How to manage an online student discussion

Robert Craig

Robert works for Pearson Fronter, part of Pearson, the world’s leading learning company. Pearson Fronter offer much more than just systems, we provide solutions that work together to deliver improved performance and better results.

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The concept of blended learning has gone viral on the Internet and in classrooms. For those who aren’t familiar, blended learning is a method that takes traditional in-class teaching and interlaces it with an online element. The beautiful thing about blended learning is that it prepares students to be digital citizens, which is vital in a society full of technology. One vital element to digital citizenship, and what is considered to be a 21st century skill, is the ability to communicate effectively. To be a great conversationalist, students must learn the ability to participate in deep, authentic discussions, and learning to do so online is just as important as face-to-face dialogue.

Blended learning is a fantastic approach to building online communication skills. However, teachers often find it very challenging to boost student engagement and “get the ball rolling” in online discussions. So here are some thoughts and ideas on managing an online student discussion:

  • Limit your involvement and commentary. If you are overly involved in the discussion, students cannot freely grasp decisions and conclusions on their own.
  • Post questions that inspire students to pause and think. This will demand higher-level thinking and give the discussion a more dynamic atmosphere.
  • Frequently check postings to be sure that students remain respectful. If responses become inappropriate, you should remove it and use the opportunity to teach the student about digital etiquette. You may want to do this through an individual, private message.
  • Give positive feedback often! Referring to the discussion, and pointing out strong postings, will encourage the less-active students to get involved. No one wants to feel left out amidst their peers.
  • Seek topics that are interesting to students. What are they currently passionate about? Do some research, find out the latest trends, and implement it into the conversation.
  • Do not ask a question and simply sit back and watch. Keep asking questions that deepen student thinking and further the thread of responses.
  • Give deadlines and weekly follow-ups to be sure that all students are participating in the chat.
  • Find an easy platform or tool for the conversations. Whether you do this on a learning platform (VLE), blog, online discussion board, chat room, social networking site, etc. is your choice.

Building online conversational abilities through blended learning is definitely something to try out. What are some ways you use blended learning to instill digital citizenship and facilitate online communication?

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