Class discussions are one of the most popular activities in online courses, book clubs, seminars, and conferences. However without careful planning, they can bore participants and be viewed a "busy" work rather than meaningful learning experiences.
Forums can range from free-flow sharing of ideas to highly structured activities. However it's important to identify the specific purpose of the discussion and design assignments and assessment that reflect this need. To accomplish the course goals, it's also necessary for the instructor to carefully monitor and manage the discussions.
Technology for Online Discussions
There are many online tools for coordinating online discussions.
First, consider whether an existing service might be used. For instance, if you're developing an online book club, you might use an existing service such as LibraryThing or setup group at Goodreads as the forum tool for your discussions.
Third, if you want to do more than simply hold a discussion, consider a course management tool for nonprofits such as NiceNet. Or, a social network builder such as Ning.
Fourth, if you have access to your own web server consider a open source software such as the course management system Moodle or the forum tool phpBB.
I want to create an online book club. I've been looking at LibraryThing and Goodreads for topic ideas. From discussions about Thrillers and True Crime to a focus on cookbooks, the range of topics is amazing.
The Cs of Discussions
Be sure that your discussions are part of the larger learning experience. Consider the C's of Discussions:
- Community. Set up a positive atmosphere for discussion. Encourage risk-taking, value multiple perspectives, and promote peer feedback and support.
- Content. Provide a shared experience such as a chapter, article, video, photo, scenario, or other materials to serve as background information. Encourage students to cite sources and provide examples rather than simply offering opinions.
- Context. Present students with a problem, situation, or scenario for the discussion. You might cite the shared experience and present a question or dilemma.
- Create and Contribute. Rather than simply posting a comment, ask students to create something that will extend the discussion. They may share an example, provide a critique, or pose a solution.
- Collaborate, Conflict and Compromise. After making an initial contribution, ask students to take action based on the ideas generated in the discussion. They might collaborate, address a conflict or reach a compromise.
- Culminate. Bring all the ideas together in a final statement of conclusion.
Read the following pages to learn about integrating discussions into your online course: