When Hayley Lake, lecturer at Eastern Washington University, got the opportunity to develop an online version of Survey of Alcohol & Drug Problems, a multidisciplinary course that draws students from a variety of majors and backgrounds, she knew that online discussions would be an essential feature of the course. She had taught the course in the face-to-face environment and saw a lot of room for improvement—despite the diversity of students and the inherent potential for lively discussions, the course lacked engagement and rigor.
Whether you teach online, face-to-face, or blended/hybrid courses, podcasts can improve student learning, says Charles Morgan, chair of the mathematics department at Lock Haven University. Consider the following benefits:
Glenda Hernandez Baca, professor/coordinator of teacher education at Montgomery College, Takoma Park Campus, encourages the use of collaborative learning throughout online courses. In an interview with Online Classroom, she offered the following ideas for facilitating collaborative learning in group projects and in threaded discussions:
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.
The discussion board is the heart and soul of online learning. As such, the life and livelihood of online teaching and learning flows through threaded, asynchronous conversations inspired by thought-provoking questions. To maximize the potential of online discussions, these conversations need to be relevant and inspiring dialogs that empower and enlighten online learning.
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.
Online educators have long known that asynchronous discussion is deeper than face-to-face discussion due to the increased thought time and the “democratization” of the classroom. But one major disadvantage of traditional online discussion is that it is separate from the lecture.
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.
When I first began teaching online, I believed that anytime students wrote anything, they should be held accountable for both spelling and grammar and my discussion rubric reflected that. As a result, I got very brief, very stiff, very formal discussion posts in which students were clearly speaking to me rather than to each other.
As more and more courses go online, interaction and knowledge building among students rely primarily on asynchronous threaded discussions. For something that is so central to online learning, current research and literature have provided instructors with little support as to how they can facilitate and maintain high-quality conversations among students in these learning environments. This article responds to this need by offering three strategies instructors can use to ensure educationally valuable talk in their online classes.