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
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
online discussion groups
Developing sophisticated but essential learning skills is especially challenging in large classes. That’s why we regularly report on strategies that faculty members have developed and are using in large classes. The cases in point here are three different biochemistry courses in which faculty members have been using online, asynchronous discussion groups to develop problem-solving skills.
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.
One of the most important responsibilities online instructors face is teaching students how to think critically. Successful achievement of this task requires that instructors provide the right setting and the appropriate activities that will prompt a student on to higher-level thinking. Though this mission is not exclusive to online instruction, the online environment presents some unique challenges and opportunities that distinguish this type of learning environment from traditional face-to-face classroom instruction.
Online discussions are sometimes difficult to get going, and often the students (at least at first) seem to respond too superficially, punctuated by an occasional treatise by an overeager student. Here’s how I jumpstart discussions in my family relations online course.
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.
A funny thing happened to some graduate students at Drexel University. They enrolled in an online program, drawn by the anytime/anywhere convenience the medium affords, but found that one of their favorite aspects was the live synchronous learning elements.
Meaningful online discussions that promote learning and build community usually do not happen spontaneously. They require planning, good use of questioning techniques, and incentives for student participation.
Social presence, “the degree to which a medium is perceived as representing the presence of communication participants,” is an important factor in students’ learning and satisfaction. With online learning reaching across cultures, Judy Teng, educational technologist at the College of Saint Rose, studied how ethnicity affects student perceptions of social presence.