This post builds off another post I wrote in May 2018 titled Enhance Your Online Discussions. In that post, I spoke briefly about best practices for writing online discussion prompts and shared some ideas I learned about at a conference. If you haven’t read that article, I recommend you start there and come back here when you’re finished.
In this post, I will highlight a few more techniques I learned about at the April 2019 Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Conference that took place in Denver, CO.
This method allows students to share an image either in lieu of or in addition to what they would normally post. For example, in a marketing course, you could ask students to visit a local store and take pictures of a marketing display. They would then share the picture(s), perhaps with a short description or analysis, in the discussion thread. This could apply to any course where pictures of things found in nature, workplaces, schools, museums, or factories would be relevant to the content. Pictures of different types of infrastructure might also be valuable in some disciplines. This method provides variety and allows both you and your students to bring some creativity into the course.
Bringing In Outside Discussions
This method gives students a prompt around a particular topic, and students then discuss a particular viewpoint or set of questions with someone in their life, like a friend, colleague, or family member. These discussions can happen either in-person or over the phone. After this conversation has taken place, students log in to their online discussion board, share a reflection, and consider the ways their views on the topic may have changed during the course of their conversation. This method is a great way to add an in-person element to online discussions and to switch things up.
This method works well if you want students to discuss a thorny issue that has many different viewpoints and stakeholders. Before the discussion takes place, students will be assigned to play a certain role as they participate in the discussion. For example, if you want students to discuss vaccinations, they could respond from the viewpoint of a pediatrician, a parent who is morally opposed to vaccinations, a parent with a child too young to receive vaccinations, an unvaccinated college student living in the dorms, or any other relevant stakeholders. This gives students the opportunity to think about an issue from a perspective that may be different from their own or that they haven’t previously considered. It also reduces the likelihood of the “Great point, I agree!” responses that are regrettably common in online discussions.
In the fishbowl method, the class is split into two halves. One half participates in the online discussion as normal (inside the fishbowl) while the other half watches the discussion as an observer (outside the fishbowl). Once the discussion has closed, the students who did not participate consider what they learned by hearing and reflecting on what they saw their peers share and respond to several reflection questions. They then submit this response directly to the instructor as an assignment.
So there you have it! Four new ways to spice up your online discussions and create more variety in your online courses. Feel free to leave us a comment below if you try one of these methods in your course or have ideas other than those shared here.
This post was written by Karin Brown on behalf of the St. Thomas E-Learning and Research (STELAR) Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Please visit our website at www.stthomas.edu/stelar or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.