online discussion groups
The use of online discussion in both blended and fully online courses has made clear that those exchanges are more productive if they are structured, if there’s a protocol that guides the interaction. This kind of structure is more important in the online environment because those discussions are usually asynchronous and minus all the nonverbal cues that facilitate face-to-face exchanges. But I’m wondering if more structure might benefit our in-class discussions as well.
Students struggle with academic discourse. They have conversations (or is it chats?) with each other, but not discussions like those we aspire to have in our courses. And although students understand there’s a difference between the two, they don’t always know exactly how they’re supposed to talk about academic content when discussing it with teachers and classmates. Would providing more structure provide that clarity and make the value of discussions more obvious to students?
Faculty use asynchronous discussions to extend and enhance instructional practices in the online classroom. It is widely reported that online discussions play an integral role in facilitating students’ learning, as well as fostering dialogue, critical thinking, and reflective inquiry (Kayler & Weller, 2007; Morris, Finnegan, & Sz-Shyan, 2005). Despite faculty’s knowledge that discussion forums can serve as a useful learning tool, online discussions are not easy to establish and manage.
I found a nice set of online discussion activities that strike me as good in-class discussion activities as well. One of the reasons discussion so often fails or doesn’t realize much of its potential is the absence of structure. The discussion is too open-ended. It wanders around and is easily sidetracked. I’m not discounting the value of an occasional unstructured exchange, but when students are still learning what academic discourse entails, a structure can keep the discussion focused and on track.
Heidi Beezley, instructional technologist at Georgia Perimeter College, strives to instill online courses with active learning, “providing opportunities for students to meaningfully talk and listen, write, read, and reflect on the content, ideas, issues, and concerns of an academic subject” (as defined by Meyers and Jones). To this she adds: “interact[ing] with realia, manipulatives, simulations,
Online instructors are being asked to accommodate an increasing number of students in their courses. The challenge is to manage the workload associated with these high-enrollment courses. Susan Fein, eLearning consultant/instructional designer at Washington State University, offered some advice on how to do this.
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
Shrinking budgets and increasing enrollments are putting online instructors in the position of teaching larger classes. Accommodating more students means rethinking how you teach your courses. Otherwise your workload can quickly become overwhelming.
We appreciated reading Dr. Weimer’s article “Getting students to act on our feedback” (March 5, 2012). The solution proposed of asking students to identify three ways to improve their assignment based on instructor feedback is a great idea. We would like to offer a further solution that addresses students’ incorporating instructor feedback.
One of the most frequently asked questions from veteran and novice online faculty alike is, “How many weekly discussion posts should I contribute?” The reality is that there is an intricate balancing act to achieve the coveted “guide on the side” role in discussion forum facilitation.