Weekly online discussions, whether in a face-to-face class or a fully-online class, can be a great learning tool for students.  They can foster reflection, debate and critical thinking.  They can also facilitate community within the class.  Weekly discussion however can be very difficult to manage as the professor.  Do you respond to each student?  Do you correct posts? Do you guide the discussion?  Today’s Faculty Focus (http://www.facultyfocus.com) is entitled How Many Faculty Discussion Posts Each Week? A Simply Delicious Answer answers these questions and many more.

The first recommendation is that in online discussions faculty should take a guiding role.

“At the onset of weekly discussion, outstanding online instructors wait cautiously to ensure that peer interactions and student self-discovery have the time to flourish. Then, at precisely the right point, they add several probing responses, invoking relevance and scholarship into the discussion. Concomitantly, they vigilantly strive to avoid omniscient, overbearing, or evaluative posts that inhibit future participation. This professional dialogue continues in this way throughout the length of the discussion, where sustained interaction becomes a rich environment for critical thinking to flourish.”

To put it more simply, the author likens the discussions to a dinner party with the faculty member as the host of that party.  Some of the tips the author, Dr. Hayek, associate provost at Grantham University, gives for this analogy are:

  • Welcome EVERYONE personally at the door (when they enter the online forum the first time)
  • Make sure they all feel comfortable in this forum and with each other.
  • Don’t ignore everyone.  She suggests replying to every student.  This does not mean replying to every student each week but every student at least once during the class.
  • Start up a new conversation when one is stale.  Let the conversation build on its own but when it lags or goes down an inappropriate path jump in.

These are only a few of her tips on how to “host” an online discussion.  The entire article is available at http://goo.gl/nakLC

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