1. Identify three different technologies that support discussions in online classes. Describe each technology in terms of its ability to support worthwhile and rewarding discussions.

Two different technologies that support discussions in online classes and are supported by most learning management systems are chats and forums. A third technology that supports discussions in online classes, although not a new or technically advanced approach but effective, is email.

Chats are the only technology out of the three that are synchronous. While synchronous discussions are beneficial because they are real-time, this may also be the biggest downfall of chats; coordinating schedules can be very difficult. However, if strategically implemented, using chats can be very rewarding. For example, for small group work, it can build a sense of community by providing a relaxed and natural flow of communication (Weber & Lieberman, 2000). Lisa Weber and Jennifer Lieberman have provided a number of ways to successfully use chats in an online course in their paper “Strategies for Effective Use of Chat: When, Why and How to Make it Work.” You can access the paper here.

Forums can have a greater ability to support worthwhile discussions because of its asynchronous format. Students have more time to consider the topic, formulate a response and ensure that their writing is clear, accurate and free from spelling or grammar errors. Shy students tend to be more willing to participate in online forums than face-to-face discussions making the dialogue more rich and meaningful. Threaded discussions from forums are also saved so they can be revisited even after the discussion is over.

Finally, email discussions have some real benefits for online students. I am speaking from personal experience with this form of two-way, asynchronous discussions in my own online classes. Most of my undergraduate online classes used email threads as the main form of class discussions. The benefit of this was that I could easily store, find, sort and retrieve specific discussion threads that I wanted to access. Most importantly for me was the sense of community. Many of us were in multiple classes together over multiple semesters and never once met face-to-face but we felt like a group. When graduation came around and I lined up to walk across the stage, the group of us who were clumped together for my major all realized that we all knew each other from our email discussions. It was like walking through the ceremony with long lost friends.

2. Describe an eLearning context (type of class, students, and specific content) where you would advocate the use of an online discussion. Identify the technology you would use to facilitate the discussion.

I would advocate the use of an online discussion in just about any class or group project because of the way it supports critical thinking and thoughtful feedback. If I were teaching an online computer applications course I would use a forum to close weekly lessons and projects.  Following a lesson and assignment regarding creating flyers in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Publisher I would post the following discussion topic: “What software application, Microsoft Publisher or Microsoft Word, did you find more user-friendly when creating your flyers? Give a detailed explanation. Compare and contrast the two application’s abilities to produce a quality flyer.”

3. Describe how you would plan for the discussion described in question 2. For example, how would you prepare students for the discussion, structure associated presentations, plan other activities that students be doing along with the discussion, and how you would ensure that the student workload was balanced and appropriate.

For the lesson, students will be required to read specific pages from their textbook that refers to creating flyers in Microsoft Word and creating flyers in Publisher. Supplemental materials such as instructor notes and examples of flyers will be posted online in the coursesite. Sample flyers would include both good and bad examples with explanations on what makes them good or bad.

Assignments for the lesson will include creating two flyers; one in Microsoft Word and one in Microsoft Publisher; instructions will be posted online. Students will email their completed flyers to the instructor and then post a thread in the discussion. In order to ensure that the student’s workload is balanced, this structure (lesson → assignment → post) will be the format every week and all assignments will be made available at the beginning of the semester so students can plan their schedules accordingly.

4. Develop a set of guidelines or policies that you would give to students to help them engage successfully in the discussion.

There will be 16 discussions throughout the semester; one discussion topic for each week. Weekly threads must be posted by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday evenings. Students can earn up to five participation points for each discussion and must participate in 10 of the 16 discussions for a total of 50 possible points. Students must post one original thread per discussion topic and comment on at least two others.

Comments are to be respectful and should be used to offer praise, suggestions, constructive criticism, and any other types of comments that add depth and meaning to the discussion. Students should show critical thinking skills by including information in their posts and comments that relate back to the textbook, course documents or personal experiences. Information from outside sources should also be used and appropriately cited.

5. Describe and/or develop a system for assessing student participation and learning in the discussion.

The following will be used as a guide for assessing student participation and learning in discussions:

Requirement

Point Value

Posted one original thread before the deadline

1

Commented on at least two other threads

1

Exhibited critical thinking in post and comments

1

Comments were respectful and added to the discussion

1

Located and used outside sources of information

1

Total Points Possible

5

Students who post disrespectful comments will be removed from the discussion and given zero points for the assignment.

6. How would you prepare the instructor for participating in the discussion?

In preparing an instructor for discussion participation I would explain to them what their main objectives should be. According to Shirley Waterhouse (2005), facilitators “must strive to create an environment where students feel comfortable engaging in discussions without close supervision” (p. 132). I would recommend that they plan their level of participation carefully and to make the students aware up front what that level will be.

Students need to feel comfortable enough to contribute so instructors should give enough space to allow this. On the other hand, instructors shouldn’t give too much space; students may choose not to participate if they think or know that the instructor isn’t watching. It is important for the instructor to find balance, to ensure that they are participating at a level where discussions are productive but also at a level where they are not overwhelmed. Discussions are time consuming and demanding and if an instructor attempts to respond to every comment they will not have time for anything else.

It is also important for the instructor to monitor the discussions to ensure that students understand the material and are responding appropriately. In some cases the instructor may need to step in to provide clarification or may even need to revise the original prompt or question. Also, instructors may need to privately approach a student who is posting inappropriate comments or feedback.

References:

Waterhouse, S.A. (2005). The power of elearning: The essential guide for teaching in the digital age. Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Weber, L. & Lieberman, J. (2000). Strategies for effective use of chat: When, why, and how to make it work. Paper presented at the TCC Worldwide Online Conference.  Paper retrieved from http://tcc.kcc.hawaii.edu/previous/TCC%202000/paper/paper_weberl.html.

Final Project Update:

Professor Newberry asked the question via my last post, “Are you more likely in the future to need to show that you can create effective eLearning presentations or develop an entire course?”  In my current work situation I believe I would be more likely to create a presentation than an entire course; actually, I know that to be the case. One of the reasons my position was created and why I was hired was to come up with new tools and processes and then teach others how to use them.

Any training materials that I create would be available to my entire campus through our SharePoint website. Most training materials that I have seen on our site have been step-by-step written instructions but because many people are visual and auditory learners, video instructions along with step-by-step instructions would be a better option.

For my project I would like to create video instructions for my co-workers on how to use the new scheduling tool that I have created in Excel. Along with video instructions there would be captioning and a step-by-step instruction sheet. I will use either my blog or the website that I have set up through Teacher Web, instead of SharePoint, to get the information to my classmates.

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