While it seems appropriate to start every online learning blog with a blurb about the growth of online learning over the past ten years, we all know the online classroom is making its place in the educational systems throughout the country, especially in the K-12 learning space. So, let’s change the conversation and focus on the importance of discussions in the online and blended learning environment.
Discussions are an important part of any online or blended learning course. Teachers often overlook the power of the threaded discussion, and the effect that it may have on student outcomes. Unlike typical classroom discussions, where only the chosen few get to participate, online discussions open up a whole new world for student-student-teacher conversation. The elements of time and place no longer matter. Quick thinkers don’t cut in front of more thoughtful student responses. All students have the ability to participate in each and every discussion in a thoughtful manner.
In a recent study for some post graduate work done with Georgia Virtual School students in a few math and English courses, the effect of participation in discussion on the final course grade was remarkable. The study looked at 321 ninth grade students, equally divided between male and female, to determine if there was any effect on the final grade for the course that could be related to participation in the course discussions. A learning management tool for analysis captured the number of discussions each participant authored, and the number each participant read. The numbers were compared to the final course grade with some exciting results.
The short study showed a strong correlation between authored posts and the final course grade in both ELA and math. More surprising, the study showed a strong correlation between read posts and the final course grade. Meaning students engaged with the course material through discussion are more likely to have improved scores than students who may just complete assignments, take tests and quizzes, and do projects. This is true if they are posting a lot, or simply reading other students posts. Also, there was no significant difference between male or female participation in online discussion compared to the final courses grade.
So, Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About
Since we at least know that discussion can be and should be an important part of an online or blended course, what are some strategies to make them more educational for students.
- Ask open-ended questions that require thoughtful responses derived from knowledge that was gained in the chapter or module.
- Encourage students to take one aspect of a statement made by the teacher and support or debate the merits of the statement.
- Ask students to put themselves in the mind of a famous person and make the discussion response as it would be made by the person himself/herself.
While there are certainly abuses of online communication tools in all areas of education, business, and life, the wise use of texting, messaging, emailing, and discussion participation can play a major role in education and employee training in the future. Increased use of discussion in the K-12 online or blended setting allows teachers to introduce many needed skills such as digital citizenship, cyber security, and digital learning community participation.
Here are some positives of well-structured digital discussions:
- All students can participate regardless of the class time allotted for discussion
- Students have the time and ability to compose full thoughts before responding (particularly special needs students)
- Online discussions can expand the learning time outside of class or school hours
- Students improve writing and communication skills