Concerned about how to encourage and maintain meaningful discussions in an online setting? Discussion forums are a great tool to provide for interactions among students and between students and the instructor as well as for student self-reflection. However, discussion forums are often used as a measure of participation, requiring students to post and respond a certain number of times. While this encourages quantity, it doesn’t always promote quality. Rather than resulting in thoughtful discussion, it often leads to short “cheerleader” posts such as “Great point” and “I really like your idea”.
Better prompts promote better responses
Here are some tips for creating prompts that will get students talking:
- Be specific. Prompts such as “Read and reflect” can be too open-ended for many students, leaving them unsure as to what kind of response is expected. A more specific prompt would be, “In the article, the author talked about bullying in schools. Think about what this means to you and create a post with your own definition and an example of how you would address it in your classroom.”
- Make it personal. Students respond more when the topic relates to their own experiences. For example, “What was a time you witnessed or experienced bullying as a student? What was done about the situation? Do you agree with how it was handled? How did you feel following the incident?”
- Make it lively. Some topics lend themselves naturally to debate. Create a prompt that will force students to take a stance without inciting a flame war. For example, “Many schools have a zero tolerance policy towards bullying, calling for automatic suspension for each offense. Explain why or why not you support this stance and the legal ramifications for it.”
- Make them think. Many students are conditioned to summarize when asked to create a written response to something they’ve read. Create prompts that ask them to apply concepts, analyze information, evaluate conclusions, and synthesize or create solutions. Verbs to use might include: implement, compare, integrate, critique, design, construct, or devise.
Types of Forums
In our Courses system, there are several different types of forums to choose from:
- Standard forum for general use. This is an open forum where anyone can start a new topic at any time. This is the best general-purpose forum and the one most commonly used at HSU
- Q And A Forum. The Q & A forum requires students to post before they can view other students’ postings. After the initial posting, students can view and respond to others’ discussions. This feature encourages original and independent thinking as students cannot depend on their peers’ posts to craft their own.
- A single simple discussion. This is just a single topic, all on one page and is useful for short, focused discussions. The instructor posts a prompt and students reply to the instructor only, not to each other.
- Each person posts one discussion. Each person can post exactly one new discussion topic (everyone can reply to them though). This is useful when you want each student to start a discussion and have everyone else respond to them. For example, each student might post about their practicum experience or their research topic and their classmates would give feedback or ask questions in their responses.
To use groups or not?
Using groups is a useful way to encourage deeper discussion among smaller groups. While some topics have a broad general appeal, there are times when you might want to create groups. Here are some use cases for groups:
- Separate vs. Visible Groups. In separate groups, students only view and respond to the posts of members of their group. In visible groups, students only respond to members of their group but they can see the posts of all other groups.
- To build relationships. It’s hard for students to get to know everyone in a large class. Smaller discussion groups allow students to get to know a few classmates better with more meaningful discussion rather than trying to keep up with the whole large group. You may decide to use small groups for some topics and whole class discussion for others.
- To group students by interest or program. For example, Math Ed Majors vs. English Ed Majors.
- To meaningfully mix students. For example, each group contains an elementary major, a middle school major, and a high school major.
- Auto-created groups. You can auto-create groups based on the number of groups, the number of participants in a group, or by first/last name.
Need more information or have a question(s)?Feel free to contact me, Baird Whelan, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or ph: 707-826-3573 or stop by the Distributed Learning Office located @ BSSB 419 Hope that’s helpful -b