We are used to discussing topics with our colleagues. They know the material, have already thought a lot about it, and can answer questions quickly. We want conversations in class to clip along at a similar pace—there’s always lots of material the class needs to get through.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
facilitating effective classroom discussions
Sometimes it’s good to revisit an instructional standby. Discussion is a staple in most teachers’ repertoire of strategies, but it frequently disappoints. So few students are willing to participate and they tend to be the same ones. The students who do contribute often do so tentatively, blandly, and pretty much without anything that sounds like interest or conviction. On some days it’s just easier to present the material.
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.
Students find discussions disillusioning just about as often as faculty do. In the analysis referenced below, students objected when a few fellow classmates dominated the discussion; when the discussion wandered off topic, making it difficult to ascertain main points; and when students participated just for the sake of participating.
Sometimes we are so concerned with following our lesson plans to the letter that we miss what is truly important: teaching moments. A teacher has to learn to listen to his or her class and realize when the moment to abandon the lesson plan has come. This willingness to release some control over the class and allow it to develop more or less organically does not always come easily, however. Goal-induced anxiety can make a teacher reluctant to let go of the reins out of fear that the class will go off in some random direction.
Last week, while teaching Dante’s Inferno, I moderated a lively two-day class discussion about medieval and modern values and religion. How did Dante define virtue? How do we define it? For Dante, why was lust not as terrible a sin as theft of property? Why did his age consider gluttony a moral failing rather than a self-destructive behavior that one can take to Jenny Craig?
At the heart of every online course is the discussion forum. This is where ideas, information, and new material are shared, discussed, analyzed, built upon,
As a history major I usually found most of my history courses pretty interesting. Certainly some were more interesting than others but I think a lot of that had more to do with the instructor than the content. Of course not every student who takes a history class course plans to major in it, which is why I love it when I hear about a history professor (or any educator for that matter) doing innovative things to engage students in one of those “core courses” many students often dread.
If you’re looking to improve threaded discussions in your online courses, consider using brief video clips as discussion prompts. When carefully selected and integrated into a course, these clips can lead students to higher-order thinking and appeal to auditory and visual learning styles.