Reaction to John Thompson’s talk- re: Discussion forums

Question for my fellow MOOC-ers:  Any tips on promoting interaction  in whole class forums where let’s say 20 students are reaction to a reading or what not? How can I help students get past the “post-‘n-go” mentality? I want them reading each others’ posts and respond.  I will say: “Post AND respond to at least two other students’s posts,” but it seems stilted and generally it seems like a lot of “Oh, good job, Johnny” that doesn’t lead anywhere. I also don’t want to get into nickel-and-diming them points in the gradebook for posting/failing to post these kinds of responses to each other.  How can we help it become a more organic process for them? (This is for a community college writing class where some inexperienced students and a range of abilities.)  Also…

~Thank you, John Thompson, for encouraging instructors to be involved in discussion forums.  A colleague and I have discussed this – ie., does it highjack the students’ interactions if the instructor inserts herself?  I tend to chime in and highlight students’ posts that show quality thought, supportive interaction, etc.  I also try to refer students to other students’ posts (eg., “Did you see Jenny’s post?  She said a similar thing but added a point.  What do you think?  Neat to see the same line of thinking here!” )  Otherwise, I fear forums are just another place where students submit  their writing and walk away without reading each others’ posts.  In fact, that’s the hardest part of whole class forums for me:  getting students to interact. Small group peer review forums are more interactive, but sometimes I want the whole class posting in the same place.  I think my presence helps there, but, yes, it takes a lot of time!


5 thoughts on “Reaction to John Thompson’s talk- re: Discussion forums

  1. Great discussion point! I also feel that postings are quite difficult to get interaction. I do find that it is helpful to assign some of the course grades to participation marks and clearly define the role that I expect of learners (to post meaningful comments that expand on the original or subsequent post in some significant way such as adding a new reference to the conversation or relating the conversation to a clinical scenario that one experienced). Are you able to do this? I find that students ONLY value activities that will effect their grade. What do you think?

  2. One thing we do to encourage student’s provide responses is to clearly spell out the requirements for the response and make the response an important part of the grade. For example: As part of this discussion you are to respond to at least two of your classmates. These responses should be quality, thoughtful answers. These responses should be at least 5 sentences in length. These responses will be worth 10 points toward this assignment. Thoughts and ideas will be worth 7 points and grammar and spelling will be worth 3 points.

    Once you clearly spell out your expectations — an maybe post a sample of what you’re looking for, it seems to give the students a guide and allows them to meet your expectations. Including a rubric is also helpful.

    I know you’ve expressed some concern about instructor involvement, but another thing you might consider doing is jumping in as an instructor and praising any discussion that your feel is going in the right path. With a little encouragement, you might be surprised how many other students might jump in and participate.

    • Thank you, Sara. My students ought to have a clear picture of expectations — the length, the quality, the points awarded, etc. I provide samples and I praise strong posts, etc. So, it sounds like we’re approaching this similarly. Many post enthusiastically and thoughtfully. It’s the ones who just slide by who interest me. There needs to be some really inherently motivating factor to encourage them and sometimes grades just don’t do it for them. Yes, praise and helpful feedback hooks some once they realize the benefit… The trick is to get them to be contributors — to add to the conversation in meaningful ways and to feel that their “giving of themselves” as contributors really does matter to the class. I like what I’m hearing in the MOOC this week… making me think more about this!

  3. I usually provide more explanation of what is expected from a post and response. For the response I include something like this: Read your classmates’ posts throughout the week. Reply in at least two well-thought-out paragraphs, to two (2) classmates’ postings by . Go beyond a “yes” or “no” or “I agree”. Give them advice, ask them questions to clarify, suggest alternatives, extend on an idea, offer a resource link for more information, or otherwise engage with one another’s comments. E.g. I was intrigued…; When you mentioned that… it made me wonder….; Have you thought of…; What about…?

  4. Great discussion so thank you for initiating it, Dean, and to Lori and Rachel for their thoughts. Here are my 2 cents!
    1) Re promoting interaction in class forums – like you, Dean, I always set a follow-up task to get them reading each other’s posts, but I add what they should be looking for, e.g. “Read some of your peers’ postings and find a person you have something in common with. Reply to this person by … stating what it is that you both have in common”. OR “Read a few postings and select one which you can relate to”. So similar to what Rachel does though she goes a bit further by giving them some triggers to get them going. Rachel – I’m going to add some of yours to my list – thanks for sharing 🙂

    I also get students to make voice recordings which they link to a forum, rather than always setting written forum tasks. Since I teach EFL, this has the added value of giving them speaking practice. It also allows me to provide feedback on their pronunciation/intonation, adds variety/is more fun than always writing, and voices are personal – we’re back to the human touch!!

    Here’s an example of a forum task using voice recording: “Find an article/video/podcast on knowledge flow/communication in the supply chain. Identify 3 key points while reading/listening to it. Then prepare a short talk (max 5 min) using the presentation framework from F2F 2. Remember to think of a catchy opener, an effective ending and to structure/signpost your talk appropriately. After practising your talk a few times, record yourself on Vocaroo. Post your article/video/podcast title, the source and the Vocaroo URL on the SCM forum by… Enter the title of the article/video/podcast title in the subject line, and make sure that no one else has already chosen this source.
    Follow-up task: Listen to a peer’s recording and comment, either in writing or orally, on what you found particularly interesting about the talk as well as on how well the topic was presented i.e. how attention-grabbing the opener was, whether the main part was signposted appropriately and if the ending was memorable /effective. Pls do this by …”

    2) Re assigning some of the course grades to participation – totally agree with Lori. My Master’s students all work full time, so they’ve got to prioritise when it comes to deciding what they do. No grade is unfortunately equivalent to not necessary/important – I’d probably do the same too. And as I mentioned in a previous posting, it’s then entirely the student’s decision as to what they do, which I respect.

    Enough for now, and wonder if anyone else has a suggestions on how to get students interacting more naturally and purposefully in forums. And I hope that we get some input on this in week 3 or 4. But as you say in your posting, Dean, this is all VERY time consuming for us teachers 😦

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