on September 20 2015 at 4:39 p.m.
So, what has been your experience with online discussions? How would you rate the overall quality of participation?What best practices have you employed to boost student participation, engagement, and quality posts?
October 19, 2015
My experience with online discussions has been mixed. I think it starts with the quality of the question prompt. If the question prompt is open-ended and has room for interpretation and analysis which goes beyond one ‘right’ answer, then it can become a ‘true’ discussion. I also think that follow up responses, which ask the students to go a step further and think ‘outside the box’ can generate engagement and increase participation. Students should feel comfortable voicing their opinions and not feel stifled by trying to answer the question ‘correctly’. Just this past week, one of the discussions in my leadership class asked students to profile someone who they thought exhibited exceptional leadership qualities based on a given set of criteria. Most students chose leaders such as Gandhi or Mother Theresa. One student chose Adolph Hitler and proceeded to explain that while Hitler was morally corrupt, he exhibited exceptional leadership skills. The student used the concepts we covered that week to support his case. It was a great discussion and almost everyone in the class responded to his post because it was different and caused students to pause and really think about the concepts.
October 20, 2015
Oh my, that is a powerful example of a discussion that moves past just finding the "right" answer and into thinking critically about a topic.
I agree that the question prompt must be a question that offers the opportunity for discussion! I taught an operations management class where 4 of the 6 discussion questions were math problems straight out of the book. These were not questions that easily lend themselves to evaluation, interpretation, analysis, critical thinking, or, well, discussion of any kind!
So, how do you deal with discussion questions that are not really discussable? Of course if you have the ability to modify your curriculum, go for it! However, if you are teaching a course at an institution where the curriculum is packaged, then you need to develop prompts that dig past the poor question and encourage discussion.
For example, one of the math questions in my operations management class dealt with calculating wait times for lines. I jumped in to the discussion first and posted challenge questions. I found additional material on techniques used by various industries, such as theme parks to manage long wait times and asked students to discuss their personal experiences with good and bad examples. Based on what they learned from the reading and additional research, what recommendations would they have for improving wait times?
The trick is to take a bad question and make it a better question with challenges. It definitely worked for me in the operations management class and the students thanks me.
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