Monday, July 2, 2007

Engaging quieter online students

A few times a year I am lucky to work with a new group of online instructors. I primarily share with them my thoughts on engaging students in online discussions, and facilitating groupwork activities. A question that comes up has to do with involving students who are a bit on the quiet side, regardless of the reason (e.g., learning preference, procrastination, lack of interest, overwhelming number of posts in the discussion, not clear about value, not clear on directions, and so on). Here are just a few of the strategies I use to address this issue in my online courses.
  • Use strategies such as karma points (see May 25, 2007, post on "Karma points for discussion assessment") to encourage students to get involved. Incentives, such as assessments that lead to points towards final grade, do make a difference to many students.
  • Besides making sure that the activities are relevant (and that students know they are can't assume it is obvious), create a structure in which students need to post by a certain time, and then respond to others by a certain time. For example, if the class week starts on Monday, I have students post their initial views on an issue, reading, case study, and so on by Thursday, and then engage in the discussion further between Thursday and Sunday.
  • Organize students into groups to make it more likely that everyone will have a chance to participate – smaller discussion groups of between 5 and 10 learners can make room for everyone to contribute.
  • Assign people specific roles in the discussion: facilitator, questioner, summarizer, devil's advocate, and so on. Then, provide clear directions about what you do specifically when you are assigned that role.
  • Put a limit on the number of posts (and length) that any one individual is allowed to contribute. How does this help? It will be less likely that students will enter a discussion and feel overwhelmed by the number of posts (especially if you have students in discussion groups of 5-10 students), and it will keep students from feeling like someone has already addressed the issue thoroughly with his or her 3,000 word post!
  • Assign students a response order/sequence and require each subsequent responder to post something that extends the previous posts.
  • Use online discussion protocols. Interested? Watch for posts throughout July and August 2007 (Protocols Parts 2-4) for more on online discussion protocols.

Related posts in this blog:
Discussion ground rules
Don’t jump into discussions
Small groups reporting out to the large group?
Karma (or inspiration) points for discussion assessment
Beyond debates and conversational roles (Protocols Part 1)
Structures for asynchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 2)
Structures for synchronous online discussions (Protocols Part 3)
Structures for small groups reporting out to whole group (Protocols Part 4)

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