Enhancing Student Engagement
Creating good questions is one of the most important factors in designing successful discussion forums. The following are some question possibilities.
- The open-ended question: Ask for the how’s and the why’s instead of the what’s.
- The controversial question: That the unpopular stand and get your students riled up.
- The “naiveté” question: Ask the “dumb” question to get your students talking.
- The “synthesizer” question: Draw from related reading materials, asking your students to determine what “person A” would have to say about “Person B” because of “C”.
- The peer facilitator question: Have the students sign up for a facilitation week and give each student responsibility for addressing a major point/topical question, soliciting input from their peers, and posting a summary of the discussion at the end of the week.
In general, encourage students to talk to each other by creating challenging discussion topic in which the sharing of their ideas, experiences, knowledge and skills is useful. Another important factor is keeping the discussions on topic.
The following suggestions can assist in accomplishing this goal.
- Create well-designed questions that keep students topic focused (see question possibilities noted above.)
- Create assignments, activities, or projects that permit students to “actively construct” knowledge when interacting with the information from the course.
- Create discussion threads that incorporate hypothetical scenarios, case studies, or theoretical conflicts to fuel discussions.
- Create a discussion forum that allows students to openly discuss topics of interest to them. For example encourage them to discuss things like popular music, bands, and movies online. Allow them the freedom to participate and encourage them to do so. This has two side effects: one, it necessitates that they use the course site to participate and two, it encourages them to meet one another online.
- Provide a new discussion forum for each week or topic. If one forum is used for the entire term the threads may get rather long. And provide parameters or guidelines for what constitutes an acceptable response.
- Revise threaded discussion questions when responses are off-target. If a question is not working well and students are confused, change it immediately and send out an email to students regarding the change, and post a new thread with the revised question and associated questions.
- Bring a tread to closure by summarizing the issues presented and resolved in the discussion; pinpoint especially interesting and informative responses by your students. This summary can be emailed to the students, posted to the end of the threaded discussion, or posted in the weekly announcements of the course site.
- Give clear detailed directions to your students on what you want in their responses at the beginning of each thread.
- Provide an informal threaded discussion elsewhere in the course. This can be a good place for students to post non-content related questions or to socialize online.
- When appropriate post reminders that students stay on topic. If students begin to stray from the topic, post an item to the discussion pushing everyone back in the right direction. If the direction the students have strayed is a good one, reinforce it and allow the discussion to focus on the new topic.
- Provide incentives for students to participate in the online discussions by attributing a discernable percentage of the grade to this activity.
- The answer to a question asked by one student might be relevant to many, so post answers to a student accessible FAQ course page or forum. This type of resource could quickly build into a valuable resource for current and future students.
- Privately reprimand and give constructive feedback to students who make off-topic postings or fail to meet posting requirements.
- Send email messages to those who are falling behind in discussions, or who are reading but not writing.
- Encourage meta-communication about the process of online discussions and offer suggestions for improving the experience for all the participants.
- Delete/hide threaded discussion postings by those students who refuse to play by the rules and then deny them access to the threads and lower their class participation grade.