If you’re having trouble getting students to engage in the discussion forum, perhaps it’s time to rethink how you use this tool. “Think of it as a place to foster interaction between the students through a variety of means rather than just asking them questions, although that’s great too,” says Chris Laney, professor of history and geography at Berkshire Community College.
Clear expectations, structure, and instructor intervention can go a long way toward getting students highly engaged and highly interactive in online discussions.
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.
Critical thinking is defined as a reflective and reasonable thought process embodying depth, accuracy, and astute judgment to determine the merit of a decision, an object, or a theory (Alwehaibi, 2012). Creative thinking involves analysis, evaluation, and a synthesizing of facts, ideas, opinions, and theories. Possessing the capacity to logically and creatively exercise in-depth judgment and reflection to work effectively in the realm of complex ideas exemplifies a critical thinker (Carmichael & Farrell, 2012).
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:
Monica Rothschild-Boros, an art appreciation and cultural anthropology instructor at Orange Coast College, uses a combination of embedded lecture questions, threaded discussion, and innovative assignments to engage students and get them to think critically in her online 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.
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.
An integral part of nearly all online classes is the threaded discussion—it is where students interact on a nearly daily basis, posting their thoughts and information on main discussion topics, your postings, and the postings of other students. While you have measured control over the content, length, and tone of student postings, you have full control over your own.
One of the most useful elements of online courses is that they’re available anytime. But along with the timelessness, there is also an absence of time in many activities and pieces of content in the course that can that can lead to feelings of disconnectedness. How closely do we connect actual time to our student’s online experiences?