Tips and Strategies: Facilitating Online Discussions graphic
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Facilitating Online Discussions

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Strategies to promote online discussions

  • Be clear about your expectations. Many experienced online teachers have found that requiring online participation is necessary to encourage student participation. If this type of discussion is an important aspect of your course it probably warrants marks. State your grading criteria (be specific) for student participation.

  • Many instructors specify a required minimum number of weekly student contributions to the discussions. Assess the quality as well as the quantity of contributions.

  • Provide a schedule of discussion/unit topics. You may find that having end dates to specific discussions keeps the number you have to read at course end down. In addition it will help students stay up to date with course materials.

  • Students often need structure so you may find that starting major topic threads (at least initially) helps get the discussion going.

  • Be present in the discussion. By being present (3 - 5 times per week) your students will know that you are visible and available and more likely to engage in the discussion. Lead by example.

  • Create a forum or discussion thread for casual conversation and questions. Use this forum at the beginning of the class as a place where students introduce themselves and respond to other students. Take the time to respond to each student. This type of forum helps build a community of learners and can alleviate some of the feelings of isolation distance learners sometimes feel.

  • Don't dominate the discussion (the goal is dialogue not monologue). Also, if certain students are dominating the discussion, email them privately and ask them to back off a little.

  • Form small learning groups or teams. Learning triads (groups of three students) have been shown to be effective in encouraging participation. As in a face-to-face setting, group learning provides the learner with peer support and a sense of responsibility to the group to keep up with activities.

  • Consider posting a weekly or (by topic) summary of the class discussion. You may want to assign this as a student project, depending on your learner group. This type of posting provides learners with closure and helps to ensure a common level of understanding.

    Check out our specific activities to promote online discussion page for some more ideas.

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Can you think of any thing else?

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