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IF’s Online Discussion and the Classroom

Me at Work by crowderb, on Flickr under a creative commons attribution, non-commercial, share-alike license

Me at Work by crowderb, on Flickr under a creative commons attribution, non-commercial, share-alike license

The Interactivity Foundation has just completed the test phase of its student-facilitated online discussion guidebook. The results from 4 online summer courses suggest that the IF online discussion approach and guidebook exceed traditional online pedagogy and the standard discussion board.  As exclaimed by a professor in Georgia, “I’m loving it…this is exactly what I was missing last year in this class.”

After testing the IF student-facilitated online discussion approach, all participating professors claimed that it was a positive experience that enhanced their class. For example, another professor in Massachusetts described the process as distinctly better than other online approaches to discussion. In her words,

“The quality and quantity of student’s discussion online was categorically greater than in any previous course I have taught with an online component. What evolved in this course was, in fact, discussion rather than an exchange of unrelated posts.”

Surprisingly, 3 of the 4 participating professors claimed that this process changed the way that they viewed their workload. That is not to say that the process is not labor intensive, but student-facilitation allowed the professor to step away from the discussion and view it from a different perspective. As explained by a different Georgia professor:

“I have been teaching online courses for several years, and I have long felt the weight of having to drive discussion and sometimes to ‘chase’ students to get them to participate, but I didn’t feel that way at all this summer. I wouldn’t say that I had less work to do, but my work was different; rather than me feeling responsible for all aspects of the discussion, I could observe my students, evaluate them, and then reflect on their work and their progress.”

Another professor from Arizona echoed this experience:

“For grading, I assessed the quality of the facilitators initial questions, their involvement during the week, and then their summary at the end of the week. This level of grading is much higher than my usual grading…However, the trade-off was that the student-facilitators were spending more time in the discussions, and providing more one-to-one feedback to peers, than I would usually have time to do. The discussions were more active, and I wasn’t driving.”

Faculty also found students to have a greater sense of ownership and engagement in the IF online discussion forums. Students were required to take a proactive, not reactive approach to the course material. They were challenged to lead the discussions from start to finish. It is well-documented in teaching research that students who see themselves as “knowledge-producers” are more engaged with the course material than as merely consumers—their typical role. Faculty suspected that their students developed confidence, a sense of responsibility, empathy, reflective thinking, structured thought through writing, and felt empowered by the online discussion process. Most of all, both faculty and students expressed that they learned the value of crafting good discussion questions. As described by one professor, “Socrates would be pleased.”

How do you think we might improve learning through online interaction and discussion?

To join this discussion about online discussion and to receive an early preview of our online discussion guidebook, please email Shannon Wheatley Hartman directly at [email protected]

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