Tips for Effective Online Discussions
YOUR before-class preparation is a necessary (but insufficient) condition for an effective in-class discussion to take place!!!
So, how do stack the odds in our favor in preparation of a good discussion? Well the answer is simple. The more thoroughly you have engaged in the pre-class assignment, the greater the likelihood that you will be able to contribute positively and constructively when the in-class discussion takes place (online or face-to-face). Below are a few suggestions to put you in an analytical and evaluative frame of mind (rather than "what do I need to remember from this article?"):
- Why was this paper written? The text will "feel" very different if it is an original research paper, a review paper, or a conference proceeding paper.
- What is this paper about? Typically a well-written abstract (and conclusions) of a paper will tell you what the author(s) wanted to get across to you the reader.
- What will you gain by reading this article - more depth, more breath, or both?
- What previous literature do the authors bring to bear to justify their work? (Is is narrow or broad?)
- Are the aims / purpose / objectives in alignment with the perception gain in the steps described above?
- Are your familiar with the methods / experimental design / statitistal tools? (will you take the time to google scholar some terms if need be?)
- What are the "dependent" variables and the "independent" variables? What data are actually presented in figures and tables?
- Are the interpretations, discussion of results, and conclusions sound and well supported by the data analysis and (or) other (literature-based) evidence?
- Are the findings presented generalizable to other populations? Why or why not?
- Does the methodology presented have limitations? If so what are these?
- What are the implicit (not stated) implications of this work?
- As far you know, do the findings contradict or support the existing literature on the topic? How?
- Last but not least, what were the ASSUMPTIONS (MOTIVATION) that made the author do what they did? (who supported this research financially? What can you learn from the acknowledgment section of the article?
Then, what happens during class is also very important!!!
What are the basic skills of effective online discussion / group activities? There is no substitute for face-to-face discussion. However, as your instructor I will do as much as I can to improve the effectiveness of our online class discussions and activities. Below are "Norms" (the foundation of how we treat each other; the beliefs and values that undergird productive interactions) and "Working Agreements" (the particulars of how we do our best work; they provide instructions and guidelines) that we we follow during our online interactions. Theses norms and working agreements were developed by colleagues in the school of Education involved in the "Discussion Project" aimed improving instructors and students skills at fulfilling their teaching and learning potential through high quality "discussions."
- Presume positive intentions of your classmates.
- Approach disagreement with curiosity.
- Engage respectfully.
- Timely and focused on the prompt.
- Grounded in the text at hand.
- In interest of moving the discussion forward, building on others’ ideas.
- Focused on deepening collective understanding through inquiry, critical questions, and evidence.
Constructive and Destructive Group (Discussion) Behavior:
In addition to norms and working agreement, establishing a positive group dynamics is essential to create a an effective learning community. Below is an activity that will help you identify your strength and weakness as a participant in a discussion. Instructions: (Part 1 (any time)) Choose your single most constructive group behavior and hour single most destructive group behavior from the list below. (Part 2 (in-class)) Share your choices with the members of your group so they may draw on your constructive behavior and minimize your destructive behavior as you work together.
- Constructive Discussion Behavior
- Cooperating : Is interested in the views and perspectives of other group members and willing to adapt for the good of the group
- Clarifying : Makes issues clear for the group by listening, summarizing, and focusing discussions.
- Inspiring : Enlivens the group, encourages participation and progress.
- Harmonizing : Encourages group cohesion and collaboration. For example, uses humor as relief after a particularly difficult discussion.
- Risk Taking : Is willing to risk possible personal loss or embarrassment for the success of the overall group or project.
- Process Checking : Questions the group on process issues, such as agenda, time frames, discussion topics, decision methods, and use of information.
- Destructive Discussion Behavior
- Dominating : Uses most of the meeting time to express personal views and opinions. Tries to take control by use of power, time, and so on.
- Rushing : Encourages the group to move on before the task is complete. Gets tired of listening to others and working with the group.
- Withdrawing : Removes self from discussions or decision making. Refuses to participate.
- Discounting : Disregards or minimizes ideas or suggestions of teammates. Severe discounting behavior includes insults, which are often in the form of jokes.
- Digressing : Rambles, tells stories, and takes group away from primary purpose.
- Blocking : Impedes group progress by obstructing all ideas and suggestions (“That will never work because . . . ”).
What does participation look like and how is it evaluated?
The table below provides a guideline for a student's contribution to class discussion (participation assessment criteria), the associated grade, a description of what the student is doing and the degree to which she contributes to the norms and working agreements of effective discussions.
|Assessment Criteria||Grade (Points)||Description||Norms and Working Agreements|
|Actively engaged. Contributions in class reflect exceptional preparation. Ideas offered are always substantive, provide one or more major insights as well as direction for the class. If this student were not a member of the class, the quality of discussion would be diminished markedly.||Consistent adherence|
|Engaged. Contributions in class reflect thorough preparation. Ideas offered are usually substantive, provide good insights and sometimes direction for the class. If this student were not a member of the class, the quality of discussion would be diminished.||Adhered to regularly|
|Present. Contributions in class reflect satisfactory preparation. Ideas offered are sometimes substantive, provide generally useful insights but seldom offer a new direction for the discussion. If this student were not a member of the class, the quality of discussion would be diminished somewhat.||Adhered to sometimes|
|Attends classes but says little or nothing in class. Hence, there is not an adequate basis for evaluation. If this student were not a member of the class, the quality of discussion would not be changed.||Adhered to rarely|
|Misses classes without legitimate reason(s); when in class, says little or nothing, and/or pays little attention.||Consistently not followed|