In a face-to-face class, we rely on verbal and visual communication to discuss class topics. Some students contribute a lot, while others just listen and take notes (we hope). Participation is not necessarily required or graded. We assume that because they are present in the class, they absorb the information being discussed. Online class discussion needs special attention.
|Discussions in General|
Discussions in Folio take place in what is called a "discussion area." A discussion area is a public forum, sort of like email, but everyone can see the others' comments. Currently, the discussion areas in Folio are the "meet and potato" of online classroom communication. This is where teaching and learning take place.
Online discussions require facilitation on the part of the instructor. Discussions in the online environment need to be structured. For the instructor, this means being aware of the different strategies and techniques to facilitate dialog. This means that every instructor should seek out information about online discussion techniques that suit their needs. This pages offers starting points for thinking about online discussions. Also, after you've read through this page, you can find more information via the External Sites about Discussions below.
Initial Thinking about Facilitation of Online Discussions
How do you promote student engagement in a discussion forum? What types of questions do you ask? If you ask questions with only one answer, that is what you will get. Some students will chime in with a "me too," which really doesn't add anything substantive to the discussion. Also, what might take 45 minutes in a face-to-face class might take 3 or more days in an online discussion. The following bullet list is a list of "tips" you might consider when facilitating discussions around a topic.
This is a tricky one! You want students to voluntarily participate in online discussions, but this is not always the case! Students need and like structure, so you must provide it. One way to do this (unfortunately) is to require and grade discussion participation. Typically, this is done by stating requirements for discussion guidelines in the form of a checklist or rubric (matrix). Note: making discussion guidelines too complicated can hamper the learning process. Students can become so caught up in trying to understand and satisfy the requirement that they post simply to get the requirement behind them to get the points. There needs to be enough flexibility in the requirements to allow for natural, genuine participation. Examples follow.
Assume that you are having students critique an article or controversial topic. You might give them the following guidelines as a checklist before discussion begins.
This gives the students flexibility in how they will participate. Your role as the instructor/facilitator is to get the ball rolling, and then stand back. You step in only when the discussion falters or needs direction. You might pose a question to infuse new energy or correct misinformation in the discussion.
Rubrics for Grading Discussion
Rubrics are guidelines that are presented in the form of a matrix (table). They can be good, but there is a tendency for them to be very complicated. The reason instructors might want to use a rubric is that rubrics allow for a more quantitative and qualitative approach to grading online discussions. The problem with some rubrics is that they are frequently too complicated and too vague in expectations. Consider the following examples.
The criteria in this rubric are quite easy to follow. There is clear delineation between the different values (points). Now ask yourself this question: Are you going to actually sit down and tally all of this information for every student? This becomes a writing analysis, and that's fine if you think this level of analysis is what you're really after, but be aware that it could create a lot of work for you. Be careful what you ask for.
Let's look at another example of a rubric. This time we are going to look at things from a qualitative point of view.
Do you see a problem here? What is "average," "good," and "excellent." If more than one instructor were to use this rubric to grade the same set of students, would they arrive at the same point? Because the definitions for "average," "good," and "excellent" are not given, expectations are vague. There appears to be room for subjectiveness in judgment. This is not to suggest that qualitative rubrics are bad or not possible, but you need to define the terms so that you and the students have a clear picture of what these terms mean. In the example above, what does "substantive" and "demonstrates understanding" mean?
Engage Your Students in Rubric Development
If you prefer to use a rubric with your students, you might ask the class to help you develop one. Getting buy-in from the students on how they will be assessed in online discussions will help raise awareness, and perhaps promote good discussions.
Because discussion grading is so relative to each discipline and situation, it is beyond the scope of this site to address all needs. There are many examples of online discussion guidelines. As an online instructor, you will need to research strategies that suit your needs and discipline. If you are interested in searching for examples, do a search for "online discussion rubrics." The next section lists external sites for topics on online discussions.
Nota Bene: It might be useful for faculty within a degree program to come up with a discussion checklist or rubric (or several versions for different purposes) that could be used in all courses.
|External Sites about Discussions|