupils remains posed, it does not seem possible to hope for a considerable contribution of those to the teaching and learning of this discipline. The passage of the palliative remedies for effective systems would undoubtedly suppose that a better comprehension of the didactic dimension of the pupil’s work and the objectives of the didactic system with respect to this work must be dealt with inside even forums.  Then, it remains to determine the didactic stakes of the situations of study suggested, the possible difficulties for the pupils in the accomplishment of these stakes and to analyze the didactic and cognitive conditions of such difficulties. In other words, the effectiveness of the forums seems today strongly to depend on the joint evolution of the educational system and research having the goal to transform those into viable devices of teaching. 4.2 Specificity of the knowledge concernedLet us remember that the analyzes above and the majority of the identified problems were related to a particular field of knowledge, mathematics. The question is then to know if the social and didactic phenomena which are at the origin of the appearance of the forums of mathematical questions and a didactic contract for the forums that we specified around the pupil’s individual and personal work in mathematics remain the same ones for another field of knowledge. For example, can we suppose that a didactic functioning presumed adapted for the forums of mathematical questions can meet the didactic needs for a forum of the data-processing problems or a forum of biology? Are the means of acquisition, validation and transmission of these knowledge the same ones?  References
(Brousseau, 1995) "L’enseignant dans la théorie des situations didactiques", Actes de la VIIIe Ecole d’été de didactique des mathématiques, Saint Sauve d’Auvergne, 22-31 août Clermont-Ferrand : IREM de Clermont-Ferrand, 1995
(Brousseau,1997)  Theory of didactical situations in mathematics 1970-1990, translation of French by M. Cooper, N. Balacheff, R. Sutherland and V. Warfield, 304 p, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997,.
(Chevallard, 1992)"Concepts fondamentaux de la didactique : perspectives  apportées par une approche anthropologique",  Recherche en Didactique des mathématiques, Vol.12, n°1, p.73-112, La Pensée Sauvage Editions, Grenoble, 1992. 
(Chevallard, 1995)"Familière et Problématique, la figure du professeur", Actes de la VIIIe Ecole d’été de didactique des mathématiques, Saint Sauve d’Auvergne, 22-31 août Clermont-Ferrand : IREM de Clermont-Ferrand, 1995
(Erdogan, 2001)La dimension didactique des forums de questions mathématiques, Mémoire de DEA de l’Université Claude Bernard-Lyon 1, France, 2001
(Félix, 2002)"L’étude à la maison : un système didactique auxiliaire", Revue des sciences de l'éducation, Volume XXXVIII, Numéro 3, Novembre 2002, Québec Montréal, Canada.  Last retrieved: 14 April 2004, Web address:, 2002.
(Johsua, 1993)S. Joshua, JJ. Dupin, Introduction à la didactique des sciences et des mathématiques. Presse universitaire de France, 1993
(Leutenegger, 2000)"Construction d'une 'clinique' pour la didactique. Une étude des phénomènes temporels de l'enseignement", Recherches en didactique des mathématiques. Vol. 20/2. Numéro. 59, p. 209-250, La pensée Sauvage Editions, Grenoble, 2000.
(Mercier, 1992)L’élève et les contraintes temporelles de l'enseignement. Un cas en calcul algébrique. Thèse de troisième cycle, Université Bordeaux I, France, 1992.
 AutobiographyAbdulkadir Erdoğan. I was born in Sarıkaya/Yozgat in 12 May 1975. I was graduated from Yozgat high school in 1992 and Gazi University, Science and Literature Faculty, department of mathematics in 1997. I then obtained my master of “construction of the scientific knowledge, didactic of mathematics” in 2001 at Lyon-1 University. I am currently completing my doctoral studies at Paris-7 University. My work is particularly centered on the study of the conditions of the learning of mathematics by the pupils working in autonomous mode. 

[1] The word "didactic" as an adjective means what relates to teaching, with the action to inform. Whereas "the didactic one" indicates the theory and method of teaching, word entered today in the French language dictionary. Detached from the Science of Education in the neighbourhoods of the years 1970 considering this one too general, the didactic became today in France the science which studies the processes of acquisition and transmission of the scientific knowledge. Throughout this work, the word “didactic” is used in this second meaning. Consequently, the adjective "didactic" often indicates the concepts developed within the didactic theories. The interested reader can refer in particular to the book "Introduction à la didactique des des science  et des mathématiques" (Joshua, 1993) and "Theory of didactical situations in mathematics" (Brousseau 1997).

[2] Last retrieved 14 April 2005

[3] Created in 1808, the diploma of the “baccalauréat” is a diploma of the French education system which has the double characteristic to sanction the end of the secondary studies and to open the access to

the higher education of which it constitutes the first university degree.

[5] Publicly-owned establishment of higher education and research, Ecole Polytechnique in France proposes a multidisciplinary program of studies based on sciences.
[6] We use the concepts of “ a didactic system”  and “ the educational system” according to the difference marked by CHEVALLARD (1992§1995): A didactic system comprises or less one subject who comes to occupy a position of teacher and one other subject who comes to occupy a position of pupil, around an object belonging to the whole of the didactic stakes for the institution. But the existence of a didactic system supposes an educational system which builds "a systemic environment, whose role is primarily to create a whole set of conditions necessary to the existence of didactic systems" CHEVALLARD Y. (1992, p 97). For athorough study on the concept of “auxiliary didactic system”, we can refer to Leutenegger (2000) and Felix (2002).
[7] Bold in the original text
[8] Bold in the original text