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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


Hybrid Flipped Classroom

Posted Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 Tagged:

Special thanks to guest blogger Megan Tyler, Education Instructor & Off-Campus Elementary Education Advisor, for sharing about these exciting changes in the UTEP program!

Greenville College’s Undergraduate Teacher Education Partnership (UTEP) Program is getting a new design.

Beginning Fall 2014, Greenville College’s Undergraduate Teacher Education Partnership (UTEP) Program will be launching its new hybrid – flipped classroom design.  This new structure provides many benefits to students entering the field of teacher education.  Instructors provide high quality learning experiences that actively engage students and strongly supports each individual on their learning journey.  The flipped classroom approach is not a new concept, but has recently been gaining more attention in higher education.  The launching of the newly designed UTEP program brings great excitement and is highly anticipated!

What exactly is the flipped classroom, and what will it look like in the UTEP program?

Often, face-to-face class sessions include a variety of lectures, presentations, discussion of readings and topics, media resources, and activities that introduce or explore relevant course content.  Students then complete homework and activities independently that reinforce and expand upon the content explored in class.  The flipped classroom takes a different approach by reversing activities completed “in” and “out” of the class sessions.  The students participate in activities that require problem-solving and necessitates the most support from the instructor during the face-to-face class session.  Other tasks that do not require support from the instructor are completed in an online environment in preparation for the face-to-face class session.

When designing a flipped course, we must ask ourselves two key questions:

1)   When is it that my students need my support the most?

2)   What can my students handle fully on their own?

It’s crucial that these two questions remain in this particular order as instructors think about how to develop a flipped course or how to modify an existing face-to-face course into a flipped course.

Let’s explore these two key questions.

1)    When is it that my students need my support the most?

Of course the answer to this question varies depending up on the course content; however, there are some overall generalizations that can be made.  Students tend to need us most when they are grappling with tough questions, when they are problem-solving new ideas and possibilities, and when they are confused or lack confidence in a particular concept.  They need to see modeling of how to tackle a problem, they need clarification and an opportunity to receive specific feedback, they desire personal connections specific to their learning, and long for interaction that validates and encourages their thinking.  This kind of support is better provided in a face-to-face format where instructors can provide strategic instruction and give students the time and attention they deserve.

2)   What can my students handle fully on their own?

Students are fully capable of completing most introductory learning tasks independently, especially 21st century learners.  Lectures and presentations can easily be recorded using a variety of technology tools and be made accessible to students in the online course room.  Discussions of readings and relevant course topics can take place through online dialogue on discussion boards or blogs that are moderated by the instructor.  Videos and other media resources can easily be explored online by placing links to the content inside the online learning system.  While deadlines and specific parameters still exist, more flexibility and convenience exists for students.  The online tasks can be completed within a specific window of time and learners have continual access to the course materials for reference and review, even as the course progresses and other topics are explored.

The table below highlights some recommendations that help distinguish activities that are more suited for face-to-face sessions versus the online learning environment.  These examples specifically focus on teacher education courses that emphasize methodologies of teaching:

Activities in the Face-to-Face Sessions

Activities in the Online Learning Environment

Lesson Planning

Unit Design

Assessment Training & Analysis

Collaborative Hands-On Learning Activities

Examination of Student Artifacts

Practical Application of Instructional Content

Exploration of Manipulatives & Materials

Interacting in Discussion Boards/Blogs

Viewing of Lectures/Presentations

Exploration of Media

(images, videos, websites)


Journaling & Reflective Responses

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ePortfolio is for everyone.

Posted Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 Tagged:

ePortfolio is a tool in Desire2Learn that simply means Electronic Portfolio. Students, Faculty, and Staff all have their own ePortfolio. This tool is a great way for the users to showcase the work they have done in digital form.  The way the presentation is presented is in the form of a standard website. For faculty review, it eliminates the waste of paper and troubles with the mobility and storage of those bulky binders. ePortfolio is much easier to store and submit to the VPAA Office. It can be shared with others across the institution for feedback and even collaborative work.

For students, they are able to save and upload their best works and showcase them for graduation. Students are even able to save their presentation and use it for their future in Grad School or job seeking opportunities.

Users are able to place many forms of media including: documents, images, videos, audio, and text. It is up to them to be creative and make it look nice.  There are some limitations in the themes, but the portfolios can look professional.

After doing many training sessions for students, I have seen a lot of good presentations and a few not so good ones. The students seem to enjoy making the presentation after they get adjusted with using the tools. I see using the ePortfolio engages students with using new technology. Students are so used to the standard papers and tests that they could easily not get excited. The presentation can show the students’ skills in a different way than tests and papers, and ePortfolio is something they can be proud of creating themselves. It allows the instructors to have a window looking into the students learning and seeing their progress and achievements. Instructors can see in this window and are able to give feedback on their learning to help them with future work. The students have the opportunity to be creative, think critically, and reflect upon the work they have done.

I think using ePortfolio just for a single class can be a great aspect. The ability for sharing and collaborating work would make it ideal for group presentations. My idea is using it as a final presentation for the whole semester experience. It could be filled with reflections, summaries, and pictures (for art classes and COR 103 classes.)

Some people may not know that ePortfoilio has the capability to make multiple presentations.

If you want to use ePortfolio for a class or are already using it for a major requirement, here is some advice to have more success and have high quality presentations from your students:

◦ Let the students know early on in their career or class about ePorfolio. They will want to make sure they are saving their works to add it later.

◦ Let them know your full expectation with the final result. I have seen some students lost and unaware of what they need to have in their presentation.

◦ Create assignments that will go well in an ePortfolio.

◦ Let them know that the ePortfolio is a professional tool and the text should be used in that manner. I have seen text used identical to a social media site. This would not be good if they were using it for a job search.

◦ Encourage them to be creative when they show their work off.

◦ Show them examples of other presentations to inspire them and see that it can be done.

◦ The last piece of advice is to get them trained. Schedule a demonstration time for ePortfolio. I am free to come to your class to show the students how to use the tools properly.

Here is a video that D2L made about ePortfolio:
YouTube Preview Image

If you personally want to learn more about ePortfolio or have training, feel free to schedule an appointment or stop by my office.

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