Leading Discussion Forums

Asynchronous communications allow learners and educators to interact with each other using internet-based applications; such as, e-mails, blogs, on-demand video streaming and online discussion forums.  In discussion forums, learners and educators are able to discuss topics as well as ask and answer questions at a time, place and pace convenient for them. However, interaction must be timely in order to promote discussion. Actions educators can incorporate into their plan to increase timely interaction during an asynchronous discussion are below.

Prepare Learners

Ensure learner knows how to use the discussion software. If learners do not know how to use discussion software, they will not be able to interact. Never assume the reason the learner is taking an online or hybrid course is because they are comfortable with the technology in the classroom. The learner’s reason for taking an online course may have more to do with convenience than internet skills. Create a one-page document that contains instructions about how to use the discussion software.  Provide the document to learners who need it.

Some learners do not know how to write. Refer these learners to resources that will edit their writing or help them improve their writing. Some learners are hesitant about responding on discussion forums because they are not sure their posts are free of spelling and grammar errors. Educators should have learners type their responses in a word processing application before posting them on the discussion forum. Let learners know that word processing software contains grammar and spell checkers they can use to edit their responses.

Establish Parameters

Set specific times when responses should be posted on the discussion forum. Explain the reason for these parameters. For example the educator can post; “Two responses are due each week. Your first response is due by Wednesday each week. Your second response is due after Wednesday; but by Sunday each week. Responding by this time will allow you to learn from your instructor as well as other learners.”

Explain the criteria for responses. Not only tell the learner the characteristics of a good response; also, let your responses exhibit a good post. You could post; “Welcome to our discussion about how to engage learners using discussion forums.  During this discussion, you are asked questions that must be answered using three or more sentences. All responses should clearly indicate the statement you are responding to as well as add substance to that statement. When you answer questions, do not re-type the question in your response. Answer questions using statements that identify the question you are answering. Before posting your response, proofread it to ensure there are not any grammatical or spelling errors.”

Ensure learners are aware of forum questions and topics.  Clearly state the topic of discussion. If a learner’s response does not address the topic, remind the learner of the appropriate topic. Also, keep learners focused by making all your posts about the discussion topic. Let learners know about alternative means of asking off-topic questions.

Moderate discussions and manage conflicts. Disagreements challenge learners to think differently. However, a discussion forum should incorporate respectful communication. Learners need to feel comfortable sharing their opinions and facts. Educators must monitor discussions to ensure learners are learning from each other and not demoralizing each other. Educators can manage conflict in an e-mail, over the telephone or on the discussion forum by asking questions or resolving misunderstandings.

Actively Engage

Welcome learners to the discussion. Let learners know that their questions and statements will add value to the discussion. Send an e-mail or call learners to let them know about the discussion, especially, if they have not posted in a few days. Ask if circumstances are preventing them from discussing the topic in a timely fashion. If time management is an issue for the learner, provide them time management information.

Read your discussion forum daily. If there are new responses that need to be addressed, do it that day. Learners are watching the educator’s engagement. If they believe others are interested in what they have to say, they will respond. Educators may not need to respond to every post on the forum; but they do need to indicate they have read each response.

Let your personality show within your responses. Include motivational quotes or quotes about the topic.

Make the discussion relevant. Get to know your learners by having them introduce themselves in the forum and tell why they are participating in the discussion. Ask them to state how they plan to use the information they will learn. When discussing a topic with a learner, state their name and give examples that incorporate what you know about them. Make the main topic general; but responses to learners specific to them. Talk to learners on their level and from their perspective.

Educators must have a plan for motivating learners to participate in discussions. Their plan should include preparing learners to participate in the discussion, establishing guidelines for participation and actively engaging learners. By actively engaging learners, an educator can provide help the learner needs to participate in the discussion.

If you want more information about engaging e-learners, contact me, Belinda Smith, PhD at DrBSmith@blearning.info.

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