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Discussions 101

Posted Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 Tagged:

Benefits of Online Discussions

Online discussion boards offer many benefits to the teaching and learning process. They can be a great way to get to know one another and build a strong sense of respectful community. Many students prefer the online discussion board over a classroom discussion because it allows time to develop a more thoughtful, reflective, and organized response. Students who might otherwise “blend in” with a face-to-face class tend to blossom in online discussions where they sense more freedom to express their opinions. And, when using the discussion tool within the LMS (Desire2Learn), there will be a record of the discussion.

Purposes of Online Discussions

Likewise, there are a variety of purposes that can be addressed with discussion boards, such as: relational purposes (i.e. icebreakers), instructional purposes (i.e. point/counterpoint; to meet stated objectives or content specific topics), reflective purposes (i.e. role playing, brainstorming), or cooperative purposes (i.e. polling, peer review, group work). Whatever the purpose, discussions provide an avenue for active learning within online and hybrid courses. The advantages are also available to supplement face-to-face courses.

Active Learning & Teaching Through Discussions

Learning is about catching the concept. Active learning includes: concise postings, dialogue, reflection, netiquette, discussions connected to lived experiences, setting up discussion with good discussion starters, and continuing discussions with solid questions and teaching.

Role of the Instructor in Online Discussions

The role of an instructor within online discussions is very important! Your role in online discussions is to provide a safe, trusted environment where students’ thinking skills can be improved. As a facilitator, there are several best practices to keep in mind.

Establish trust within your course.
Respect age, diversity, and cultural differences.
Understand your learners.
Provide clear expectations.
Encourage critical thinking.
Ask good questions that: start, refocus, clarify, verify, narrow the focus, or support the discussion.
Provide focus to keep to a particular point or concept.
Start where the student is.
Assess both quality and quantity of student posts.
Participate in the discussion with students.
Do not dominate the discussion or allow others to.
Model what you want students to do.

Setting Clear Expectations

As mentioned, online discussions can serve a variety of purposes. Regardless of discussion type, instructors should establish and communicate what their expectations are for students. Establishing a rubric will help you clarify your expectations and expedite the grading process. Some guidelines to consider are:

Length requirement/word count of original posts
Deadline for posting
Length/word count for peer replies
Deadline for replying to peers
Number of peer replies
Spelling & grammar expectations
Quality expectations (i.e. “I agree” is not a sufficient reply)

Examples of BAD Discussion Forum Questions

In your family, describe how the mother and father are treated differently by the children.

This prompt assumes knowledge about a student’s family background. Even if the instructor knows something about a person’s family history, he should not exploit that or draw attention to it in the discussion.

This an interesting discussion. You shy people need to weigh in now.

Is everyone who posts after this going to be labeled as shy now? What value does the comment bring to the discussion?

What did you learn about systems management from watching American Idol last night?

Again this questions makes assumptions about a student’s personal interests.

What do the non-Christians in our group think of Christopher Stone’s essay on Generation X?

This question immediately creates a sense of “us” and “them” between Christians and non-Christians and violates the best practices of establishing trust and respecting diversity. It also does not bring focus or support to the discussion.

Examples of GOOD Discussion Questions

Provide an example of how you recently exhibited one of your strengths and how your strengths might help you make a team more effective in achieving a goal.

This prompt (relating to the Strengths Finder test), opens an opportunity for the student to share a personal insight that she is comfortable with, without making assumptions.

The character Marcellus says, late in Act I, that “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (1.4.90). That statement is a MAJOR theme of the entire play. And it becomes a theme with which we can identify, because we can look around our own nation and see “rottenness” of one kind or another. Chinua Achebe, in his 1960′s Nigerian novel, described it as “things fall apart.” And it is like the play Oedipus the King: Things are rotten; they are falling apart.

Pick out one thing that demonstrates this “rottenness” in Hamlet’s Denmark. Pick any example you can find in Act I of things NOT being the way they should be in a healthy society. Cite the example and explain why it illustrates “rottenness.”

This discussion prompt is very specific to the goals and content of the course. It is focused on the student’s ability to analyze dramatic text and support their analysis with evidence from that text.

The role of the quizzes is to be thought provoking rather than definitive. They will also cause you to begin to examine yourself as you continue in a leadership role. As the prompt stated, you should also look for areas that need improvement. While you said you could make improvements, you did not indicate what areas you felt needed work. Your peers would be able to make suggestions if given a specific area.

Here, the instructor has responded to a student’s discussion post. She offers clarity about the purposes of an assignment, explaining in terms that relate to the student’s interest. However, she also asks the student to expand on his original post, gently pointing out that area where he didn’t completely answer the original prompt and why that was important to the class discussion overall.

For Further Reading

Blended Learning: Adding Asynchronous Discussions to Your F2F Classrooms

Mastering Online Discussion-Board Facilitation by TeacherEase (PDF), available from Edutopia

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[D2L] How to Read, Reply to, and Assess Discussion Topic Posts

Posted Friday, June 1st, 2012 Tagged:

When you are reviewing Discussion Topics in your course, follow two major steps to effectively read, reply, and assess student work:

1.  Go to Course Home > Discussions > Select Discussion Topic from the Forums and Topics List (click its title).  Read and reply to posts as needed or appropriate.  In order to build a learning community in your course, your presence in the discussions is essential.  You can reply to each individual post or simply post an all-class response.  Doing so raises the students’ experience of your teaching and social presence in the course.

2.  After reading and replying to students’ posts, you are now ready to Assess the Discussion Topic.  You can assign a score to each student by Read the rest of this entry »

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Are You Asking the Right Type of Discussion Questions?

Posted Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 Tagged:

Discussion forums are central to your online course, and your hope is that these would further stimulate student learning.  However, the level of participation needs improvement.  How do you help your students go beyond the surface and lead them into meaningful reflection and discussion?

Ask the right type of questions, says Tisha Bender in her book Discussion-Based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning: Theory, Practice and Assessment (2003).  Through this book she shares her insights from her wealth of experience as an online instructor and online faculty developer.  I have begun reading her book recently, and in the next few posts will share some of her practical recommendations on on how enhance discussion-based online learning.

In Chapter 6, “Aspects of Online Communication,” what does Bender recommend?  Ask the right type of questions to Read the rest of this entry »

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