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.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
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.
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?
While online discussion is generally deeper and more active than face-to-face discussion, even online discussions can eventually become a drudgery. Nobody likes reading long blocks of text online, yet discussion in an online classroom is text based.
During a recent seminar, presenters Kay Dennis of Park University and Jeffery Alejandro of East Carolina University, offered the following tips on using online discussions
At its best, the discussion board can be the heart and soul of the online classroom. But it’s not always easy getting students to make the type of contributions you expect. The comments can be rather flat, not very insightful, and more often than not, it feels like some students just fill the minimum number of posts stipulated in your syllabus.
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.