The use of discussion questions has become a staple for online classes because it allows instructors to monitor students’ engagement in the class and it is designed to encourage collaboration among students. The most common challenges for students include the development of discussion question responses that are meaningful and participating in discussions where the posts are often similar to each other. Students eventually learn to meet the minimum requirements, which can include a specific word count and required number of weekly posts. However, the development of substantive responses takes time and practice. To jumpstart their involvement in class discussions students need a well-defined strategy that can be applied to every week of the class, regardless of the topic.
The manner in which a discussion question is written will influence the quality of the initial responses posted. When discussion questions are one-dimensional in nature and do not expect students to do anything more than provide a general answer, students will post replies that offer little substance. Even if a discussion question is multilayered students will likely treat it in a similar manner and post reactive replies, which are quick responses based upon what they initially know about the subject. This is especially true for students who are working from mobile devices and do not take time to conduct further research or work through their ideas.
Class participation is an aspect of online discussions that students rarely look forward to because it takes time to read through the posts and find one that may be of interest. The most common response begins with “I agree” and then a few comments are added to it. But agreement is irrelevant when you consider the overall scope and purpose of the discussion. What matters most is the students’ ability to engage in a conversation and continue the discussion. Regardless of the nature of the discussion questions or the posts within the discussion threads, it is possible for students to craft well-developed responses if they allocate time and follow a structured process.
Discussion Question Responses
Every discussion question response that students create must be considered similar to a written assignment. Create your post in a separate document so that it can be worked on over a period of time, such as one or two days. This means that a well budgeted schedule for each class week does more than notate a due date for the discussion question, it also breaks up the development of the response over time. What weakens most discussion question responses is that students begin writing a response based upon what they know or how they react, and then they use it as their final post. But that is only the starting point. Writing from a perspective of what you know does not help you learn.
Each discussion question response needs to be developed as a mini essay, complete with an introduction, body, and meaningful conclusion. Begin the process by jotting down your initial thoughts about the subject. Next, make time to explore the assigned readings and take notes as you find information relevant to the discussion question. Compare what you’ve read to what you know and then determine if this is enough to build a meaningful reply. Generally that will not be enough information and a search for credible academic sources can help bolster the content and quality of your post. A good place to start is the online library as you are likely to find credible sources. If the Internet is utilized make sure that sources are evaluated for credibility, accuracy, relevance, and timeliness.
Once additional information has been obtained don’t simply restate what you have acquired; synthesize or process it with your knowledge of the topic and information gained from the course materials. From that point you can make well-informed and persuasive statements. Instead of using phrases such as “I feel” or “I believe” you now have a base of knowledge to work from and it provides you with insights that will promote interactive discussions. You can also add relevant examples from your background or career to further illustrate what you’ve learned.
Once a well-developed discussion question response has been posted, don’t consider that your involvement in the discussions with other students to be nearly concluded. There is a difference between posting a reply to another student and talking at them, and posting a reply that engages them in a two-way conversation. This means that time must be invested in the development of your participation posts and created in a manner similar to the discussion question responses. Of course you may not need to acquire additional sources of information for your post; however, it does take time to develop engaging responses.
To begin, find a post that you connect with in some way and then copy a sentence or two from that response into another document. Take time to build from what you have copied by considering what you know, what you’ve read in the course materials, and what you’ve acquired through supplemental sources. Visualize sitting in front of this student and talking with them about the subject matter. What information would you share with them? What questions would you ask them about their response? The most effective method of generating a reply to your participation post is to ask a follow-up question at the end. Not only are you likely to receive a reply back you will also enjoy the process because this is an opportunity to gain additional insights and perspectives about the topics.
Boring or Meaningful
Online class discussions can be challenging, boring, and filled with responses that closely resemble each other. Or, class discussions can provide an opportunity to learn with the development of well-researched and well-developed posts that promote two-way communication and collaboration among students. Every discussion holds a potential to be meaningful in nature regardless of how the discussion questions are written or the quality of replies posted by other students. Students can improve their engagement in the discussions and jumpstart their participation by taking the time necessary to become well-informed about the topics and approach their posts in a manner similar to written assignments – structured, substantive, and engaging.
About the Author:
Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education through his work as an educator, trainer, career coach, and mentor. Dr. J has completed a Master in Business Administration (MBA) and a PhD in Education, with a specialization in Post-secondary and Adult Education.
Presently Dr. J works as an online college professor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, faculty mentor, faculty peer reviewer, and professional writer. Dr. J’s first eBook, APPRECIATIVE ANDRAGOGY: TAKING the Distance Out of Distance Learning, is available for sale now in paperback, and also available for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo devices. Learn more by visiting http://www.affordablequalitywriting.com
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