Tag Archives: Online discussion

The Decline Of Student Writing and What Instructors can do About It

It is college application time and with that comes the dreaded college essay. Rather not write an essay? No problem, if you apply to George Mason, Tufts University, or St. Mary’s College of Maryland you can submit a video essay in place of a written one. Really.

The decline of writing skills in young people is a serious concern. The college essay bypass as mentioned above, is just one indicator of where we might be headed. Yet I believe there is hope for teaching students to be proficient, if not highly competent writers given the number of concerned educators I’ve spoken with and heard from over recent months. Furthermore, there are resources for developing writing and reading skills that our digital culture provides that can supplement instruction. In this post I’ll present the facts on the writing skill gap, as well as interesting data from The Writing Lives of College Students a report from Michigan State University that sheds light on student perceptions of their own day-to-day writing habits.  I’ll conclude with  a list of strategies instructors might consider using to develop the writing skills of their students.

Before I share resources and strategies for writing development, I’d like to put the problem into context. My intent is not to alarm, but I believe it necessary to examine data and facts in order for us to identify just how many students are affected by the ‘skills gap’.

The Skill Gap
A significant number of newly admitted college students, more than one-third, begin college without the required skills in writing, reading and math needed to complete college level work. It has become a national concern, and is beginning to affect public policy decisions.

“The need for remediation is widespread. Thirty-four percent of all students at public colleges and universities enroll in at least one remedial course. The number is higher at community colleges; on average, 43 percent of students require remediation.”  The National Conference of State Legislatures

Academically Adrift
Before I move onto more positive aspects, there is dire news about the number of college graduates that have failed to develop and improve their writing skills even after three or four years of college enrollment. In Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa include results from a study that followed 2,300 students at 24 universities. It appears that even after four years of course work, one-third of students surveyed showed minimal improvement in writing and critical thinking skills.

“The study [also] found that there has been a 50 percent decline in the number of hours a student spends studying and preparing for classes from several decades ago.” NPR

The Writing Lives of College Students
This 2010 study conducted by Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center at Michigan State University surveys first-year college students of seven college institutions within the United States.  The goal of the research was to identify student behaviours, perceptions and attitudes towards writing. What makes this study unique is the digital forms of writing included in the survey, emails, text messages, instant messaging in addition to academic papers, lecture and reading notes.

Given the relatively small sample size of students (n = 1366), and small population of only seven schools, the study’s statistical significance is questionable, however the charts  included in the paper are worthy off consideration. Below is one that displays the five modes of writing most valued by students in comparison to the frequency of their use. Click the image to expand its view.

What is surprising is that students view sending text messages as a writing form and consider it to be the most valuable form of writing over all others. Yet, what is heartening is that the academic paper and lectures notes rank in the top three of valued writing forms. 

Strategies to Develop Writing Skills
The burden of responsibility for the skills gap as described above, rests with many. There are several programs in place, both at the high school and college level for college preparation skill development, yet the problem persists. Course instructors have a unique opportunity to make a difference with students – can encourage students to seek support and strive for improvement. I realize the strategies listed below may not be applicable in all situations, but one or more may be feasible and just might make a difference in helping a student become an effective communicator.

  • Consider breaking one large writing assignment or report into smaller assignments that builds into a final, comprehensive assignment. This allows the instructor to give feedback early on in the writing process, with corrective action and constructive comments.
  • Consider the course weighting in favor of written assignments rather than exams or other types of grade items. The more writing required of students, the more opportunity for skill development. This is difficult for math and science courses, yet incorporating a written component of some sort is ideal

Peer grading can be an effective activity that develops writing skills from a different perspective. Consider including a peer grading assignment on the draft of the final paper, before submission to the instructor. This assignment can be executed in a number of ways, with a grade component or not. A participation grade could be assigned for the action of giving feedback, or a formal grade that the peer would assign by using a rubric. Groups of three or four are ideal, with each student grading their group members. This could be facilitated through the LMS platform with small groups set up where each group has access to their own discussion board, group file exchange and contact list.

  • Graded discussion board postings (within the LMS platform). Include guidelines where the students must write a minimum number of words within the post (a rubric helps with setting expectations). Word counts might range from 100 to 250 words per one post. Within our online program, we try to include questions that require critical analysis of course content where student is forced to analyze, compare and contrast or synthesize information.
  • Consider developing a writing support program within your department  (or even within your own course) that consists of a series of actions that support students in need of writing skill development. Having a plan with specific guidelines of whom will step in, and at what time is a start. The type of support is also critical. Success rates of formal remedial programs are mixed, are time-consuming and often avoided by students. Alternatively, a thirty-minute session with a student to discuss writing strategies for an assignment might be an example of ‘support’. Offering guidance early in the course, rather than later can also be a critical factor in student success.
  • Blogging or journal writing is one of the most effective ways to develop writing skills. There are numerous ways to structure a blogging assignment, though in respect of your time, I will refer you to a previous post, Blogging and Bloom’s for further details. Another source, to view how a professor structures an entire course around a blogging assignment, is to visit Mind the Science Gap, a blog created by Professor Maynard from the University of Michigan. This assignment is excellent, as the ‘audience’ for student writing is open to the World Wide Web with ‘mentors’ giving feedback to individual students. You can find out more about the structure of the assignment and the course itself by visiting the website, Mind the Science Gap.


The Methods and Means to Grading Student Participation in Online Discussions

This is the final post in a three-part series on how to create effective discussions in an online environment in courses for credit. In this post I’ll share how to grade and assess students contributions in online discussion forums—the final yet essential step that supports learning in several ways. I am eager to share my insight into the assessment component of online discussions, as we found within our institution’s online program that assessment through the use of a rubric that was the critical element to success. The rubric allowed course instructors to give quality feedback to students, clarified for students’ expectations and to the surprise of several professors the rubric improved the quality and quantity of discussion postings.

Components of effective Online Discussions Review
Motivating students to participate in forum discussions is not an easy task—it requires strategic effort by the instructor during the course, and by the course designers in the course design phase. Below are the core elements that build the foundation for online discussions, elements that will create and sustain dialogue.

  1. A well designed course/instructional plan —as discussed in post one
  2. Clear, concise guidelines and expectations — post one
  3. Well constructed topics/questions — post two
  4. A skilled facilitator or moderator— post two
  5. An assessment component for giving student feedback—to follow

The Argument Against Grading
There are pros and cons to grading discussion forums—though the cons are few, are worthy of consideration. Some educators feel it forces students to participate. Students will only do what is necessary and not engage further. Others suggest that with a prescribed set of questions, discussion becomes narrow, allowing little room for creativity. I happen to disagree with the these arguments, as experience and research shows that grading participation is effective in promoting and encouraging meaningful discussion when the assessment elements are included.

The Means to Grading—The Rubric
As mentioned, a key factor to effective discussions are expectations for students: clear, concise, quantitative guidelines that students can follow. From trial and error we discovered that creating a standard rubric that instructors could tweak and customize to his or her course was the ‘means’ to grading. Within our range of courses, discussion assignments vary in grading weight but the criteria for each is consistent.

Below is the preamble to the rubric [for the student’s benefit] that we use in one of our classes [with a link to the rubric].

The participation/contribution grade is based upon the content, depth and quality of your contributions to the forum discussions using the standards found within the grading rubric below. Contributions to weekly discussions represent xx points, which makes up 20% of your final grade. Participating consistently, with thoughtful answers early in the week, and responding to, and engaging in discussion with your peers will have positive effects on your overall grade.”  Click here to view the rubric.

The Method 
How much easier it is for course instructors with a tool (rubric) in hand to assign grades and give feedback. One of our professors called me after we implemented the rubric for her course saying ‘why didn’t we do this earlier – it’s so much easier to give ‘good’ feedback that students can act upon‘.

The timing of feedback is a determining factor in students participating or not. Our instructors post grades [usually] within the week following the close of a discussion – for example posting Thursday after the close of a discussion, usually Sundays. If a student has not participated at all, he or she gets a ‘0’. No surprise that the student usually participates the following week. This allows time for the student to assess his or her participation, and improve upon or continue with behaviors that support learning throughout the coming week. The momentum is built by following this timetable, and aids in sustaining dialogue.

Besides assigning a grade to discussion postings, instructors on occasion provide feedback to individual students—one or two sentences of encouragement or reasons for a given grade. A more efficient method is collective feedback in the form of a post or announcement that summarizes the instructor’s observations, provides comments and suggestions.

Online discussions hold great potential to engage students and support meaningful learning that leads students to understanding, not just knowing. The assessment component gives a sense of instructor presence. Receiving grades (or comments) on discussion posts means the instructor is reading and cares enough about his or her learning to give feedback. Having the rubric in place focuses the evaluation process and provides a structure that is more likely to lead to student learning.

Related Posts
Post One: How to get students to Participate in Online Discussions
Post Two: How to facilitate Robust Discussions Online


How-to Facilitate Robust Online Discussions

Class discussion can be an effective learning tool – the challenge?  How-to facilitate and manage discussions virtually.

Embed from Getty Images


This is post two in a three-part series on how to create effective discussions in an online learning environment. Post one, introduced five components of effective discussions and addressed the first two – 1) course design and 2) establishing guidelines for students. In this post I”ll show how course instructors can develop and sustain dialogue by 3) creating ‘good’ and ‘right’ questions, and 4) guiding and moderating the discussions to support meaningful discourse. In the final post I’ll discuss methods for assessing student contributions in online forums. Please note, this series deals with discussions in the context of online courses for credit.

Discussions with no goal
Imagine for a minute, what a soccer game would look like if played without goal posts. Players running up and down the field aimlessly with no goal, no purpose. This is similar to a discussion forum without a focus or direction—students posting and trying to engage in discussion aimlessly. Discussion that get off topic, ramble— learning then [if it happens at all] is by chance. Online discussion need goals, structure and a purpose tied to the learning objectives of a course. The discussion is what builds cognitive presence, as  mentioned in previous posts, and is part of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. Cognitive presence is an essential component to learning, according to this model for online learning, allowing for the construction of new knowledge.

“The challenge is that educators have the responsibility to provide structure and guidance that will encourage and support students assuming increased control of their learning(Garrison, 2006).

Creating Good and Right Discussion Questions
Good questions are just as important as the right questions. Questions must meet two criteria, be open-ended [good] and prompt students to reflect and analyze, and be ‘right’ in that the they support and lead students to construct and develop knowledge in support of  learning objectives. In a paper by Muilenburg and Berge, using discussion questions can be strategy that promotes higher levels of cognitive thinking.

Example of question about critical incidents or problems:
“If you were consulting in this [a given] situation, how would you approach it? What might some of your recommendations be?  Explain thoroughly drawing upon the course readings for this week. Respond to one other classmate’s post with feedback and comments on his or her approach.

Promoting controversial discussion is another tactic that can be effective in supporting development of critical thinking skills. Instructor attention and facilitation is needed more so with this method, though most professors find the ensuing results well worth any additional effort. One of our instructor’s employes this method frequently by  selecting a recent ‘hot’ news topic, prompting students to take one ‘side’, explain his or her position, and then respond to a classmate with an opposing viewpoint.

Peer or Guest Moderators
The moderator does not always have to be the course instructor. Other options include, 1) class participants in the form of peer moderating, 2)  a teaching assistant or 3)  a ‘guest’ moderator/speaker  (though usually the ‘guest’ is only for one week within a given class).

Several studies have shown peer moderators to be just as, if not more effective than course instructors. In several courses I took for my graduate work, class members worked in teams of two or three and moderated discussions on a rotation basis throughout the course. Other courses operated by asking for peer moderator volunteers at the beginning of a session. These volunteers were given guidelines and support for skills in moderating.

There is a fine art of moderating as the course instructor. The drawbacks include, too much involvement where the conversation becomes instructor focused, and students become reticent to participate and hold back. Or, students that are fearful of making a ‘wrong’ statement, or feeling they have nothing worthwhile to contribute.

The role of the moderator is to promote thinking, challenge learners to think, consider a problem or situation from alternative viewpoints and to develop new knowledge through thinking and constructing.

Questions to promote Deep Learning…

  • That is an interesting point. What might someone who disagrees with you say to challenge your opinion?
  • Can you compare your response to xxx (other student post)? Are you both saying the same thing or not? Why or why not?
  • You make a good observation, Can you give us some examples to support your view?
  • What are alternatives to the one you suggested? Are there other solutions?
  • What is your reasoning for this? Can you compare this with the xxxx post? What is different and what is similar?
  • What might happen to xxxxx if your idea was implemented as you described?

Moderating discussions supports learning. As course instructor, you have much to say, much to give and contribute to students learning experience. With an effective course design, well crafted discussion questions and a skilled moderation, online discussions will be active and robust where critical thinking skills flourish. Check back on Thursday for the final post in this series, how to asses and evaluate student participation in online discussions.


  • Post one: How to develop effective Online Discussions, onlinelearninginsights
  • Post three: The Method and Means to Grading Student Participation in Online      Discussions, onlinelearninginsights
  • Muilenburg, M. & Zane L. Berge. (2006). A framework for designing questions for online learning. Academia.edu
  • Seo, K.K. (2007). Utilizing peer moderating in online discussions: Addressing the controversy between teacher moderation and non-moderation. The American Journal of Distance Education, 21(1). p 21 -26.

How to Get Students to Participate in Online Discussions

This is the first post in a triplet series on how to create effective discussions in an online learning environment. This post discusses how course instructors can shape and create robust and rich discussions, in post two I”ll share facilitation strategies to develop and sustain course dialogue, and I’ll conclude the series with methods for assessing student contributions and participation in online forums. Please note, this series addresses discussions in the context of online courses for credit – as forums in Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs} are a different animal altogether [I will share my thoughts on MOOC discussion forums next month at the close of the MOOC course I am taking].

Getting students to ‘talk’
Getting students to participate in [brick and mortar] classroom discourse can be a painful process – the blank stares or worse students absorbed with their laptops or iPhones, which is disconcerting to say the least. Yet online discussion forums present further challenges due to its ‘virtual’ space. Research suggests online discussions often fall flat- are shallow, superficial, fail to engage students and result in frustration —for students and the course instructor (Wang & Chen, 2008). From a student’s perspective, poorly designed forums can feel like busy work, a pointless exercise. Is it really worth the effort to develop effective discussions? Yes – online class dialogue is essential to developing engagement and most importantly cognitive presence, which builds critical thinking skills [for more about critical thinking in the online environment see resources below].

“It is within online discussions where learners are able to construct and confirm meaning [of course content] through sustained reflection and discourse.” (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001).

What makes Online Discussions effective….
In the online program at my workplace, we struggled with getting students to engage in discussions forums throughout a given course. After several months, we’ve increased participation considerably after much trial and error. We found it takes more than a skilled facilitator to develop and sustain meaningful dialogue. The instructional design of the course – or  how the course is set-up is critical. Course discussions are most successful when embedded into the design, are tied to the learning objectives or outcomes, which allows for purposeful discussions rather than ‘busy’ work or forced dialogue for the sake of creating ‘interaction’. Below are key components to effective online discussions, adapted from a journal article in Distance Learning (Wade, et al., 2006). My own take on each, follows in [brackets].

  1. A solid course design strategy where discussion forums support learning objectives [students thus recognize discussions are meaningful].
  2. Clear, concise guidelines and expectations for students [I’ll share some examples in this post].
  3. Well constructed topics/questions [critical! – I’ll discuss this aspect in post 2].
  4. A skilled facilitator or moderator [in our program, most successful discussions include the instructor or students as the moderator – more on this in my next post].
  5. An assessment component for giving student feedback [we use a grading rubric – I’ll share a sample with you in my next post. Though grading participation has its drawbacks and benefits, which I’ll discuss in post 3].

Course Design
I won’t spend a lot of time on this topic, except to highlight the need to create a solid instructional strategy with clear, learning objectives and outcomes, with carefully selected content and methods where students will apply and work with the course content, (this is where discussions come into play). Consult my preferred method of instructional design, the Dick, Carey and Carey instructional design model, click here.

Guidelines for Students
We found clearly outlining expectations in more than one place within the course is helpful for students, and reinforces the purpose of, and expectations for discussions. I always like to include a sentence that states the purpose for the discussion, thus alleviating the feeling of pointless busy work. We include a statement such as, “Discussion forums are an important part of learning in an online ‘space’….most students find that participating in discussions helps with not only understanding of the course content, but deepens their learning and ability to think critically….”

Below is a sample of what we include in our online syllabus, under the heading of Discussion guidelines.

  • Use a subject line that relates to your post; this will help create interest and focus for the discussion.
  • Write clearly and with expression. Communicating online requires careful and concise writing, but also allows your personality to come through! Though humor is effective and at times relevant in discussion, be sure to avoid sarcasm, which does not translate well in the online environment.
  • Be supportive, considerate and constructive when replying to your classmates. Do not use jargon, slang or inappropriate language. If you disagree with a classmate please respond in a respectful and tactful manner. Any posts deemed inappropriate by the professor will be removed from the discussion board.
  • Keep your post focused on the topic, relating any class readings and materials from the current module in your post (as applicable).
  • Proofread and review your response before hitting the submit button! You have one hour to edit your response before it is posted, then, it cannot be modified or removed except by the instructor.
  • Participate regularly. Improve your learning by being an active and engaged student. Successful students follow and participate in the assigned discussion throughout the module, logging on at least three times a week while reading and participating in forums as assigned in the module.

In the instructions section for a particular module or week, we include directions and specific guidelines for participation:

“Participate in the Module xx discussion forum. Discussion forums are graded and count towards your participation grade. Refer to the Discussion Forum grading rubric in section xx of the course e-book.”

The Potential of Online Discussions
From what I’ve presented thus far, you can see there is much upfront effort required to set the stage for effective online discussion, even before the first discussion is launched, yet it is well worth the effort. Online discussions have tremendous potential to promote critical thinking skills, ‘force’ students to engage with the content, use higher order thinking skills, and ‘construct’ new knowledge. Numerous studies suggest it is the act of writing, thinking about and composing a text-based post that encourages students to engage their higher order thinking skills (Wang & Chen, 2008) – it’s the power of writing.

Click here to read the next post in this series, which reviews strategies the course instructor can implement to continue the momentum of developing and sustaining effective course discussions, and here for the final post on discussion assessment.

Wang Y. & Victor Der-Thang Chen (2008). Essential Elements in Designing Online Discussions to Promote Cognitive Presence, Journal of Asynchronous Communication. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 3-4 (12).

Wade, D. A., Bentley, J. P. H., & Waters, S. H. (2006). Twenty guidelines for successful threaded discussions: A learning environment approach. Distance Learning, 3(3), 1-8.

Related Posts: Critical thinking in the Online Classroom, Onlinelearninginsights 
Post Two: How to facilitate robust discussions online, Onlinelearninginsights
Post Three: The method and means to grading student participation in online discussions, Onlinelearninginsights
MOOC Mythbuster – what MOOCs are and what they aren’t, Onlinelearninginsights

Creating Rich, Robust Discussions in Online Learning

Part 2 of a 2 part series on Instructor involvement in Online discussions.

Who doesn’t love a stimulating, thought-provoking and engaging conversation? Online learning is a [potential] hotbed for such rich discussions – yet it takes deliberate instructional planning to develop, guide and teach effectively within online discussion forums. In online learning, the student is in the center, not the professor, yet here’s the irony –  the skills of the instructor and/or instructional designer, are needed just as much, if not more to create a pedagogically sound course using discussion effectively. Furthermore, efforts to simulate traditional face-to-face classroom methods in the asynchronous online environment through the use of ‘interactive’ discussion forums, miss the point. We need to create a new way of learning and designing courses, start from scratch. Let’s press on…

Goal of the Online Discussion
I like to start with the instructional design theory before we get into the practical methods –  if we start with a model of design, such as Dick, Carey and Carey model, we see that online discussion forums are a part of an overall strategy that support learning objectives. A good question to ask is ‘what purpose does the discussion serve’?  With good intentions, forums have been incorporated to create interaction, even fill a void and in an effort to mimic the social component from face-to-face. Discussions purposefully included however, using an instructional strategy are most effective for the student’s learning, promoting higher order thinking skills as per Bloom’s Taxonomy. In a college level course for example, we want to move the learner from the knowledge phase, at the bottom of the pyramid (recall, memorizing, listing etc), to the analysis and synthesis levels. It is at these levels where the student is challenged — he or she  compares, describes, classifies, contrasts using the course content. It’s the skillful instructor that can push the student up the taxonomy.

The Foundations
Let’s review and look at what needs to be in place to set the stage for good discussions:

  • In my post, part I, I introduced some fundamentals – here are two more:
  • Include an introductory forum where learners have an opportunity to meet one another, by sharing interests, backgrounds . One of my favorite student introduction activities is when the professor had us, (students) write a brief paragraph, then share three of our favorite websites, and explain why they were so. Introductory forums are an important component to set the stage for the learner feeling socially accepted and comfortable, which sets students up for success in the discussion forums, where real learning takes place.
  • Create a Rubric for the student. A rubric, grading tool that sets the standards and expectations for the student is an excellent tool because of its specificity.

Role of the Online Instructor
I’ve read numerous articles and even written a couple about the role of the instructor – who is the guide, mentor or facilitator?  Yes, yes and yes. The online instructor is all and more. The role is challenging, and most face-to-face instructors receive little or no support or development in the art of creating and supporting online discussions. What is most challenging for the instructor is knowing when to be involved in the discussion, to promote and guide discussion, and when to back off and observe to let the discussion evolve and develop without students feeling hindered and reticent with too much instructor presence. It’s a balance —  a skill and an art. That being said below are tactics and strategies to create rich and robust discussion:

  1. Create discussion questions which promote dialogue, by: keeping questions fairly short, beginning with ‘how’, ‘what’, and at the end of the question, add ‘Describe’ or ‘Explain”.
  2. Encourage discussion by rewarding the first couple of participants that begin the discussion, by commenting, ‘thanks [name of student], for getting us started off… that’s an good point – have you thought of….what do others think …..” This reinforces early participation, and models for students the behaviors required.
  3. Refocus discussion when needed by acknowledging the students viewpoint and providing an alternative viewpoint, then ask for feedback from students. Being supportive is critical in the online environment. Written text is always at risk for being misinterpreted.
  4. Encourage other students to build upon each other posts through the forum, by asking others for their comments, and by including this requirement in the rubric.
  5. Remove any offensive posts immediately (this rarely has happened in my experience), and contact student directly, by Skype, or phone to explain why.

Resources for Further Development
There are many, many resources for building skills in this area. Though I would say the very best method, is to participate in an online course as a student. Experience the other side! I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing professors, each with very unique and different approaches to online discussions. I’ve been able to use and share my experiences in my workplace which hopefully has helped other professors and students experience rich and robust discussion. Here are a few resources I found to be quite good.

Instructor involvement in Online Discussions? To be or not?

This post is Part 1 of a 2 part series on Instructor involvement in Online discussions

How important is discussion and discourse in learning?  How about in online learning?  Somewhat important —- vital —- not?  This past week I’ve been immersed in online discussions— as a participant and as a mentor to professors teaching online. Before we go on, the answer to the question is … vital, critical, essential – the instructor that is.  A caveat, deep, authentic and successful learning is supported by instructors that guide, yet focus, redirect, and shall I say… nurture. It’s a challenge, as facilitating discussions in online classes is much different than face-to-face. It’s no surprise that instructors teaching online are often at odds with how to develop effective discussions in the online class. Some professors even feel it’s best not to get involved. What to do?

From a Student’s Perspective…
Can students have meaningful and valuable online discussions asynchronously without the instructor’s presence?  Research says no, for the most part. And from a student’s perspective, I’d have to agree. My most meaningful learning experiences involve at least some level of interaction and contributions from the professor. The involved instructor keeps the discussion focused and moving by responding to student posts with comments and questions that challenge students to build on their point and think.

What the experts say about Instructor Participation….

  • “Instructor presence [including participation in discussions] is a key element in the distinction between online and face-to-face education. Online instructors need to be “seen” in order to be perceived by their students as present in the course just as do face-to-face course instructors”. (Mandernach et al, 2006)
  • Paloff & Pratt (1999) pose that the instructor in an online class is responsible for facilitating the personal and social aspects of an online community in order for the class to have a successful learning experience.
  • Olcott & Wright (1995) assert that the responsibility for instructional quality and aggregate effectiveness of distance education rests with the instructor.

ImageCreating a framework for Effective Online Discussions
This week as I’ve been participating in a MOOC called iFaciliate a 5 week online MOOC for educators which modeled what’s needed to establish effective discussions. This course refers to the Community of Inquiry model, which synthesizes pedagogical principles and needed instructional practices for effective instruction in the online learning environment. I discussed this model in a previous post.

How to Create the Framework for effective discussions:

  • Establish guidelines and purpose for threaded discussions –  outline these at the introduction to the course.
  • Establish a Social Presence – this is where participant and instructor, introduce themselves to classmates –  sharing, introducing and connecting. Also known as the orientation  phase, Social presence is defined as the ability of learners to project themselves socially and affectively.  When students feel connected with other learners, feel part of the class and community, they are more likely to engage in discourse and discussion about course content.
  • Make the technology transparent – the discussion needs to be about the students – the content and the learning, not the technology, i.e. the Learning Management system or the discussion threads. When students are participating in online discussions, the ‘technology walls’ should disappear – just as when we are in a classroom, is the focus on the whiteboard, the power point slides or the professor’s tie for that matter?

Check back this week for part 2: How instructors can effectively facilitate online discussions.