Working with Students

Designing a Discussion

Discussion boards have been a challenge for me to inspire my students to use effectively.  My Masters degree was all online and the discussion boards were a heavy part of our "class interaction."  Passing this idea to my students has been met with resistance, and then I realized that it was a failure on my part not theirs...I have been failing to design a discussion. 

"A good question is both answerable and challenging. It will inspire analysis, synthesis, interpretation, and critical thinking."  What do you do to stimulate conversations in your discussion groups so the class can grow and learn and not just check a box?

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  • Thank you for this post which caused me to reflect upon my practices and design with the boards. I found the an article by James Helfrich helpful in making sure I did not classify discussion boards as a paradox in online learning within my field. On the contrary, the practice, in one form or another, is part of the industry, e.g., stackoverflow which is an online community of programmers that promotes teaching one another. Consider the assessment rubric behind the discussion not only in terms of criteria but also in terms of logistics. I think most do this by encouraging/assessing posts that are 'not in the same hour' and with different peers and no "Facebook" language.  Consider helping with design of the discussion through the proper channels by reviewing Brother Helfrich's "Six Considerations: Six issues that need to be ...

    One other thought is that I wish we could assess participation based upon up-votes or stars since that is available in iLearn3.

    • Thank you for this...just wonderful!

  • One thing that I have tried to do in my discussion boards is view them like I view my Seminary classes. When a student makes a great comment, there is a way to drive it a little deeper. Questions like "When have you experienced that?" or perhaps "How would you share that with someone you knew?" inspire a little deeper thought. My experience has been that when I ask those kind of questions with the intent to deepen conversations, students almost always reply in the DB with their thoughts.

    Silver bullet? Probably not, but it has worked really well for me.

  • The new design in our FDREL 121 course is very specific for the 3 required responses. students first give an insight they have gained specifically referig to a scripture or other assigned reading. The next post is a reply to a classmate's post and must also reference a related scripture, talk, video etc. The 3rd response is a personal application of one of the posts. The improvement in the quality of discussions has been drastic with these specific requirements. Giving students a very clear picture of expectations saves a lot of frustration and is much more meaningful.
  • First off, I tell my students that a "Facebook Like" is not acceptable.  Their responses must be meaningful and continue the conversation.  For the most part, my students have gotten pretty good at doing this.  But I like the Facebook Challenge that David mentioned.  That would be really fun!!  I have invited students to post links to commercials or videos that relate to the topic we are discussing.  I always go through the discussion board and ask questions that will get students to dig deeper.  I love the ideas on this discussion thread and think that adding an extra credit point for meeting a challenge is a great idea!  

    Kotinca, when you design a discussion, do you create a new discussion board or just start it in each group's board as a new thread?

    • I start it in each groups discussion board.

      I do some different things...I make my groups larger than the fall back size.  I prefer at least seven students.  I also try to mix positive and negative students.  I find the positive win the discussion.  I find the groups seem to do better if they stay more consistent throughout the entire semester.  But I do want to encourage the main discussion board to be used by all.  I am "designing" questions to encourage them to all participate on that board for more than just questions to me...also so that they will be more likely to read the question/answers I have and cut down on duplicate work for me. 

      Again, without a grade tied to it, I have had a hard time really accomplishing this.

      • At Halloween in my notes I even asked all students to post a Halloween photo...I thought it would be fun, and get a "relationship" building activity off the ground...nope, just a picture of my family and me...and crickets.

  • I'm also looking forward to others' responses. I like the idea of giving a challenge each week - thanks, Dave. I also see the value in effective questions (thanks, Jerrod), and like Dave, I request that students pose a question to their peers at the end of their initial thread, but it is difficult to "require" that without it being part of the course instructions.

    Sometimes students simply need to be taught how to engage in the discussions effectively. I take time in the first few discussions to teach them using videos and other resources, which I post as a new thread in the discussion space. These posts often include invitations to ask questions, make gospel connections, engage early and often, etc. Of course, we know the best way to teach is through example, so I engage early and throughout the week, use questioning strategies, reply to anyone who replies to me, make gospel connections, etc.

    In past semesters, I would initiate a discussion board competition between my discussion groups. They would compete to see which group could ask the most questions, post the most posts, get replies to everyone's initial posts first, etc, but I opted not to do it this semester because there are not groups in one of my courses, and in my other course, I feel my students are already doing a fantastic job of engaging each other in discussion, and they didn't need the extra challenge.

    • I love the idea of a question.  I require that they cite and reference their text for the week...hoping that even if they don't read it all, that will cause them to at least locate and open the book.

    • I couldn't agree more with the idea of teaching and modeling how to engage in a discussion. The first 2-3 weeks are vital in discussion board success. It helps me to think about discussion board management as I would classroom management in the f2f classroom. In his book "The First Days of School" Harry Wong says:

      • Procedures must be rehearsed until they become routine
      • The first day, teach only the procedures necessary for the smooth opening of your class.
      • The only way you can have responsible students is to have is to have procedures and routines students can be responsible to.
      • Research shows that effective teachers spend the first week teaching students to follow classroom procedures.

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