Tips for successful online discussions

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Discussion fora are often made available by staff for their students to use, but often these are seen as ‘bolt on’ additions to curricula, rather than planned, integrated activities that enrich and add value to student learning.

The following checklist can help you in planning effective online discussions in your course:

Plan ahead

Map out the learning outcomes for your module or unit.
Design activities that will enable students to achieve the learning outcomes. How could online discussions help you achieve these?
Devise an assessment strategy that helps students to achieve the learning outcomes. The reality is most students first and foremost look at the assessment requirements for a unit and plan their efforts accordingly. If your students know their efforts in online discussions will be assessed and go towards their final mark, you will get better discussions.

Set expectations before you begin

Be transparent and clear about what you expect from your students in terms of their contributions to discussions, such as:
The number of posts per week
The length of each post
Also be clear about what your students should expect from you. You are not expected to be available 24/7 but you are expected to participate in online discussions if you set them. Your students should know how often you will be adding your bit to a discussion.
Make sure everyone knows and agrees to the code of behaviour for discussions (Netiquette) and have in mind a strategy for reinforcing the desired behaviour.

Attach ‘value’ to what happens in discussions

Attach an assessment weighting to online discussions. You will be surprised how seriously your students will take online discussions, if you take them seriously.
Write criteria for how your student’s participation in online discussions will be assessed. Students will be mindful of how they are to be assessed and be guided by those criteria and performance indicators.

Encourage peer-peer teaching

Think about designing some activities where students lead some of the online discussions. You could provide mentorship behind the scenes if needed.

These tips are an excerpt from Macquire University’s Introduction to Online Discussions.

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