Monday, October 14, 2013

Creating Dynamic Online Discussions

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.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What's your Favorite Color?

After interviewing for a  teaching position, at a school known for its college prep courses and commitment to excellence, I was told, "Your lesson was just too elementary."  I thought to myself, how could that be?  I did this activity as an undergrad education student.  Students created leveled questions to represent comprehension, analysis, and application after finishing a classic novel by Mark Twain.  They participated in a "silent discussion"--others name it "chalk talk"--in which they posted, answered, and debated each other's leveled questions.

What is elementary about this?  Apparently, the part of the lesson that was elementary was allowing students to write in a colored marker of their choice.  Really?

I immediately went to a former professor with my dilemma, "What it really that bad?"  She quickly responded, "Students should always have choices!"

To this day, I try not to take the criticism personally, and continue to give students choices.  Every student interprets learning and presents knowledge differently.  It would be unwise to give a fully multiple choice test without allowing students to express knowledge in writing, or even verbally.

We can all relate to this idea.  Some of us enjoy being "lectured at" while others enjoy group discussions, videos, physical movements, or artistic representations.  Therefore, we should be providing students with choices.  Allowing students to choose their favorite colored marker is not elementary, but rather allowing students to express some personality and individualism.  Learning is not a one size fits all model, but individualistic and unique.  As educators, it is important to include students in their learning; encourage ownership and initiative.  Impress upon students that their education in in their hands, in their control, and learning is ultimately their choice.

Choices can include anything from colored markers to presentation avenues, but most importantly students should always feel that they have a "say" in how they learn and how the express their learning.