Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tips for Online Discussions

If you are running an online discussion, here are some tips to consider to have students interact more effectively.
  • Dual Deadlines: have the initial post due by mid-week and then follow-up posts by end of week. This ensures that students have something to react to as part of their follow-up activities.
  • Hyperlink the instructions. If you have instructions or a grading rubric, create a hyperlink which is easily accessible to all students. It is best is this document can open in a pop-up window. (For HTML gurus, this is the target="_blank" )
  • Problem Solving / Critical Thinking without the details: If students are asked factual questions, there is very little to discuss after one student answers correctly. If instead students are given "case study" questions in which they are given only part of the information, then students will need to analyze what questions they can answer, what additional information they will need, and what course of resolution they recommend.
  • HELP ME!!! It is very powerful to both students and instructor to create a Questions discussion in the course. This allows the instructor's answer to be "heard" by the whole course - rather than just one email recipient. Additionally - student peers will often jump in and answer the questions (allowing other students to get back on task more quickly). I normally have 3 discussion threads for Questions and Answers:
    • Questions about the Content: what students don't understand in the textbook, articles, handouts, videos, podcasts, and supplementary resource materials.
    • Questions about the Assignments: what students seek for clarification.
    • Questions and Tips about Technology: how to navigate and use the course more effectively.
  • Students Answer Their Own Questions: I ask that students post very specific questions AND also give me what they feel the correct answer is. This allows me to congratulate them when they are on the right track, and similarly it helps me identify where they might have gotten off-track. It is also a huge time solver, because I can properly scope the answer to the specific need... rather than writing huge blocks of text to try to re-explain the content.
  • Private Discussions Instead of Email: I set up private 1-on-1 discussions between myself and each student. I have students use those areas instead of email, since I know immediately the student's name and the course when a question is posted. Also - this allows me to quickly see a history of interactions (no searching through old email).

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