Here is another interesting post from Faculty Focus, written by Cheryl Hayek, associate provost at Grantham University, in 2012. To read the full article click here.
Hayek (2012) wrote: “Discussion forums are like dinner parties, and the instructor is the host. Personally welcoming each student into this new and unfamiliar place and making them feel like they belong in that environment is a necessity to help integrate them socially and academically into the course; key elements in all retention research. We know that retention is heavily reliant on that integration and students’ related satisfaction.”
Here are the steps she suggested. I quite enjoyed her analogy!
- Welcome EVERYONE personally at the door. (Online forum)
- Make sure every person feels comfortable in the new environment. (Tone)
- Don’t ignore anyone. (Reply to each student throughout the course)
- Disagreements are phrased professionally.
- No one should be silent, including the host! (Be present in forums)
- Serve them something delicious. (Content!)
- Invite them back! (To weekly forums, to the next assignment even if they’ve faltered on the previous one, to the university if they’ve finished your course)
- Proportionate time with every guest. (Don’t reply to the same students every time)
- Spend extra time with needy guests. (Struggling students)
- Don’t talk all at once, spread the conversation throughout the party. (Post on various days, keeping the volume consistent)
- Start up a new conversation when one is stale! (Add a relevant link to a current event to discuss)
- Hosts are visible, immediately attend to guests’ needs, personable, and proactively plan for a great evening!
In addition to her post, there were a few responses to her blog post that I noted. Here are a few more ideas that can be used if you are facilitating discussions in your course:
- Ask for citation/reference to support the student’s view (from the week’s class readings usually. everything they find extra is their choice if they want to dig deeper).
- Provide examples of a “good” and “bad” discussion post and a reply to a post (if you don’t write up examples but really like a student’s post you can ask them for permission to show it to the other student/put it in your syllabus as a “good post sample”).
- Focus on the quality, not quantity of student posts. If a student posts too many threads or replies but have not said much or cited, they probably did not fully engage. – However, sometimes by posting many replies they just want to acknowledge that they have read their classmates’ posts and agreed or liked it, so that is nice. My point here – it is the best to require one substantial post where they would express their opinion and cite a relevant resources, and require at least one or two replies. Anything over that can be overwhelming, but if they only say “I agree” or “Good point” let them be, just don’t necessarily consider it if you are grading their discussion posts.