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Teaching Online: Facilitating Effective Discussions Abbie Brown, Ph.D. Instructional Technology

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1 Teaching Online: Facilitating Effective Discussions Abbie Brown, Ph.D. Instructional Technology

2 Discussion Threads or Forums as Part of an Online Course Whether delivered in a traditional setting or delivered at a distance, the vast majority of courses offered for graduate credit consist of a combination of assigned readings, assigned papers and projects, quizzes and tests, and some form of weekly participatory activity. In a traditional course, this weekly participatory activity is the class meeting in which the instructor presents information, answers questions, and may organize and facilitate small group activity or discussion (Brown & Green, 2007).

3 Discussion Threads or Forums as Part of an Online Course Courses delivered asynchronously most often use a CMS/LMS such as Blackboard or [Moodle]. Along with the traditional weekly readings and required assignments, students attend class through weekly seminars that are in essence a series of messages based on a prompt determined by the instructor and organized in a section of the CMS/LMS most often referred to as the discussion area. This activity is known as a threaded discussion where the participants are able to see all the messages that are posted organized by author, topic, or date/time and can respond to specific threads within the larger discussion. Bourne (1998) suggests that this type of asynchronous discussion activity accounts for 40% of the overall course experience.

4 Discussion Threads or Forums as Part of an Online Course Threaded discussion has been identified as a useful tool in facilitating student metacognitive awareness, and development of self-regulatory processes and strategies (Vonderwell, Lang, & Alderman, 2007). Although threaded discussion is a limited medium in that it relies entirely on the generation and interpretation of text (Dennen, 2007), it is possible to generate a sense of social presence in a way that does not require any synchronous communication (Dennen; Bender, 2003).

5 Discussion Threads or Forums as Part of an Online Course Where is he is getting all this stuff? – Excerpted from Brown, A. & Green, T. (manuscript under review). Engaging Online Students in Asynchronous Participatory Activity: Is Threaded Discussion an Equivalent to Three Hours a Week of Meeting Time?

6 I can only report on what works for me… Good SOIS responses Positive informal feedback from students Lots of practice

7 Ongoing, Course-Long Discussions The Hallway Course Q&A Show & Tell From a Summer Session Course: Web Teaching Design & Development

8 Setting up Discussions for Each Content Module A single threaded discussion (Discussion Forum) assignment for each content module. Specific beginning and end dates for each discussion. Clear requirements for full participation credit: type of messages that must be posted; minimum number of posted messages; minimum number of days on which messages are posted. A discussion prompt that: – Reminds students of the goals/objective of the instructional module and the required reading for the module. – Provides the student with a task to accomplish – Requires students to interact with each other

9 Give em hints… Hint for success: What makes a good response to someone's discussion forum post? When responding to someone's post you want to do more than just give them a "virtual high five" -- more than just telling them, "I agree" or "great job". You need to include why you agree or why you thought they did a great job. Or you may disagree -- which is perfectly all right. Just be polite and say why you disagree. Some of the best posts include requests for clarification or more information about something mentioned in the original post. When responding to a post, think several sentences, not just several words. The best responses usually include an example of something that you've read, or seen on the job or in a classroom that relates to the discussion.

10 Participating in the Discussions Log into Blackboard and check the discussion forum regularly. I let my students know in advance what to expect on weekdays and weekends. Acknowledge early birds and risk takers. Keep the discussion on track. Offer clarifications and explanations as questions regarding the content arise. Provide a review and recap of the discussions key points immediately after the discussion ends.


12 How Much Time Does a Discussion Require? Based on preliminary research by Brown & Green (2007), a typical, graduate-level discussion with a class size between 14 and 26 takes about one hour a week of reading time. We do not have any estimates yet regarding time required to compose messages.

13 Discussion Prompts

14 Discussion Prompt Example #1 Discussion 2: "The Unfortunate Acronym" In Module 2 you have been asked to read about the design concepts of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity (what William's calls "the unfortunate acronym" - C.R.A.P.). In this discussion we will look at a number of illustrations and critique their use (or lack of use) of application, contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. In this discussion area there are seven examples of instructional illustrations. You must post an original evaluation for at least 2 of these examples. You must also respond to the comments of at least 2 of your classmates (you may want to comment on the similarities or differences between your evaluation of an illustration and that of a classmates). You must post your first message on or before Friday, January 25.

15 Discussion Prompt Example #2 Discussion 3: Legibility and Readability In Module 3 you have been asked to study the design concepts of legibility and readability. In the "tech talk" portion of this module you have been asked to consider image resolution and file size. Taking into consideration everything you've been asked to study in this module as well as the ideas on contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity from Module 2, create a small advertisement for an upcoming course and share it with the class in this discussion forum. -The image you share should be 640 x 480 pixels, 72 dpi -The image you share should be in JPEG format -The image you share should have both text and graphic elements Please post your advertisements no later than Sunday, February 10. By Sunday, February 17 you must respond to at least 3 of your classmate's advertisements. You are encouraged to post drafts and revisions of your work.

16 Discussion Prompt Example #3 Discussion 6: Field Trip! In Module 6 we are looking specifically at color and its uses, but we also looking at design in general (we are reading Chapter 11 in Williams). Let us, then, take what we are learning about visual design and observe it in action. It's time for a field trip. Before you participate in this discussion, take a trip to a supermarket (any supermarket will do) and look carefully around the store. Advertisers have made particularly good use of visual design (there are whole bodies of design research that are proprietary to specific advertising agencies - this is information that is not shared as research is generally shared in the academic world) -- take a good look around a supermarket and take note of how visual design is used to attract the eye and inform customers of the product information. In particular, examine the cereal isle. Cereal boxes tend to have large, flat, rectangular surfaces - take note of how designers use these spaces to attract potential customers (notice how cereals intended adults have different box designs than those intended for children). Look for use of color, depth and space; use of faces in designs (faces attract humans); use of legible type; contrast; repetition; proximity; alignment... everything we've been reviewing so far. After you've visited the supermarket post a message in this discussion forum describing what you saw and what you learned from the experience (you are encouraged to include photographs to help illustrate your message). Also, respond to at least two of your classmates postings. You may wish to comment upon how your observations were similar or different, or you may with to offer a generalization (a general rule of design) that occurs to you based on the messages posted by classmates. Your must post your first message on or before Saturday, March 29.

17 Discussion Prompt Example #4 Discussion 2: Introduction to Instructional Design During Module 2 you are reading Chapter 1 of Brown and Green and reviewing the Websites, A hypertext history of instructional design and Why ID? The Benefits of Instructional Design Models. You may also want to explore some of the other resources recommended in the External Links area of the course. In this discussion, describe your own experiences with education and instruction. You may or may not have had experience with formal instructional design, but as a student and possibly as a teacher or instructor, you have had experience learning from designed instruction or designing instruction for others to learn from. In this discussion, be sure to answer the following: After reading about the instructional design (ID) process, how has your thinking about designing instruction changed? How has your understanding of the history of education changed? How do you think the ideas presented in the textbook and the Websites will affect your professional practice as an educator? During this discussion, you are required to respond to at least 3 of your classmate's posted messages. You may want to comment on the similarities or differences between the ideas presented by your classmates and your own ideas. You must post your first message on or before Thursday, August 30.

18 Discussion Prompt Example #5 Discussion 5: Writing Instructional Objectives In Discussion 5 we will be practicing writing and critquing instructional objectives. We'll be doing this as one big group (all chocolate, vanilla and tutti frutti lovers working together!). We are working specifically on performance objectives at this time. After reading Chapter 8 in Brown and Green, and reviewing the Websites, Writing Educational Goals and Objectives, Writing Objectives, and, The Helpful 100, it's time to practice writing a few performance objectives of our own! Here's my performance objective for this lesson: After reading Chapter 8, and reviewing the recommended Websites, each member of this semester's EDTC 6020 class will write at least three instructional objectives, each of which contains all four "parts" described in the ABCD approach. Can you identify the Audience, Behavior, Condition and Degree in this objective? Before the end of Module 5, you need to post an objective for at least 3 of the following goals: The faculty of a public school needs to understand the Fair Use guidelines of copyright law. The telephone sales department of a mail order furniture company needs to remember to ask customers what city they are calling from before ending a conversation. Students in a paleontology course need to be able to identify the parts of a Brontosaurus skeleton. The staff of a large corporation need to know how to change their computer account passwords. Students in Mrs. Crane's third grade class need to know how to behave during a fire drill. Members of the Senior Pirates retirees softball team need to understand the, "tie goes to the runner," rule. First-year college students need to know the campus library location and hours. AND -- you must respond to the posted goals of at least two classmates' objectives, identifying the Audience, Behavior, Condition and Degree of their objective (if one of these parts is missing you should state which part is missing from the objective). For reasons that should be obvious, you cannot list the "ABCD" of an objective if another student has already done so. Post each objective as a separate message. You must post your first message on or before Thursday, October 11.

19 Discussion Prompt Example #6 Discussion 5: Faculty Issues In Module 5 we are examining faculty issues as they affect distance learning programs. As we all know from personal experience, teaching is an activity that requires a great deal of study and practice in order to do it well. The preparation of teachers for face-to-face classes has a history that is at least two hundred years old in the United States and in that time we have experimented with a number of strategies for improving teacher education. We also have a strong tradition of teachers participating in the preparation of other teachers (for example, in K-12 public school settings we have student teachers working with cooperating teachers and master teachers as they complete their credentialing process). Teachers in settings outside the K-12 system often receive a less rigorous preliminary education. Corporate trainers and college professors, for example, often learn to teach "on the job" (this is sort of like learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool!). However, businesses and universities often do their best to supply support by conducting workshops, assignment mentors, providing ongoing resources (e.g. a campus faculty development center). In managing distance education programs, the preparation of online teachers becomes an important issue, as does the question of who will and will not participate in teaching at a distance. During this discussion we will be exploring the following questions: What defines a competent distance educator? Who makes the decision as to whether a faculty member is competent or not? What constitutes appropriate staff support for DE faculty? (In other words, How much technology skill does a faculty member need to have and what kind of technology support is reasonable to provide?) What incentives are there for F2F teachers to become competent DE teachers? What disincentives prevent F2F teachers from becoming competent DE teachers? Each of the questions listed tends to open a "can of worms" when explored in detail. Let us allow these questions to raise other questions that we may explore in this discussion as well. During this discussion, you are required to post an original response to at least two of the questions raised and respond to at least 3 of your classmate's posted messages. Original messages posted should indicate your familiarity with the assigned reading. You may also quote outside sources as well as describe your personal experience, but you still have to refer to the reading as part of your original responses. You must post your first message (either an original message or a response to a classmate's message) on or before Thursday, March 6.

20 Teaching Online: Facilitating Effective Discussions Abbie Brown, Ph.D. Instructional Technology

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