Something I get asked about a lot is how I get students to be active participants in asynchronous discussion.
The short answer: I ask them to.
The longer answer: I have clear expectations and communicate them to my students. Otherwise, how would they know what to do? Many of them are new to asynchronous discussion or, worse, have developed minimum participation habits based on low or unarticulated expectations in other online learning experiences they’ve had.
Over the years, I’ve learned that I need to tell students exactly what constitutes a robust class discussion and explain why we are engaged in discussion. If I don’t, my students will engage in all sorts of discussion behaviors that I don’t want them to, like:
- Write all of their posts in the fifteen minutes before the deadline.
- Write mini-essays that no one wants to read or respond to (or grade).
- Write posts that essentially say nothing.
- Write posts that just repeat the readings or what someone else has said.
- Worry all week that they don’t know enough or haven’t read enough to participate.
Each of these behaviors inhibits discussion. The first four make it unlikely anyone will read and respond, and the fifth causes unnecessary stress and delays participation.
Asynchronous discussion is not quite the same as synchronous discussion, and we shouldn’t expect it to be. However, we should expect it to be engaging and robust in its own way. Additionally, we should expect it to provide our students with the practice that they need to master course concepts and succeed on larger course assessments.
Over the years, I’ve developed discussion guidelines that I share with my students at the beginning of the course. These guidelines — all three pages of them — lay out my philosophy of online discussion.
These guidelines will help many students engage in discussion as expected, and they in turn become model participants for other students to follow. However, guidelines alone are not enough. Feedback and grades also help shape student behavior. When students do not perform as expected, I let them know. I provide written feedback about how to improve (and I can point right back to the guidelines) and may deduct points as well. Most students who get improvement-focused feedback improve the next week. The ones who don’t will continue to get the feedback and lose points. I can’t change their behavior for them, but I can provide feedback and offer to talk with them about the expectations if they are confused or are unhappy with the grade they have received. (I always offer. No one has ever taken me up on that offer, so I assume those students are happy as-is.)
I’m sharing my baseline discussion guideline document here, as a word document so anyone can easily save and edit it.
Feel free to adapt the document for your own use. You’ll see that I don’t make students discuss every week. Instead, I use a system where low grades are dropped, which means students can take a few weeks off without hurting their final grades. I’m a strong believer in that approach … but that’s another post for another day.
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