Rethinking Online Discussions for Student Engagement

Faculty often complain that students do not engage deeply in online discussions. Students complain as well, feeling that online discussions too often represent hoops to jump through, with little apparent connection to the learning goals of the course. Online discussions are very different from face-to-face discussions and these differences require us to design and facilitate them differently. Attempts to use the same discussion prompts as you would in a face-to-face classroom are likely to fall flat. Instead, they require thoughtful design to engage students in deep exploration of content.

As a first step, you should be explicit with students about how discussions support the learning outcomes in your course. Successful online discussions serve one or more of these purposes:

  1. Knowledge or skill-building
  2. Application of knowledge or skills
  3. Perspective-sharing

Importance of the discussion prompt

Most discussions fail because the discussion prompt does not engage students in higher-level cognitive collaboration with peers. The prompt must not only provide a focus for student thinking; it must also encourage or require collaboration. While you can require or encourage collaboration via instructions or rubrics, it is ideal to structure discussion prompts that have collaboration embedded within them. This is most easily done by asking students to apply knowledge together through problem-solving via scenarios or case studies, by sharing “field work” (field observations, interviews), or through having learners post examples that require classmates to review or answer specific questions from classmates. It can be helpful to create prompts that require unique initial student posts and then to guide students in responding to those initial posts.  If you are using discussions to build or apply knowledge and skills, they should be challenging; otherwise, students will see no reason to collaborate on something they may feel they can achieve on their own.

Other design features

While the discussion prompt is the key to engaging discussions, there are several other considerations. In addition to clarifying the purpose of discussions in your course, you should communicate your expectations for student performance and collaboration as well as your role in discussions. A set of criteria or a rubric can help in clarifying expectations, but be sure to include collaborative behavior. While some instructions can be generic, others should be specific to each discussion. For example, you may have specific suggestions for how students should respond to initial posts that differ for different discussions.

Facilitation and Feedback

Whether you or your students take part in the facilitation of discussions, you’ll want to monitor quality and interaction. Feedback early on in a course should inform students of your judgement of how well the discussions are serving their intended purpose and how students’ behavior can shift to improve collaboration. Feedback to individuals within each discussion should be restrained, while whole-class or group feedback can be more expansive, as you’ve then allowed students the space to interact freely. Consider using audio or video feedback tools such as Kaltura or Kaltura CaptureSpace Lite, as such tools can increase instructor presence and save time typing long responses.

Design and Facilitation Guide

Creating engaging online discussions requires careful and creative thought, particularly regarding the prompt or question. It also requires a comprehensive set of supports that should be pre-built into the course. This two-page guide, “Engaging Online Discussions: Design and Facilitation”, is intended to be a concise and comprehensive resource to support the design and facilitation of your online discussions.

For more assistance with the design of online discussions, contact elis@lesley.edu. Our instructional designers would be happy to work with you to think through your use and design of online discussions.

 

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A Student’s Take on Peer Review

In this summative assignment in a freshmen Honors English Composition class, students were asked to review their papers and assignments from the course, and determine 1-3 specific areas of growth or improvement, as well as specific classroom activities, assignments, etc. that contributed to the improvement. Students were then asked to demonstrate this in a creative work in any format/mode, and present the project to the class. A goal of the project was to reflect on one’s learning in a creative style which reflects both the learning itself and the personality or talents of the student.

Emily Tran created this awesome reflective video on her experiences with peer review.

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Making the Switch to Collaborate Ultra

Still using Collaborate Original as your myLesley web conferencing tool? It’s time to switch to Collaborate Ultra. Earlier this year, Collaborate Ultra was integrated into myLesley and this January 2018, we will remove Collaborate Original from myLesley as part of our migration to SaaS.

Why are we making the switch?

Collaborate Original has been integrated into myLesley for several years. It has served us well, but as a java-based tool it required users to install multiple softwares on their computer often making it difficult to simply access an online meeting. Many faculty and students also found the interface overwhelming and clunky.

Collaborate Ultra has many advantages. First of all, it’s web-based. There is nothing to install on your computer prior to using Collaborate Ultra. Simply click on the link to the online meeting and join.

Secondly, it has a streamlined, easier to use interface. Faculty who have used it to meet with their students have found it much easier to use with a more familiar interface making it faster find the tools they need. We’ve been using it here in eLIS for two years and have been able to meet with many faculty, staff and students online while providing minimal to no prior training.

Finally, Collaborate Ultra is also integrated directly into myLesley. You can start using it right now.

Check it Out!

Take a look at the new look and feel in this video tour.

If you have questions or need assistance switching to Collaborate Ultra, contact us at elis@lesley.edu.

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So Long Blackboard IM

blackboard IM interfaceLesley University has been using Blackboard IM (BBIM) since 2012. It served us well as a collaboration and communication tool for students, faculty and staff when there were few options available to us. However, it’s now time to say so long.

While BBIM has not technically been discontinued by Blackboard, it has not received updates or improvements in several years. For the last two years, we have been pointing faculty and students to other options such as Skype for Business and Collaborate Ultra. Collaborate Ultra is integrated into all myLesley courses and Skype for Business is available via your Lesley Office 365 account. Both tools have modern, easy-to-use interfaces and mobile capabilities. They can also be accessed with the same Lesley accounts that you already have. There’s no need to create a separate login and password as you did with BBIM.

For these reasons, we say BBIM….

After the upgrade, you may still continue to use your existing BB IM, but you will not be able to create new accounts and we will no longer be supporting it. If you need assistance switching to Skype for Business or Collaborate Ultra, email eLIS@lesley.edu.

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Collaborate and Get Work Done with Office 365 Groups

Do you have a team project or group assignment? Need to coordinate information and documents with other people? Not always in the same place at the same time?

Office 365 Groups was designed for collaboration. It’s available within Office 365 right alongside your Lesley email, your calendar and OneDrive. Create an Office 365 group and provide your team with a shared email inbox, calendar, space to share documents and a OneNote notebook. It’s a great place to work out project plans, collaborate on documents and make sure everyone is in the loop.

Get started using Office 365 groups by logging into Office 365 at http://lesley.edu/email and watch these Atomic Learning video tutorials for quick how to information.

 

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