Learning & Teaching Topics
Leading Successful On-line Discussions
On-line discussions can be utilized in both distance-learning courses as well as traditional face-to-face classes. Discussions can be synchronous (where everyone meets for discussion at the same time) or asynchronous (where people access the website and comment at any time within a specific time frame).
On-line discussion allows quieter students to have their voices heard and gives all students more time to formulate insightful and thoughtful commentary and opinions, enhancing critical thinking and in-depth engagement with course material. Tracking participation is also simplified with on-line discussion, as the asynchronous forums are archived for the semester and can be easily accessed and tabulated.
- Set clear expectations for on-line discussion, including goals (such as continuing in-class discussions, preparing for in-class discussions, identifying key reading concepts, or further engaging with course topics). These goals can be shared with students on the on-line forum, in class, or on the syllabus. This will help students see the point of the discussion and encourage them to participate and focus their learning to meet these goals.
- Make sure that the discussion contributes to student learning outcomes and objectives.
- Questions can incorporate all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
- Make sure that students are familiar with the resources (such as Moodle) and, if not, that they have access to and time to learn how to use these resources. Utilizing part of a class period to familiarize students with the basics can help everyone gain enough knowledge to begin on-line discussions early in the semester.
- Relate in-class work and discussion to the on-line discussion and vice versa.
- Assign a group of students to be the “experts” and discussion leaders for each week’s topics.
- Explain to students whether you will be an active participant who reads every post or if you will only read some posts. Decide if you will respond to individual student postings or respond to main themes throughout the discussion.
- To engage students and encourage them to read other students’ responses instead of merely formulating their own, have students synthesize responses from the previous week.
- Encourage students to pose their questions to the forum instead of as private emails with the instructor. This will allow everyone to hear the answer, as many students will have similar questions.
- Hold on-line review sessions utilizing the synchronous chat feature.
- Determine how student posts will be evaluated. Having students select a portfolio of responses and compiling them for grading at the end of the semester is a good way for students to recap course material and to select only their best writings for you to grade. Ask students to write and reflect on these posts and why they have selected these particular writings.
- Don’t forget that on-line discussions can be even more time-consuming than in-class discussions. Be sure to allow enough time in your schedule (and the students’ schedules) to participate in and evaluate these discussions.
Penn State Learning Design Community Hub. (2008). Introduction to Crafting Questions for On-line Discussions. Retrieved May 15, 2009, from Penn State Web site: http://ets.tlt.psu.edu/learningdesign/crafting_question
University of Washington. (2002). Engaging Students in Online Discussion. Teaching and Learning Bulletin 6(2). Retrieved May 15, 2009, from Center for Instructional Development and Research Web site: http://depts.washington.edu/cidrweb/Bulletin/OnlineDiscussion.pdf
Vanderbilt University. (n.d.). Online Writing. Retrieved May 15, 2009, from Vanderbilt Center for Teaching Web site: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/cft/resources/teaching_resources/technology/online_writing.htm#threads