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A common assignment given in an online class is for students to participate in a discussion forum. Many online discussions forums are setup so that students are asked to respond to a prompt and reply to posts from their classmates. The discussions are likely to be underwhelming if the discussion forum is not setup to encourage substantive discussions.

When planning and facilitating quality online discussions, you should provide:

  • Discussion prompts that encourage student engagement
  • Clear/specific instructions and expectations
  • Specific/descriptive grading criteria
  • Strategic feedback

The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) developed a set of resources to help instructors teach effectively, whether in an on-campus classroom or in a virtual learning environment. Online Teaching Toolkit has resources and recommendations that can be immediately put to use by instructors, to benefit both faculty and their students. ACUE’s Plan and Facilitate Effective Discussions resource, which is a part of the toolkit, has recommendations for a general rubric for discussion forums, reflection activity, and discussion feedback that you may find helpful.

In a recent Quality Matters (QM) Success Story Webinar, Lisa Kidder and Mark Cooper shared a resource that has suggestions for Alternative Discussion Structures. The resource includes specific learner instructions and grading criteria for each alternative discussion format. Some of the alternative discussion formats in the resource are reflections, case studies, timeline collaborations, student facilitation, small group/share, video analysis, in the news, and debates. The resource explains where the connection to QM Specific Review Standards and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines for the discussion formats are.

If you are new to using discussions in Brightspace, you can find how-to resources for discussion forums on our blog.

Image credit: image by geralt from Pixabay

microphone with Value of Voice: Using VoiceThread for Teaching and Learning

Spoken language has been around longer than written language. Humans have been using our voices for so long we are naturally sophisticated vocal communicators. Yet when we go online, our voices tend to disappear. This is especially evident in feedback on student work that is provided in a digital format as well as in discussions that occur outside of the face-to-face classroom and in online classes. Discussions are generally conducted using text-based discussion forums.

VoiceThread is a web tool that allows you to humanize interactions in an online environment. VoiceThread transforms stale, text-based discussions and feedback by infusing your content and conversations with human presence, just as if the instructor and students were all sitting in the classroom together, but without scheduling a specific time to meet. VoiceThread adds a more personal element to the experience when utilizing the features of commenting via voice. By hearing and seeing the instructor and classmates during a VoiceThread, a familiarity develops that feeds deeper participation. Utilizing VoiceThreads can give you and your students a voice.

A number of faculty joined us last fall for a Value of Voice: Using VoiceThread for Teaching and Learning workshop. If you missed the workshop, or if you'd like to review it, you're in luck, because we recorded the workshop with our Swivl robot. Click on this link or the image below to access the workshop slides, recording, and resources.

play button with Value of Voice: Using VoiceThread for Teaching and Learning

by Karen Nichols

As a followup to my previous post on discussion boards, I thought I would outline some best practices for responding to underperforming students.  All too soon, we'll begin a new academic year and it's so important to stay on top of our students' status and provide help to them, especially if they are struggling.  In a recent issue of Faculty Focus, Dr. Maryellen Weimer offers suggestions for feedback based on why a student is not doing well.

For the student who just isn't trying, she recommends offering alternate assignments and trying to find ways to engage that student.  When I'm teaching French online, I do tell my students to make suggested alternatives or I may give more than one choice for an assignment, but that is still not enough motivation sometimes.  When a subject is required and a student has no interest in it at all, what feedback do you give to help them?

For the student who lacks self-confidence, Dr. Weimer recommends focused feedback.  Be descriptive and specific--not evaluative.  Focus on each individual task that the student must complete and celebrate the progress with that student.  Learning a new language can be quite overwhelming for many students and getting them focused on completing the task at hand can be tricky.  When a student tries to read a paragraph in French and only understands 20% of it, s/he must be shown skills to apply to figuring out the other 80%.

There are other reasons for underperformance such as not possessing the requisite skills to be taking the class (you're trying to take French 1020 without 1010 because you had French in kindergarten?) or a student just can't grasp a certain concept (verb conjugation--what's that?).  In all of these cases, Dr. Weimer's article gives good tips on how to work with your students to help them improve their performance and hopefully succeed.