Leading On-line Discussions
- Indicate in syllabus multiple ways for the students to reach you beyond email (e.g., telephone, fax, mail).
- Indicate in syllabus telephone # of technical person to call for help.
- In syllabus, clearly state expectations (e.g., "students will post discussion remarks, at least, twice a week"), timelines for discussions (e.g., "all entries must be posted by Friday, 4:00pm of each week"), and evaluation guidelines (e.g., use performance rubric— see appendix #3).
- Pre-survey students to get a sense of their familiarity with online learning generally, and online discussions specifically (veterans can serve as contacts for students experiencing problems).
- Establish online discussion partners (e.g., "are you having problems getting in, too?").
- Pre-assign students to smaller discussion groups (4-7 members)—groups are easier to track and less intimidating for student to participate in.
- Encourage students to link their remarks to the readings and/or the remarks of others.
- Have a contingency plan in case on-line discussion fails.
- Open the discussion with a welcoming remark.
- Make the first discussion a non-evaluated ice-breaker activity (e.g., discussion of syllabus).
- Use a "prompt" (e.g., reading assignments, case studies, visuals or audio) to drive student response.
- Initiate an online discussion with a sentence completion exercise:
- "What most strikes me about the text we read to prepare for discussion today is…"
- "The question that I'd most like to ask the author of the text is…"
- "The idea I most take issue with in the text is…"
- "The most crucial point from last week's lecture was…"
- Initiate an online discussion with a contentious opening statement by an authority figure (e.g., "People aren't important to the University. ")
- If using the online discussion to enhance a traditional course, link information during class meetings to online discussions:
- Provide context—end the class introducing question(s) that will be a part of the online discussion.
- Reference (sub-reference) discussion points during class meetings—let students know that the issues and observations from online discussions are valued.
- Give constant feedback on postings—let students know you're following the discussion (i.e., 2-10 hours a week reported by instructors).
- Realize need for multiple instructional roles (e.g., coordinator, facilitator, technology professional, guardian of space, administrator, model, mentor, coach, cheerleader).
- Read student discussion points with an eye toward unanswered questions or points of confusion.
- Use directives and first-person in a friendly conversational-tone.
- Avoid the tendency to write simply in bullet-phrases.
- Spell-check your work (e.g., word process your responses and download).
- Create an environment where students feel socially involved.
- Use "one minute assessments" to assess the value of the discussions.
- What is one thing that still needs clarification?
- What question has been raised as a result of the discussion?
- How can the online discussions be made more effective?
- What point that was made by another individual in your discussion group did you find most thought-provoking?
- Evaluate the discussion of students in terms of what you value. Typical (potential) criteria:
- Respectful of others
- Awareness of discussion points of others
- Identifies themes, patterns, discrepancies
- Integrates, synthesizes and/or evaluates the remarks in the discussion
- Awareness of reading, case study, etc.
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