As an online instructor, I require my students to engage in weekly discussion forums. In the online college environment, discussion forums are designed to simulate a professor and his or her students engaged in a traditional classroom discussion. Students respond to a question and then reply to the responses of their classmates. The point is to keep the discussion moving, keep students engaged in the topic for the week, and facilitate learning.
The discussion board in Kathleen Lowney’s large blended (or hybrid) section of introduction to sociology at Valdosta State University wasn’t serving its intended purpose of engaging learners with the content and preparing them for face-to-face class sessions. She tried dividing the students into smaller discussion groups of 50 and then 20, and the results were the same: the weaker students waited until the last minute and essentially repeated what the better students had posted previously. When she replaced the public discussions with private journals, the quality of students’ posts improved, as did their grades.
Controversy can erupt in any learning situation, and knowing how to manage it is an important skill for any instructor. Online instructors need to be aware of the following challenges when it comes to managing controversy:
Are you having trouble getting students to participate in online discussions? Consider using other types of prompts in addition to the typical open-ended question. Maria Ammar, assistant English professor at Frederick Community College, uses the following prompts in her English as a second language course and recommends them for other types of courses:
Discussion boards are often viewed as the heart of online courses, and for good reason: the students can interact with one another 24/7, sharing, debating, and offering ideas, insights, suggestions, and information that stimulate the learning process. Yet challenges do happen in discussion, and these can be formidable. Left alone, they can quickly limit the effectiveness of any discussion and create problems throughout the online course.
Keith Restine, associate director of distance education, and Allison Peterson, senior instructional designer, both at Texas Woman’s University, offer the following tips for reducing instructor workload in discussion forums: You don’t have to be an active participant in every discussion. Let students know that although you will monitor all discussions, you may not be an
If you teach a skills-based course and wonder how online discussion can enhance the learning experience, consider Roger Gee’s approach to the use of online discussions in his introduction to accounting course.
After some trial and error, I have hit upon a discussion set up that seems to promote the kind of depth and breadth of engagement with the course material and with each other that I would ideally like to elicit. Students are asked to read between two-to-four pieces of literature (poetry, short stories, essays) and to participate in two discussion boards per week – one group discussion and one pair discussion. For both, they must post an initial answer to a question I pose by Tuesday. Then, by Friday at noon, they must read at least what they’re groupmates have posted and post at least one reply/follow-up.
Several years ago, a colleague suggested that having students lead discussions in the online classroom would be a good idea. I agreed and searched the literature for research on this topic but found nothing. No one at that point had been looking at having students moderate, or they hadn’t written about it. I still thought it was a good idea and decided to pursue this line of research by having my students moderate and follow up with an end-of-course student questionnaire.
Students with disabilities are drawn to online courses for many of the same reasons as everyone else, but it’s often the anonymity that makes learning online particularly attractive to someone who’s spent his or her life trying to mask a disability. For online instructors, this can present new issues. After all, it’s hard enough distinguishing