This article is featured in the resource guide, Effective Online Teaching Strategies. Due to the pandemic, educators have had to make adjustments to their classroom
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
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.
In their article on the effect of instructor participation in online discussion boards, Margaret Mazzolini and Sarah Maddison (2003) asked if, “online instructors [should] be encouraged to take a prominent ‘sage on the stage’ role, a more constructivist ‘guide on the side’ role, or an ultra-low profile as ‘the ghost in the wings’” when they are facilitating asynchronous discussion boards. Fifteen years later, we are still debating this same question.
What does it mean to be a wallflower? Such a person might be thought of as shy and might sit apart from others at a party or social gathering, choosing to listen and observe rather than participate. And in the online classroom, a wallflower might be the person who reads course information and discussion boards regularly, but never posts. So how do instructors know if this online wallflower is really engaged in the course?
You’re asking the wrong question. No, seriously, you’re probably asking the wrong question.
Yeah, that’s a pretty bold statement. But I’ve read tens of thousands of questions meant to prompt discussions in online course rooms, and the odds are I am right.
I am not an athlete. I lack coordination and have some physical limitations. My husband, on the other hand, is an excellent skier. He isn’t a teacher but he believed I could learn to ski, convinced me to try, and partnered with me in the learning process, like the best teachers do. Learning to ski taught me 10 coaching strategies bridging four areas: establishing a safe space to learn, sharing responsibility, providing feedback, and empowering the learner. I apply these strategies to facilitating online discussions, but they relate to a range of learning contexts.
Incivility in the online classroom can take many forms. Angela Stone Schmidt, director of graduate programs in the School of Nursing and associate dean College of Nursing & Health Professions at Arkansas State University—Jonesboro, uses Morrisette’s definition: “interfering with a cooperative learning atmosphere.” So in addition to inappropriate, rude, offensive, or bullying behaviors, Schmidt considers behaviors such as academic dishonesty, over-participation or domination and under-participation to be forms of incivility. In an interview with Online Classroom, she offered the following advice on how to reduce incivility with a proactive stance and how to address it when it does occur:
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.
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: