Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Online Discussion

Discussion groups. Blogs.

Online discussions were my first venture into Web 2.0 applications nearly 3 years ago. What prompted the move? Students who were shy about participating in the classroom. I wasn't hearing their voice and thinking. Their classmates weren't either. In my mind, it was a necessity to get these students involved: they had to think, and they needed feedback on their thinking from others. I set up a group at YahooGroups, allowed the students to choose their level of anonymity to the other group members (but not to me), and I was off and running. The students could read, respond, and (hopefully!) dialogue.

What's the key to a good discussion? A good question is the start. The question must be open ended and has to allow for some latitude in thinking. Preferably, there are many angles to the question. Anything less, and you'll just get a lot of, "yeah" and "me too." Don't get me wrong, even with a good question, you'll still get a lot of "I agree with 'so-and-so.'"

However, there's more to it than just having good questions. At first, even with the best questions, the students will only want to talk to you, the teacher. While that's fine, where's the interaction? The challenge? The analysis? The depth of thought?

Things really start to groove when they really discuss and talk to each other: when they ask for clarification, ask questions, and challenge assertions. How, though, can you get the kids to that place? The only answer I've found is this: with time. But I'm impatient. How can I get them to move there more quickly? Hmmm...


Dianne K. said...

I also use discussion boards with my French 5 class. It was an experiment last year and a good one at that.. I'm continuing it this year on my wikispaces until the moodle is up and running in my district.

I feel that my angle is a bit different since I'm asking my students not only to discuss, but to discuss in French. I agree with you that the questions have to pose different viewpoints or there is a lot of "me too" etc.

The thing that got to me is that a lot of the time the students were only doing the discussion board because they had to. I asked them to respond to my question then read and respond to 3 of their peer's posts. It was quite obvious that some students just answered the first 3 people who posted, etc. And, sometimes there would be questions posed to them that never got answered because they never went back to look! How do we get the kids to WANT to do it?

Scott said...


What you describe in your third paragraph is where I'm thinking of going: answer the question and respond to someone else's post (hadn't decided on how many). I too have experienced questions being posed to a poster going unanswered.

Is setting a grading expectation (if you are asked a question, you must respond to it) going to make them want to do it? I may try.