Creating Good Questions
The online discussion should be tied to the learning objectives or outcomes so that students understand the purpose for the discussion. It is also important that good questions are asked of the students. Questions must meet two criteria, be open-ended and prompt students to reflect an analyze; and lead students to construct and develop knowledge in support of the learning objectives.
Promotion of Controversial Discussions
The promotion of a discussion on a topic that may be controversial is a tactic that can be effective in supporting the development of critical thinking skills. Instructor attention and facilitation is needed more with this type of discussion, but the results may well be worth the extra effort. An instructor might use this method by selecting a recent "hot" news topic, and prompting students to take one "side" and explain his or her position. Students would then be instructed to respond to a classmate with an opposing viewpoint.
Peer or Guest Moderators
The discussion moderator does not always have to be the course instructor. Other options include, class participants given the responsibility of peer moderating (with guidelines and established support skills); a teaching assistant; or a "guest" moderator/speaker such as a librarian or content expert.
Role of the Moderator
There is an art to moderating a discussion as the course instructor. Too much involvement where the conversation becomes instructor focused could make students reticent to participate. Students may also be fearful of making a "wrong" statement or feeling like they have nothing worthwhile to contribute. "The role of the moderator is to promote thinking, challenge learners to think, consider a problem or situation from alternative viewpoints and to develop new knowledge through thinking and constructing" (Morrison, 2012).
Examples of Questions that Promote Robust Discussions
- That is an interesting point. What might someone who disagrees with you say to challenge your opinion?
- Can you compare your response to xxx (other student post)? Are you both saying the same thing? Why or why not?
- You make a good observation, can you give us some examples to support your view?
- What are alternatives to the one you suggested? Are there other solutions/options?
- What is your reasoning for this? Can you compare this with xxx post? What is different or similar to yours?
References and Resources
Delaney, S. Beyond the Discussion Board: 10 Tips for Engaging Online Students.
Morrison, D. (June 25, 2012). How-to Facilitate Robust Online Discussions. Online Learning Insights.
Muilenburg, M. & Zane L. Berge. (2006). A framework for designing questions for online learning. Academia.edu
Seo, K.K. (2007). Utilizing peer moderating in online discussions: Addressing the controversy between teacher moderation and non-moderation. The American Journal of Distance Education, 21(1). p 21 -26.