3 Steps for Effective Online Discussions

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"Rejuvenating Online Discussions" (online article) outlines a 3-step structure for making online discussions more dynamically productive: "prepping, discussing, and assessing."

A. Prepping

1. "[C]reat[e] clear criteria for your students." 

  • "If it’s important that your students write over 300 words in a post, make that explicit."

2. "[C]ommunicat[e] expectations."

  • "If you expect your students to respond within a week to two other students’ posts, write it clearly in your instructions ... [or] make a video for your students describing your expectations." 

3. "[E]stablis[h] ground rules."

  • "[C]onsider having the students come up with the ground rules or netiquette for discussions." 

4. "[C]arefully conside[r] question types."

  • "Try a case study or scenario and ask students to solve or respond to it," [or] "[a]sk students to role-play ... as they respond to your prompt."

5. "[Have] clear goals or links to learning outcomes."

"Keep your learning goals in mind as you are prepping."

  • "Are you using discussion forums to make students think critically? Then ask a higher-order question."
  • "Are you hoping this discussion forum will let you know they read the chapter? Then ask for a summary and/or consider other assessment alternatives." 

B. Discussing

1. "Encourage critical thinking."

  • "[Vary] who leads the discussion ... you ... [or] one student or a group of students [can] come up with the question(s) and then lead the discussion."
  • "[Invite] [an] expert ... as the discussion leader for the week."
  • "[A]sk students to play various roles...: peacekeeper, devil’s advocate, reflector, or summarizer..."

2. Be present.

"If you ... want to ... let the students lead, find another way to be present."

  • "[Wrap] up with a summary or reflection so that students know that discussions are important to you and to the course content."
  • "Provide feedback to students privately on their level of participation in the forum, and use this feature more frequently if you see flaming."
  • "Stop bad behavior before it becomes a larger issue among your students."

3. Use new technologies for variety and engagement.

"Many ... educational technologies ... allow your students to express their perspective in visuals, video, or other formats." Some possible options:

  • Flipgrid (pdf overview): "Instructors can post a discussion question in a video format and students respond back through videos they can create on their computers, phones, or tablets."
  • Padlet: "[A]n electronic whiteboard that allows students to post videos, audio, documents, pictures, and text. Other students can add their own comments to posts." 
  • Buncee: "[A]n easy-to-use web tool for creating and sharing multimedia presentations, lessons, and digital stories ... students can post their slides to a Buncee board, a shared space that allows users to view and comment on each other’s Buncee creations."

C. Assessing

"Every discussion forum, every semester, should be evaluated to make sure the discussion has led to the intended learning outcomes." 

  • "[U]se a [student-centered] rubric to provide grades for discussions on a variety of key elements that you determined during your prepping step."
  • "[U]se [an] [instructor-centered] rubric to assess the overall forum itself and the extent to which it met your intended learning outcomes."

D. "[D]iscussion forums aren’t always the answer."

1. Consider other activities. 

"Other assessments might help you reach your intended goals, such blogs or collaborative activities."

  • "[H]ave students write blogs regularly and comment on each other’s blogs, or collaborate on a wiki page, or use Google Docs or Slides or the comparable Office 365 tools as they work together to accomplish a learning outcome."

2. Consider (optional) synchronous, real-time, online discussions.

  • [U]se "Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype" for "synchronous discussions [that are] just audio, or audio and video, or just chat based."

Craig, Madeline. "Rejuvenating Online Discussions." Faculty Focus Premium 11 June 2018.*

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