Contributed by Ms. Elham Arabi, Learning Development Specialist, ETP
The success of an e-course depends greatly on how actively engaged students are with their instructors, classmates, the content, and course management tools. Discussion boards are one of those tools that provide opportunities for interaction in online courses.
If you are an online instructor and have to moderate online discussions, you will be concerned about how to engage your students in the online discussion. You must have thought how to make them not only participate in discussions, but also have profound posts, which demonstrate their higher order thinking.
Here are some methods you can use in engaging your students in online discussions:
1- Establish a set of guidelines – Share with your students the rationale and importance of using discussion boards. They need to know that discussion boards play a role to optimize interaction and maximize their performance in achieving the instructional goals. Adult learners should have a clear understanding of why they have to do certain activities. In addition, provide concise guidelines of the rules of engagement and your expectations. When students have clear guidelines, they will be more aware of expectations about when to post and how much they should support their opinions with reference to research, or other course materials. An additional benefit of having students follow clear expectations is that it can help them focus on specific goals and often produce more organized and high quality posts. Also sharing rubrics with your students can guide them in their performance, while giving them more sense of responsibility. It can also encourage them to become more self-reflective.
2- Use good prompting and guiding questions – Open-ended questions that promote students’ learning and foster their critical thinking have been found an effective factor in achieving the desired learning outcomes. Students will feel more encouraged to participate in an online discussion if they are clear about questions and help them expand their ideas. Simply asking your students to agree or disagree is insufficient without getting them to explain the rationale. Ask questions which optimize deeper and more reflective responses. Having the expected learning outcomes in mind, you can decide on the Bloom’s level you want your students to achieve. You can ask questions which are querying students’ comprehension, applying knowledge, analyzing or synthesizing information, and in the highest order evaluating and making judgments.
3- Offer reality-based approach – By stressing connections between what students learn from the discussion, which could have been linked to the covered content, and its use in the real world, you will encourage their participation and their critical thinking. Also, it reinforces the importance of student contribution and requires active participation to internalize the content. Offering an opportunity for students to synthesize, integrate, and apply what has been discussed is another option to make discussion a central ingredient of the course.
4- Use media other than text – In online discussions, where text is the primary mode of communication, media can make your content come alive. Discussion threads with media, such as pictures, charts, audio, and video, are much more engaging and visually pleasing. For instance, you can use a video and ask your students to comment on certain sections of it, or analyze it related to what they have learned based on the expected learning outcomes.
5- Create a supportive environment – Make students feel safe in participating. Setting an open, honest and respectful environment can encourage students to share their ideas in online discussions. To foster a supportive environment, you can launch the discussion with an individual introduction posting so that students better get to know each other even if you meet in class. You can start from yourself by sharing more about you, such as your interests, family, or a photo. Furthermore, as typed messages can be misinterpreted, do not make your students feel uncomfortable if such cases happen. Last but not least, encourage your students to use the General Forum to ask help from each other if they have difficulty using discussion board on Blackboard.
If you have other methods which have worked best to engage your students in online discussions, please do not hesitate to share with us.