Incorporating Discussions and Social Interactions into Your Online or Blended Course
Facilitating discussion in any course can be challenging, and if you are facilitating an online class, the difficulty level goes up exponentially. Why is this? First, in a face-to-face class, you can manage and control the flow of the discussion in real-time. If you see the conversation going south, you can pivot to another topic to recalibrate things quickly.
However, in an online course, more than likely, you and your learners will not be accessing the course at the same time, especially when it comes to discussion. If a discussion goes south, you will likely not find out about it until you log in to the course or check your emails. So, how can you facilitate healthy and educational discussions in online and blended courses? Here are four ideas that can get you thinking about incorporating discussions and social interaction into your online or blended courses.
1. Urge students to utilize media in their responses
Rather than asking learners to respond to you or each other with text, ask them to respond using video, audio, or images. This can make the discussion feel more, like a real conversation, rather than just another assignment.
For instance, perhaps you want learners to show a technique in health sciences or art class, which might lead to a video response. We’ve seen teachers in language classes ask their learners to post an oral presentation via a discussion board and allow other learners to comment on it. This works particularly well for asynchronous classes. You might also contemplate asking your learners to post audio-only responses. This can help learners who are a bit camera shy. It works well for music classes or other subjects where sound plays a big role. Finally, images can certainly have their part in discussion board posts.
2. Ask learners to discover and imagine alternative perspectives
You can get your learners thinking more critically about a topic by asking them to respond from a perspective other than theirs. Contemplate assigning different roles to learners, asking them to respond as if they were that person or part of that group. I have seen this work particularly well in history and literature classes, though this can work in other situations as well.
3. Debates are good for discussion
Utilizing your discussion space as a medium for debate has lots of benefits, creating an atmosphere for a lively and engaging discussion. It also gives you, the teacher, the opportunity to teach learners how to engage in a debate respectfully and intelligently. This is a skill that sometimes seems to be shockingly absent across the world. If using your discussion space as a debate medium, you can assign learners to debate from a particular viewpoint or allow them to debate from their perspective. You should have a rubric set up to guide learners toward respectful, well-developed responses. Expect that you or an assigned learner will play the moderator.
4. Encourage Discussions and Debates
When it comes to discussions, contemplate giving some control and responsibility to your learners. LMSs and other platforms allow learners to start the discussion. You might contemplate assigning a learner to be the discussion leader each week. You could even leave it open and allow the learner to select the topic themselves. Either way, you should have guidelines and a rubric in place, so learners know exactly what is expected of them.
5. Leverage the right tech
If you want to incorporate discussion and social interaction in your online or blended course, you have to make sure that the tech that you use is appropriate. For instance, we just launched a social media network for educators named Pedagogue. It only takes a few moments to create your group devoted to an education-related topic or area. Groups are great for team collaboration, social interaction and discussion. Use this section to collaborate with colleagues, as class space for assignment distribution or discussion, or as a space for small group assignments and collaboration. Watch the following demo video to learn how to quickly develop your own stream-based or virtual classroom. You can stop watching at the 4:15 mark unless you want to learn how to create over 30 types of interactive assignments and assessments.
So, there you have it, four ways to incorporate discussion and social interaction in your online and blended learning course. As you work toward your goals, remember that social engagement is a powerful way to help your learners more actively participate in the teaching and learning process. Do you have any additional tips, techniques, or strategies that you would like to share with our readers? If so, leave them in the comment section below.