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How to Guide Online Student Discussion

Catlin Tucker

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HowBlended learning is a teaching model that weaves together traditional in-class instruction with an online component. As class sizes increase and resources disappear, teachers need to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency while being innovative. Free online learning platforms have the potential to engage students and increase participation.

 

Transitioning students into an online space can be daunting for a teacher who is acclimating to the role of online facilitator.

 

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You can choose to be a silent facilitator or an involved facilitator depending on your objectives. There are benefits to each style of facilitation. It is important that you define a realistic role for your involvement in the online forum so students know what to expect during online discussions.

 

Questions you should consider before deciding on your role:

*How many students are you working with?
*What age level are you teaching?
*How much support do your students need when working?
*What is the goal of your online discussions?
*Will online discussions be done in class or at home?

 

You need to select the role that best fits the needs of your students' needs.

 

Silent Facilitator

A teacher who uses online discussions to compliment and extend in-class curriculum may choose to be a silent facilitator who limits his or her involvement to posting questions for students to discuss and designing activities for students to complete. This role allows students the opportunity to take charge of the discussion and, subsequently, their own discovery of knowledge.

 

Teachers who choose not to actively engage in the discussions must take the information, insights, ideas, etc. presented in the online forum and weave them into classroom discussions and activities. By restricting the teacher role to that of a silent facilitator, the teacher does not filter the information or determine the direction of the discussion. Instead students are allowed to engage freely in dialogue with their peers.

 

Tasks of a silent facilitator include: 

Posting questions that will drive higher-level thinking and engage students in dynamic discussions.
Reading student responses in a timely manner to ensure the tone of the conversation stays respectful.
Removing any postings that are not conducive to maintaining a safe online environment, then communicating with students via individual messages or email to ensure future adherence to established expectations.
Responding to student questions and concerns via email or individual messages.
Actively referring to and drawing from online discussions while in class to ensure students see the value of their discussion in relation to curriculum.
Using the participation report each week to ensure all students are participating in the online discussion according to set expectations.

 

Involved Facilitator

A teacher who plans to use the online environment to build on concepts or content introduced in class may choose to be an involved facilitator by regularly engaging in the discussion. This role allows the teacher to steer the direction of the dialogue to ensure that the conversations stay focused on particular aspects of the curriculum. The teacher also has the freedom to model online etiquette, ask follow-up questions, compliment student responses and clarify confusions.

 

The teacher who chooses to be an involved facilitator must be careful not to overpower the discussion or post an overwhelming number of responses. It can be helpful for an involved facilitator to limit his or her responses to the same number of responses required of his or her students each week. This will also alleviate the burden of feeling that the facilitator must respond to each student or each discussion thread.

 

Tasks of an involved facilitator include:

Posting questions that will drive higher-level thinking and engage students in dynamic discussions.
Reading student responses in a timely manner to ensure the conversation stays on track and tone stays respectful.
Responding to strong postings with complementary feedback, asking follow up questions that redirect the conversation, encouraging more depth in student responses, playing devil’s advocate, clarifying confusions, offering insights, etc.
Removing any postings that are not conducive to maintaining the safe space, then using the incidence as a teachable moment where safe space expectations are revisited.
Answering student questions in the online forum so all students can benefit from the answer.
Actively referring to and drawing from online discussions while in class to ensure students see the value of their discussion in relation to curriculum.
Using the participation report each week to ensure all students are participating in the online discussion according to set expectations.

 

Keep Your Community Thriving

To maximize student involvement the involved facilitator should: 

•Limit commentary. Do not be overly involved in the discussion.
•Allow the students to reach conclusions on their own, even if it takes time. Do not be the source of “right answers.”
•Keep positive feedback specific, genuine and authentic. Avoid generic or vague compliments.

 

What strategies do you use in online student discussion? Share in the comments section!

 

About the author: Catlin Tucker is a blended learning expert who teaches English and online writing courses, presents at Edtech conferences, writes for education publications as well as her own blog and is working on a book on blended learning.