online discussion forums September 4

Why Demand Originality from Students in Online Discussion Forums?

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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.


Rejuvenating online discussions June 11

Rejuvenating Online Discussions

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When you picture an online discussion, your mind most likely envisions a text-heavy, threaded exchange of ideas among students who are primarily responding to an instructor’s prompt and then persuaded by the promise of points to respond to each other. Depending on a number of factors, the discussion can be dynamic, or it can fall flat. Because discussion forums are one of the most popular and frequently used technological tools in online and blended courses, instructors must take the time to ensure these discussions are effective.

Our simple model proposes a structure to help rejuvenate online discussions in three steps: prepping, discussing, and assessing. Prepping is an important and sometimes overlooked step, as we are all rushed for time when we begin our online or blended courses, but we argue that preparation is essential to reach your intended outcomes for your course. Some of the key aspects of prepping include creating clear criteria for your students, communicating expectations, establishing ground rules, carefully considering question types, and having clear goals or links to learning outcomes.

If it’s important that your students write over 300 words in a post, make that explicit. If you expect your students to respond within a week to two other students’ posts, write it clearly in your instructions. Better yet, make a video for your students describing your expectations. You might even consider having the students come up with the ground rules or netiquette for discussions. Making conscious decisions about the type of question(s) you are going to ask in a discussion forum is key. Try a case study or scenario and ask students to solve or respond to it. Ask students to role play as a particular character or historical figure as they respond to your prompt.

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facilitating effective online discussions March 5

Seven Ways to Facilitate Effective Online Discussions

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Unlike a lot of faculty teaching today, Brian Udermann learned about the potential of online discussion boards almost by accident. It all happened about 15 years ago when he noticed the online discussion forum feature in his institution’s new learning management system and decided to set one up for his face-to-face class in health and nutrition.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” said Udermann, now director of online education at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “There were no grades affiliated with it. I didn’t even create a prompt, or a question, or an activity, nothing. I just told students, ‘Hey, this is available in our class, this discussion forum thing, and if you ever want to go out there and interact with each other, you certainly can.’”

Nothing happened for about a week or so, but then one day a student posted a comment about something he found interesting from the day’s lecture. Then another student chimed in, then another. And for the rest of the semester a small group of students would drift in and out of the discussion forum, chatting about the most recent class and the things that piqued their interest.

Fast forward to 2018 and Udermann is teaching others how to facilitate effective online discussions. He knows firsthand the challenges of engaging online students and hears from faculty about the frustrations of trying to find the right balance with their online presence as well as the age-old challenge of cultivating meaningful dialogue among students.

He offers the following seven strategies for creating robust discussion board activities that students will find interesting along with helpful tips for managing instructor workload related to reading and grading posts.

1. Identify your optimal number of discussion forums.

Oftentimes, an online instructor will determine the number of required forums based on the weeks in the semester. So, by default, a 15-week course has 15 forums. That can be too much, especially during weeks where students have midterms, papers, or other large projects due.

In surveys of online students at UW-La Crosse, Udermann says they started noticing a theme about five years ago whereby students said the discussion boards sometimes feel like busywork. It’s that kind of feedback that can help faculty reconsider the structure of their discussion board requirements and reflect on what they’re really hoping to achieve.

“We always have this conversation with new instructors before they teach their first online course,” said Udermann. “Why are you using discussion forums in your class? Is it just because it’s an online class, and you think that that’s what you’re supposed to be doing? What’s the purpose? What’s the meaning? What are the students going to learn? What do you want them to achieve based upon their participation in these forums? Are your discussion forum activities tied into the student learning outcomes for the class?”

Once you have the answers to those questions and a clear purpose to each assignment, share it with your students. The reason we’re having this discussion forum this week is because ________.

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online learning communities of practice September 9, 2017

Facilitating Communities of Practice in Online Courses

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What are communities of practice?
A community of practice is a network of people who exchange knowledge about a common profession. Members of the community exchange best practices and share evidence and results while supporting each other on a personal level. Good examples of these communities are the LinkedIn groups that can be found for nearly any profession.

While communities of practice are common and valuable in the working world, too often the interactions within a course are designed to apply only to that course, rather than prepare the student for the broader discussion within the profession that they will encounter after leaving school. That’s why I focus on forming communities of practice within my online courses.

A gradual approach to communities of practice
While there are various ways to promote communities of practices in online courses, I find discussion forums are the easiest place to start. When I design my discussion forums for my classes, I use a gradual design approach that spans the entire semester. The idea is to use the forum to facilitate a pathway toward communities of practice for the students.

communities of practice

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student engagement June 7, 2017

Classroom Discussions: How to Apply the Right Amount of Structure

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While preparing for a Teaching Professor Conference session on facilitating classroom discussions (much of which applies to online exchanges), I’ve been reminded yet again of the complexity involved in leading a discussion with students new to the content and unfamiliar with academic discourse.

One of the most vexing complexities involves finding the balance between structure and the lack of it—between controlling the content and opening it up for exploration. Without structure, discussions tend to wander off in different directions, and what should have been talked about isn’t discussed. A single comment can take the discussion off track, and once it’s headed in the wrong direction, it’s tough to get it back. Open-ended explorations are potentially productive, but too often the wandering doesn’t go anywhere and little learning results.


Online discussions: typing on keyboard February 8, 2017

Three Simple Ways to Energize Online Discussions

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Online course discussions are routine in online and blended classes, and they are gaining popularity in face-to-face courses as well. Proponents of online discussions tout that their use can help with community- and relationship-building, can push students to go deeper with course content and demonstrate critical thinking, and can allow students to share their knowledge and previous experience with course-related concepts and ideas.

Although the use of online discussions is becoming more common, I frequently hear faculty express concerns and challenges they have with them: the time it takes to read and grade each post, keeping students interested and engaged with the forums, and wrestling with how much they as instructors should be participating.

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online student: PBL December 1, 2016

Using Online Protocols for Discussions

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After teaching online for a number of years, I grew weary of the normal “make an initial post, then respond to two others” discussions. Was there another way to engage students? How could I make discussions more meaningful and in-depth? Were there ways to ensure that all students had a voice in a conversation?

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online group work December 1, 2016

Discussion Board Expectations

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I rely a lot on discussion boards in this course and use the adjective “substantial” to describe the level of responses students should submit. Since this is a graduate level course, participants’ work should be of graduate level quality. While there is no set number of words that qualifies a “substantial” post, posting a single sentence as a response is probably not “substantial.” As you write, consider Bloom’s Taxonomy and the types of cognitive levels you’re drawing upon. If you’re just describing or restating, you’re not doing much higher level analysis and critique. I’d like to situate our discussions and spend our time in higher forms of thought (application, analysis, evaluation, synthesis).

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class discussion December 1, 2016

Online Forum Posts Improve Discussion in a Face-to-Face Classroom

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Jay Howard’s new book, Discussion in the College Classroom (a book that is well worth your time), lays out the research showing that cold calling on students is one of the best ways to get past their “civil attention.” It’s clear to me that once cold calling becomes the norm in a course, using that technique can increase the quality of in-class discussions.

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April 13, 2015

Save the Last Word for Me: Encouraging Students to Engage with Complex Reading and Each Other

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Online discussions are often implemented in college classes to allow students to express their understanding and perceptions about the assigned readings. This can be challenging when the reading is particularly complex, as students are typically reluctant to share their interpretations because they are not confident in their understanding. This can inhibit meaningful interactions with peers within an online discussion.