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Working with Discussions

Working with Discussions
Productive Discussions

As you teach online, you may notice that your role is different than in your traditional classroom. As the "guide on the side" rather than the "sage on the stage," your focus shifts from providing information to keeping discussions on track and constructive. Here are some suggestions for productive discussions:

  • Have students start with a non-academic discussion as a warm-up.
  • Ask probing questions that lead to other perspectives; ask for clarification.
  • Have patience. Do not respond to every student post or rush to fill silences, so students will contribute rather than depend on you.
  • Re-engage students when long lulls occur.
  • Redirect tangents to the appropriate topic.
  • Reinforce posts that meet your expectations with public acknowledgment.
  • Draw out hesitant students. Ask for clarification, resources, or input from them and acknowledge their efforts when they step outside of their comfort zones.
  • Encourage new ideas. For example, if a thread contains too much consensus, try assigning students with last names A-M to support one side and N-Z to support the other.
  • Define requirements for participation and provide a grading rubric where necessary.
  • Assign roles to students, such as discussion leader, researcher, organizer, fact checker, encourager, technician, or summarizer to promote active learning.
  • Summarize a thread or forum to bring closure to it. This can be done by you or by students.
Student Excuses

Because you are using technology that allows for anytime, anywhere learning, you may think that the ever-dreaded student excuses will disappear. Be warned – they may change due to the technology, but they will not disappear! Remember "the dog ate it," "the wind blew it away," and "I lost it" types of excuses? In online courses, the excuses change to:

  • I forgot my password.
  • My internet connection failed.
  • My computer crashed.
  • The file disappeared.
  • Other family members were using the computer.
  • The school's computer lab was closed.

To deal with excuses proactively, publish your expectations. Suggest possible scenarios that may occur, such as the computer lab being closed, so they plan accordingly. Identify which excuses are not acceptable and assess special situations on a case-by-case basis. Give them an action plan in case of technical difficulties. Most importantly, rest responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the student and encourage them to always back up their work.

Forum Roles

Each user in the forum has a role, and may only have one role per forum. Course instructors automatically have the role of Manager and students have the role of Participant. Forum roles can be changed to limit access to a forum or help with forum administration. To assist with forum administration, assign users any of the following roles:

  • Manager - Managers have full control over the forum and can change the forum settings, moderate posts, and assign grades. Instructors and Teaching Assistants are granted this forum role by default.
  • Moderator - Moderators review posts in the "Moderation Queue" before they are made available to all users in the course. Moderators may also delete and edit posts in forums that do not use the Moderation Queue.
  • Grader - Graders read and reply to posts, as well as enter grades. Users with a course role of Grader are granted this forum role by default.

To limit a participant's forum access, you can assign the Reader or Blocked role:

  • Participant - Participant's can read and reply to posts. Students are granted this role by default.
  • Reader - Readers can read the contents of the forum, but cannot post responses or add threads.
  • Blocked - Blocked users cannot access the forum.

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Last Updated: 8/13/13