I have used online discussions more regularly in my courses the past few years. There are several reasons for this. First, these discussions extend the learning outside of the traditional class period, sending students a message that learning is not for only certain times of the day, but rather is a continuous life experience. Second, most of our students will be taking multiple classes online in their future, so navigating the online world in a meaningful way at an early age has value, as does being able to help them understand their responsibilities from a Christian perspective. Finally, online discussions give a voice to each student in the class, where a traditional classroom discussions typically have a subset of students participate.
At first I used Edmodo as a course management to facilitate these discussions. This free service offers a variety of online course tools. However, this year I switched to another service called Schoology for one specific reason, that being the post first feature. This feature does not show students the posts of classmates until they have made their own initial post. This limits the ability of students to mimic the ideas of classmates, thereby adding value to the entire discussion.
Here are suggestions for running effective online discussions for your class:
- Make sure your students all have reasonable access for completing online discussions.
- Provide specific guidelines for responses to posts. For instance, give examples in advance for how to disagree with a comment without giving offense.
- Share specific expectations for the amount and quantity of responses to posts, giving examples where appropriate.
- Monitor posts for cheerleading (praising a post of another student without adding additional value) or criticism that is not constructive. Expect all posts to contribute positively to the discussion, even when there is disagreement.
- Refer to specific posts to facilitate classroom discussion as well.