Discussions are defined as "the action or process of talking about something to reach a decision or to exchange ideas." And that's one of the main goals of an online class discussion. But instead of having a student post a thread just to meet requirements, how do you get them to exchange ideas, share points of view, and offer opinions?
Post Explicit Engagement Guidelines
Engagement guidelines can be included in the syllabus or be a separate document that list the expectations you have of the participants in the course. Engagement guidelines can include; due dates for discussion or reflection-based activities, the schedule and types of interactions you hope to have in synchronous sessions, the tone of reflection/discussion posts (casual discussion vs. formal posts), the type of participation students can expect from the instructor throughout the course, and response times students can expect from instructors when awaiting replies to questions.
Model Early Discussion Posts for Students
Early in the term, the instructor should have a high amount of presence in class discussions. In addition to showing instructor's presence and expertise, the early posts by the instructor can also act as a model for students. Once established, the role of the instructor will change within the discussions since studies find that too much presence by the instructor in course discussions can lead to a decline in student engagement.
Hayek, C. (2012) How Many Faculty Discussion Posts Each Week? A Simply Delicious Answer. Faculty Focus
Enforce Proper Netiquette
Your online classroom should be an environment that is open, inclusive, and trusted. A list of “class laws” or reminders will help reinforce these expectations. Things to be mindful of are; no SHOUTING, using humor carefully since not all humor comes across in writing, keeping messages brief, being specific, and using appropriate language.
Manage Discussions Effectively
Here are eight words to live by (and discuss) when managing discussions online:
- Be present: Visit the discussion frequently during the week and let students know you’re reading and enjoying their conversation.
- Notice: Each week be sure you notice something that each student has contributed to the learning community and make a point of posting at least one message to every student.
- Personalize: Always use the student’s name to begin a posting and always ‘sign’ it with your own name.
- Quote: When a student says something that grabs your attention, include a quote in your reply. It’s very affirming to have your own words recognized and valued by your instructor.
- Nudge: Acknowledge the message, affirm what the student has said and contributed, and then offer a gentle nudge to extend his or her thinking or to encourage connections between personal thoughts and words and those of classmates.
- Invite: End your message with a question that invites the student and others to respond and continue the conversation.
- Connect: One of the most important things you can model through your own postings is the importance of finding the connections between what someone has posted and comments shared by other students earlier or elsewhere in the discussion.
- Summarize: Sometimes this happens early in the week or more than once, depending on the nature of the students’ participation and contributions. This is something you can model and encourage by seeing the big picture and pulling out the big ideas the group talked about during the week. Your summary might end with another nudge that bridges this week’s discussion to the next module topics.