Friday, February 05, 2010

EdTechTalk Episode #5: Promoting Learning Through Asynch Discussions

This week on EdTechTalk Instructional Design Live we talked about moderating online discussions and how to promote learning through asynch discussions.

What is EdTechTalk Instructional Design Live?  Read my recap from our first show in which we introduce ourselves.

On air today:  Marlene Zentz, Robert Squires, Cammy Bean

[Note – this is an area about which I know little.  So I said next to nothing, but I enjoyed listening!]

Today’s conversation will focus on some key ways to promote learning through asynch discussions:

1. Developing sense of community amongst the learners.  Discussion is where participants interact with each other and instructor.

2. Setting expectations and structure for discussions.

3. Assessing online discussions. Research suggests this is important in promoting student engagement

1. Building Community -- How is that established?

How do you build that community?  How do you build a sense of trust?

In practical terms – what do you do to build that trust? Encouraging Critical Thinking in online threaded discussions – Mary Engstrom

Instructor introduces self and shares experiences

A way of listening to what students say – without being judgemental

Key factor in building trust is allowing all voices to speak – and being careful how you moderate those voices.

Share who you are

Also common to have an introductory activity in that first week – to allow participants to share something about themselves.  You could have students post a youtube video that “represents” themselves and their expectations for this course.  Could suggest a little about their background.  Update profiles – links to blogs – although that might not always be appropriate.

Share who you are in introduction – but remember it doesn’t just happen through a single event.  Revisit these sharing activities as the course goes on.  Check in as to how group is doing.

Create that social presence in the first week.

2. Structuring discussions and setting expectations

Is there a best way to structure discussion and communicate expectations?

Have a discussion Rubrik.  Where students understand the expectation – or even where the students help establish that Rubrik and help define what participation entails.

Within that Rubrik – what’s considered appropriate?

Organize groups – not Group size of 6-12 is ideal…so individuals in that group have ability to express new ideas.

How much are students expected to post each week?  And the length.

Can be good to set a limit on the number of posts each week.

Uzuner:  he analyzes asynch discussions – educationally valuable talk vs. educationally less valuable talk.   Then he codes the posts – shows which posts are providing quality content for the group.

3. Assessing Discussion

Behind the scenes – emailing individual students so you’re having one on one about how they’re participating in the discussion.  Encourage student-to-student interaction.

Jane Bozarth mentioned Karma Points: how students can be effective contributors, showing that you’re learning from others.

Assessment being a supportive item – rather than a punitive account of what you’re not doing right…encourage individuals to get the most out of the course.

Protocols for online discussions:

Ways to promote discussions:

  • Have  a guest speaker to spark things.
  • Using Web Quests – like (provide format for students to investigate complex issues)
  • Collaborate activities and project – discussions become so connected to rest of the course

You can access the session recording here: and

Next week: A conversation with Anna Donaldson, author of Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction

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