Strategies for effective forum discussions
In this post, we will extend our discussion from last week on teacher and social presence and look at some strategies for effectively managing discussions in your online course sites. The focus will be on managing forum discussions, as forums are the most commonly used tool for online discussions. I suspect many of us are familiar with the experience of nearly empty discussion forums in our courses – I know I am! Despite all best intentions for a lively and engaging discussion, it can be difficult to get substantive responses from students in forums.
The video below, also from the Learning to Teach Online series from UNSW, shares several strategies which can assist in maintaining active participation and engagement in forums. Take a look and make a few notes about which of the strategies might work in your courses.
Academic research in this area has revealed some of the characteristics of effective and lively online forum discussions. These include:
- Prompt but modest feedback from teaching staff on student posts (deNoyelles et al., 2014)
- Modelling of social presence cues, such as using students’ names, encouragement, using humour and personal stories (deNoyelles et at., 2014)
- Ensuring the tone of posts from teaching staff is friendly, inviting, open, and polite (Collison et al., 2000)
- Ensuring contributions are required or graded (deNoyelles et al., 2014)
- Providing rubrics to students so they can evaluate their own responses (Nandi et al., 2012)
- Providing question and debate prompts, especially those that focused on problem-solving or debate (deNoyelles et al., 2014)
- Questioning and challenging stances from teaching staff on student posts (deNoyelles et al., 2014)
- Acknowledging content of student posts and extending it with a question (Della Noce et al., 2014)
- Using authentic questions, which focus on personal relevance and direct application, rather than theory (Della Noce et al., 2014)
- Drawing connections between student posts to encourage discussion (Della Noce et al., 2014)
- Creating rotating roles for students to take up in the forums, such as summarising discussions, commenting, facilitating, questioning (Jacques and Salmon, 2007)
Activity: Applying discussion strategies to your course
Building further on yesterday’s activity, think through these strategies from both the video and the list of suggestions above. In your comment today, share which of these strategies might work for your teaching practice. Which of these strategies do you use? Why do you think it helps? What problems might it address? Are any of these strategies new to you? We welcome video responses again if you are feeling brave!
Resources and Further Reading
- Collison, G., Elbaum, B., Haavind, S., & Tinker, R. (2000) Facilitating Online Learning: Effective Strategies for Moderators. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.
- Della Noce, D.J., Scheffel., D.L., & Lowry, M. (2014) ‘Questions that get answered: The construction of instructional conversations on online asynchronous discussion boards.’ Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. 10(1):80-96. Available: http://jolt.merlot.org/vol10no1/dellanoce_0314.pdf
- deNoyelles, A., Mannheimer Zydney, J., & Chen, B. (2014) ‘Strategies for creating a community of inquiry through online asynchronous discussions.’ Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. 10(1):153-165. Available: http://jolt.merlot.org/vol10no1/denoyelles_0314.pdf.
- Jacques, D. & Salmon, G. (2007) Learning in Groups: A handbook for face-to-face and online environments. 4th edition. New York: Routledge.
- Nandi, D., Hamilton, M., Chang, S., & Balbo, S. (2012) ‘Evaluating quality in online asynchronous interactions between students and discussion facilitators.’ Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 28(4):684-702. Available: https://ajet.org.au/index.php/AJET/article/view/835