If you’re having trouble getting students to engage in the discussion forum, perhaps it’s time to rethink how you use this tool. “Think of it as a place to foster interaction between the students through a variety of means rather than just asking them questions, although that’s great too,” says Chris Laney, professor of history and geography at Berkshire Community College.
Responding to all or most student posts is not the best approach to managing a discussion board. Doing so can be overly time-consuming for the instructor and could lead to the instructor unintentionally dominating the discussion.
The online learning environment enables students to be creators of knowledge, not merely consumers of it. It’s a paradigm shift for some, particularly for adult learners. On the one hand they have expertise and insights from their professional lives that can add so much to a course. On the other hand, they may not have the mind-set of younger students who are comfortable using Web 2.0 tools to create online content.
Sometimes a column grows out of an unexpected experience, and such is the case with this one. My mom recently died, and while I went through the expected grieving process and spent much time with family and close friends, I found my online teaching to be not only a wonderful sanctuary from otherwise not-so-happy days but also a great way to lift my spirits and help speed along my reentry into normalcy. In my nearly eight years of writing this column I have offered many tips, strategies, information, and tricks on how one can become the best possible online instructor, but now I want to share the realities of teaching the online course when a tragedy enters your life: how our teaching online can be helpful, and what pitfalls we need to prevent (and how to prevent them).
According to a survey by Noel-Levitz, flexibility—the ability to fit learning into busy lives—is the number one reason students give for taking an online course. In a recent Magna Online Seminar, Barry Dahl, an online learning consultant, offered several suggestions for ensuring appropriate flexibility for learners.
When looking to improve your online course, you may be tempted to do a complete redesign—start over and change nearly everything. Before you do that, consider an incremental approach that uses action research to continuously improve your course. This will enable you to make progress without discarding effective course elements or taking on the inordinate amount of work involved in a redesign.