As a current college student, I regularly deal with “required” online discussions. In these discussions, teachers usually provide a prompt and require a certain amount of posts or sentences that a student must write to receive credit before a certain deadline. Often, replying to another student’s post is mandatory. Now that you understand what these typical discussions involve, I’ll go through my thoughts, from a student’s perspective, on how to make them better.
Keep Questions Specific
If students don’t know what you’re saying in the question, how can they respond in a thoughtful way? Make sure the student knows where to find information the question asks about. For example: don’t ask an ambiguous question about a particular topic in a reading without backup information. Try to provide the page or chapter number the question involves or post links to online articles. By giving students a clue, they can better review what they’ve learned and develop from there.
Let Go of Sentence/Word Number Requirements
Answering a discussion question shouldn’t be about writing the required number of sentences. If students are thinking about word count rather than that topic at hand; doesn’t that defeat the whole point? In my personal experience, trying to hit a word count just facilitates endless drivel. Instead, try to make the requirement something like: Post a thoughtful response with at least three supporting ideas. Sure, it may be harder to grade, but I guarantee such a requirement focuses a student on those supporting thoughts!
You Can’t Force Collaboration
Let’s say you’re the standard: Write a post and reply to a post. If so, my job as a student would be to do just that: write a post and reply to one. With this logic, one might be thinking that if all goes well, requiring replies will spark a furious debate and both students get involved in the subject matter! But, my experience proves otherwise. Typically you’ll just get replies without a true discussion.
To avoid this, have more investment. Require a reply to any replies on a discussion post. So, lets say I post my discussion response. Then Jim replies. I’d then have to reply to his comments. Also, if Sue replied to my comment on her post I would have to then re-reply to her. I know this would technically go on forever. But, that’s why you have due dates! As a recap, you now have students consistently discussing until the end of the assignment! Just don’t penalize people if they’ve run out of things to say.
Two Heads Are Better Than One
Often, I’ll get to a question, hit on one or two points and then stop writing. What if you had a team of two for one response? You’d get better and more well rounded responses. Also, such a requirement saves time. Why spend more time grading two responses when a better one does the job?
For example, Joe may have forgotten about a point that his partner Jim remembers or vice versa. Now, I realize that there are problems with group work, such as even distribution of work, but for a couple of sentences or paragraphs, it’s hard not to divide group work up pretty evenly.
I hope these tips help you re-think the modern online discussion requirements. Please share your thoughts below