6 Blended Learning Examples For Online Discussions
The blended classroom, which seeks to take advantage of the benefits of both in-person and online learning, can be an invigorating environment in which to teach and learn. Asynchronous online discussions are a big part of the equation and hold both promise and pitfalls for educators and students in the blended learning environment. Here are six blended learning examples for online discussions that can help you be successful.
1. Set Clear and Consistent Participation Expectations and Discussion Objectives
Online discussions will quickly spin out of control if you don't establish clear guidelines. Before composing their first post, students should know what the topic is, when their post and any responses are due, how long their posts should be, and other basic requirements. Show them how participating a little bit every day may be better than trying to binge participate all in one sitting. For a next-level option, involve your students in setting these expectations and holding one another accountable for meeting them.
Nothing derails discussion so quickly as directionless teaching. Just as in the physical classroom, discussions should be linked with proper learning objectives. In the blended classroom, create questions that are open-ended, prompt deep reflection, and support learning objectives. Stay far away from questions that address mere surface-level knowledge.
Remember, the online discussion format is the tool, not the curriculum.
2. Require Students to Cite Sources
Now more than ever, students must learn to become critical consumers of information, especially in an online environment. At upper levels, you can teach students to properly reference sources and master a citation format such as MLA or APA by requiring a reference section at the end of each post. Alternatively, you can require students to hyperlink their sources directly to discussion post text, a common practice on the internet.
In either case, show students how to read other students' posts critically and to question each other's sources and interpretations when appropriate. This is a good opportunity to demonstrate to your classes how people interpret others' work, form and defend their positions, and how learning plays out in a series of reasoned arguments and counterarguments over time as opposed to one-shot regurgitation of the textbook.
3. Promote Peer-to-Peer Interaction
In a teacher-centered classroom, whether in-person or online, there is a clear pattern of interaction that flows from teacher to student and back again, so that the teacher is always a mediating factor in class discussions. In a student-centered classroom, the teacher finds ways to encourage student ownership of the discussion, so that the pattern shows more direct student to student interaction. You'll know you've got it when students are asking each other questions and stimulating discussion as opposed to you feeling like you're constantly pulling teeth.
4. Participate Strategically
Too much or too little participation by a course instructor can stifle conversation. When an instructor sits on the discussion board and replies to every initial student post, it has the potential to pre-empt ideas that could originate from students, as well as condition students to await the instructor's participation before responding to peers.
So, where's the middle ground? Creighton University recommends not being the first to respond but not dropping out of the discussion either, asking questions instead of simply commenting, and reaching out to engage students who aren't as active or who might feel marginalized by the discussion.
5. Model and Enforce Netiquette
Discussions can get heated, especially when discussing a controversial issue. Have a plan for conflict resolution in case things get out of hand. Better yet, establish guidelines for respectful communication and constructive criticism up front and publish an exemplar post that demonstrates the same. Model the delicate balance of positivity and constructive feedback that characterizes the best aspects of professional collaboration. Introduce students to the concept of netiquette and use each discussion as a point of reinforcement. You'll have a burgeoning culture of digital citizenship in no time.
6. Assess for Quality, Not Just Quantity
Occasionally, you may find that students will try to "pad" the discussion board with short responses, such as "I really liked your post! It really gave me something to think about!" followed by similar non-substantive writing or regurgitation from what other classmates have previously written. Be clear up front that this practice will not be positively received—or assessed.
If your learning management system (LMS) allows it, keep classmate responses hidden for students until they have made their initial post. In your discussion rubric, require students to add something new—an original thought, concept, reference, or similar—with each follow-up post. If they struggle, you may need to provide direct instruction in this area. If you would like, you can establish a maximum word limit for a post, encouraging students to write both substantively and with economy.
The Best of Both Worlds
When you effectively implement online discussions in your blended classroom, you get the best of both worlds: time in class to clarify, practice, complete labs, work on projects, and more, while front loading material and conducting key class discussions in the digital environment via your LMS. When you structure your online discussions in a deliberate and strategic manner, your students will be more engaged and prepared to learn in class, and the benefits of blended learning will be obvious to all.
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