There is an abundance of websites, blogs and articles available to help teachers build engaging, supportive and educationally rich online discussions and we encourage you to do your own research. Here are our favourite 5 tips...
Consider affordances and challenges of asynchronous discussions and when, where and why a discussion will be most useful.
- Social boards (To build a sense of community or belonging e.g. warmers, shared experiences, help forums, information)
- Content boards (When collaboration supports deeper understanding e.g. individual or group activities, reflection, debates/ different perspectives, assessment practice)
- Assessment boards (Formal assessment of learners understanding and application of content e.g. individual or group assessments, presentations, projects, reflections)
- Consider where it sits in the learning experience – low to high stakes (anonymity)
- Consider the level of learning – recap vs perspective
A good prompt can encourage a lively discussion, engage students and guide learning.
- A prompt can be a dilemma, a controversial statement, two disparate viewpoints, a set of results, a photograph …anything that prompts analysis, reasoning and the shaping of a considered contribution to discussion.
- Ask open-ended questions that elicit critical debate.
- Try to link the student’s education, prior knowledge and personal experience to the course content.
- Select questions that you would find interesting to answer (because you’ll be reading their responses!).
Note: End of module discussion or review questions often do not make good online discussions.
It is important to clearly express expectations to students before a discussion commences.
- Set some rules for behaviour and interaction
- Provide clear expectations regarding the number of posts, length of posts, the number of replies, and the associated deadlines.
- Model social cues (e.g. personal vs professional tone) and social norms so students feel more comfortable. This can be helpful for students from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
- Let students know if you are using a full class discussion or smaller discussion groups and if the rules are the same.
It’s well known that peer to peer learning enhances student learning and this can be achieved through discussion forums.
- Consider appointing discussion leaders or having a different student facilitate each week
- Find the balance between facilitating (e.g. questioning, clarifying, encouraging) enough to motivate students but not too much so as to deter peer to peer interaction and student ownership
- Devise team problem solving tasks and opportunities to share personal stories
- Set aside discussion forums specifically for social interaction and community building
Providing feedback for online learners is one of the most important things an instructor can do – this goes for discussion forums too.
- At the end of a discussion forum, consider wrapping it up by summarising the key points covered, concerns raised or areas that require further work/consideration
- Weaving is a more in depth version of wrapping up where teachers (or even students as part of assessment) identify common threads from students posts and “weave” them together into one piece of feedback to the group so that responses are connected.
- Consider providing more critical feedback in a video or audio format which may better capture the nuances of what you are trying to express (than text).
Find out more...
Listen to this Online Clinic audio for more tips on how to create engaging discussions with your students.
More information can be found in the Moving to Online Teaching Canvas course developed by the Postgraduate.futures team.
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