Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Online Discussions

We all know that establishing successful Online Discussion forums is not always easy. However, in an online course, they are vital to student learning and play an extremely important role in critical thinking. I ran across an excellent blog post written by Stephanie Maher Palenque and Meredith DeCosta, PhD that I felt would be great to share. The following is a brief summary on the highlights of partnering both the science and art of online discussions.

When discussing the science of online discussions, the authors explain that productive discussions are essential to learning in the asynchronous online environment. When building your online discussion, they explain it is essential to keep in mind that the participants need to embrace these four dispositions: 
  1. Discuss to comprehend: focus on cognitive efforts such as "questioning, elaborating, or relating information to prior knowledge."
  2. Discuss to critique: create a discussion where students can "re-examine their original positions on an issue and explore new resolutions."
  3. Discuss to construct knowledge: students can become very isolated in an online environment if teachers do not provide an opportunity for interaction and collaboration with classmates - "It is only through this interaction that a richer understanding of the topic will take place."
  4. Discuss to share: students learn more productively if they have a sense of belonging, can support each other, develop shared values and have a shared identity.
When discussing the art of online discussions, the authors explain how you have to partner the science with the art. They provide four strategies to become an "online discussion forum artist"!
  1. Touch all students in the forum: as we acknowledge all participants when have a face-to-face conversation, we need to provide the same acknowledgement in an online discussion. Teachers need to acknowledge the efforts of their students! "Recognition can include a congratulatory post, a note of thanks, or a question or scenario designed to further thinking.
  2. Know what each student needs: what is the student's comfort level? Why not create a Classroom Assessment Technique to reveal the gaps in student learning and add them to the discussion forum?
  3. Be mindful of possibilities: do you only award credit for lengthy posts? If a student provides a brief conversation that is "substantive, of merit, and adds to the discussion", don't penalize because it doesn't fit the word count.
  4. Know when to lead and when to be led: sometimes you need to lead the conversation, but not always. Know when to let students take charge!
To read this article completely along with the authors' references, click on this link: The Art and Science of Successful Online Discussions

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