Course Discussion: Facilitation
Is anyone out there?
When there's a lull in the discussion, it's tempting for instructors to interject their ideas and opinions into student forums. However, teachers should use caution when posting messages. Some students may rely on the teacher's comments or wait for the teacher to lead rather than jump into the discussion. When possible, let the participants lead and only join the discussion when necessary.
There are situations where the instructor may wish to enter a student discussion. He or she may jump into a heated conversation to cool things off, provide a perspective that seems to be missing, play the devil's advocate, or correct misleading information. However, take care not to anger or embarrass students. It may be possible to defuse a situation through a personal email rather than a public posting.
Many instructors find it valuable to setup and debrief discussions. The setup might include the discussion prompt, assessment information, and suggestions for approaching the topic. At the end of discussion, the instructor may provide an overview of the discussion along with a closing statement. This is also a role that can be rotated among students.
When facilitating discussions…
- let the discussions flow
- avoid adding comments that might lead or distract
- be patient, students will self-correct over time
Facilitating Online Discussions
At first, some students may need guidance and practice in holding an online discussion. If your discussions get off-track or lack depth, you may wish to play the role of coach by:
- encouraging participation with supportive comments
- modeling a quality response such as providing an example or playing the devil's advocate
- stimulating discussion with focused questions requiring clarification or elaboration
- refocusing the conversation back to the original problem or prompt
- asking questions that require students to state assumptions, evidence, options, reasons, consequence, or implication
- responding to a posting that has been ignored
- identifying patterns of responses
- summarizing progress and outlining areas of potential for future discussion
- synthesizing comments
Regardless of whether you choose to actively participate in student discussions, consider the following guidelines for class discussions.
- provide a practice area to practice posting messages, uploading documents, etc.
- model expectations through practice exercises such as Introduce Yourself activities
- provide clear guidelines
- present a springboard/starter (motivation, task, materials, guidelines)
- encourage your best students to post early
- stay out of the discussion
- guide as needed
- review reply/feedback/discussion enhancement guidelines
- require participation
- debrief, draw conclusions, and closure (you and/or students)
- establish the foundation for future assignments (connect to new content, relate to other topics, reflective and anticipatory questions)
Creating a Series of Discussions
Rather than cramming the entire class into the same discussion, provide choices. In most cases, you need at least three or four people to really get a discussion rolling, however too many students will make a forum overwhelming. Groups of four to fourteen students work best. You may allow students to self-select categories (i.e., topics, professional interests, grade level interests, problem, team) or assign groups.
If you allow self-selection, keep track of the choices made by students and adjust the assignments each semester in an attempt to even out the groups.
Examine different aspects of your learning outcome and select two or three elements discussion. You may ask students to post in one discussion and reply in another forum.
Tornadoes cause hundreds of deaths each year. Are you prepared? Read Tornado Myths and Facts and Tornado Safety from NOAA's National Climate Data Center. Then, choose ONE of the following discussions:
- Storm Warnings. Have you considered becoming a television personality? Do you have what it takes? Write a short script for a television public service announcement that explains what to do when watches and warnings are issued. Your ad should be concise and accurate. Upload your text or an audio file.
- Top Ten Tornado Tips. We live in tornado country! Where would you go during a tornado? Are you prepared? Create your own list of "top ten tornado" preparation tips.
- Fact or Fiction? Create a "fact or fiction" quiz for your classmates focusing on myths related to tornadoes. Post your statements in one posting. Then, the answers with an explanation in a reply to yourself.
Let students lead the discussions.
Provide students with guidelines for participation.
Consider multiple discussions to reduce group size and provide students with choice.
Design guidelines for participation.
Take a discussion item you've created and design three separate discussions with different emphasis, viewpoints, or options.