The following post is part of my MIL research project and is the third of four posts that describe the asynchronous discussion assignments I used in the study: peer review/small group discussion, medium group discussion with very directive guidelines, social bookmarking with Diigo discussions, and multimedia discussion forums.
Giving that the ENG102 course is research based, having students collaboration and share in the research process is invaluable. This is easily done with the help of social media sites like Diigo or Delicious. Diigo is a social bookmarking web service that not only allows for one to save and share bookmarked websites, but also to highlight, take notes, grab images and write comments on said web sites and save them all with tags and categories for easy access via any web browser anywhere one has internet access. It’s a great tool for doing research. With Diigo research doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. In this case, students are beginning the research process with a pre-research activity where the goal is to discover possible topics for an argumentative essay that fits the class theme of personal freedoms. Most students at this point don’t have an idea about what to write about, so not only are they exploring for themselves, but all of their ideas are saved and shared with the whole class.
The instructor can set up a group in Diigo which provides the class with a single URL to access the group bookmarks and discussions. It also permits the instructor to limit participation to only students in the class. Students can be invited to the group via email or they can sign up individually at the group page. For the assignment, students are instructed to save 10 websites with personal freedoms themes, tag the sites with our class tag (personal+freedoms or “personal freedoms”) as well as other relevant tags, and then write a 2-3 sentence summary of what the web site is about and why it could be valuable for someone who chooses this topic. This assignment is easily converted into an asynchronous discussion assignment by additionally requiring students to read back through the group’s bookmark list and comments and then comment on bookmarks that look interesting to them. Students can also “like” saved bookmarks that they think are best suited for the class by clicking a thumbs up symbol next to each bookmark. The compiled list of bookmarks gives the students a starting place for exploring possible paper topics and a place to discuss those topics.
The first image below shows what the Diigo group list looks like with student bookmarks, comments, likes and tags. Read more
The following post is part of my MIL research project and is the second of four posts that describe the asynchronous discussion assignments I used in the study: peer review/small group discussion, medium group discussion with very directive guidelines, social bookmarking with Diigo discussions, and multimedia discussion forums.
Successful discussion is all in the discussion prompt and size of the group. It’s pretty much a given that whole class discussion for classes with more than 20 students are not that effective because of the volume of content 20+ students can create, so dividing the class in half or in medium sized (5-10) groups can be beneficial and better for discussion. If students are overwhelmed with the volume of posts to read and respond to, often they opt out completely or try to participate partially. This means that they aren’t reading all the posts and thus not truly participating in the discussion. This is understandable; therefore, it’s best to create a discussion that minimizes the quantity of posts to allow students to be able to thoroughly read and participate in a discussion. Most LMS’s permit instructors to set up multiple discussions and assign students to select ones. If not, instructors can still set up multiple and instruct students as to which they are to participate. A helpful tip here is to set the options to “students must reply before seeing comments.” This prevents students from one group from reading and copying content from other groups they are not members of.
The number of participants in a discussion is not the only factor in its success. The questions or topics you have students discuss also play a factor. Discussion prompts are the written “springboard” from which online discussions are launched and are essential to encourage shared understanding (Du, Zhang, Olinzock, & Adams, 2008). Taking into consideration your purpose for the discussion, let that drive your discussion prompt. “Explicitly described and well-structured prompts support the students to interact and co-construct higher order knowledge” (Pedagogical Repository). For instance, in my ENG102 class, students are writing argumentative essays, so they are learning how to address opposing views and counter arguments in their papers. To help with this process, I have students participate in a discussion where each student is asked to present an argument that supports the thesis of the paper they are writing and briefly explain it to the group. Other students in the group are then instructed to provide a possible opposing view to that argument. Again they are asked to briefly explain the opposing view. And as a follow up each student who posted an original argument must now offer a counter argument to the opposing view that was posted in response to their argument. This gets students thinking about possible opposing view that they may not have thought of, but it also gives them the opportunity to test their counter argument skills. The discussion can end there or students can be instructed to provide feedback on whether they feel the counter argument was effective or whether or not it was presented correctly (accommodate or refute). It becomes a learning opportunity as well as another opportunity for students to provide feedback and connect with one another.
There are many alternatives to the usual whole class discussions that ask students to comment on readings in general. More focused and directive discussion prompts will get a better response from students. In her study, Nancy Bryant stated one of her biggest insights as, “The format and topic of the prompts influenced the amount of internalization for the students, as well as impacting the amount of self-directed research the students were willing to initiate. When the student had some control over their topic and format, their participation and quality of posts increased. The students asked more questions of one another and also generated more quality responses” (Brunsell). Check out the article for more common themes related to asynchronous discussion.
Related Posts: MIL Research Project: Peer Review & Asynchronous Discussion
The following post is part of my MIL research project and is the first of four posts that describe the asynchronous discussion assignments I used in the study: peer review/small group discussion, medium group discussion with very directive guidelines, social bookmarking with Diigo discussions, and multimedia discussion forums.
Most people don’t think of peer reviews of student essays as discussion, and if you stop at the step where students provide feedback to each other on the written work, then yes, there’s not much discussion going on there. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn peer review into a meaningful asynchronous discussion activity. Here’s how I run peer reviews in my ENG102 class. First I create groups of 3-4 students. Then I set up the questions that I want for students to answer during the peer review process. Giving students specific things to comment on helps them stay focused and makes it easier for them to provide meaningful feedback. The questions usually stem from the rubric that was provided to students during the writing process. My thought is that if students composed their essays under certain guidelines, providing feedback based on those guidelines could be helpful. So for example, the rubric points out that 10 points are awarded for a strong thesis statement that either takes a position or proposes a solution to a problem. During the peer review process, I ask students to review the essays of the students in their group and answer the provided questions. One question instructs students to highlight what they think is the thesis, identify it as either a position or proposal statement, and then weigh in on whether the thesis is a strong thesis or not. During the writing phase, students are tasked with writing a strong thesis, so this feedback they receive from peers is valuable.
Once each student has participated in this phase of the peer review, they are instructed to move over to Piazza for a small group discussion on the peer review process. This discussion is open ended with no specific guidelines about what needs to take place. The instructions simply ask students to continue the discussion from the peer review by providing further commentary on the overall work that each student did for the essay assignment. Comments in this phase of the asynchronous discussion activity are the ones I found most enlightening. Many students took this time to thank their group mates for the valuable feedback they provided in the peer review phase. They express their pleasure in participating in such activity, and showed enthusiasm for helping each other. One group was so exciting to start the discussion phase that they started their own group before the instructor had a chance to set it up.
An additional benefit to a discussion like this is the opportunity to build community among students. If students feel like there are others who are willing to read their paper and provide valuable feedback, they often feel obligated to do the same – provide valuable feedback back. But they also grow to like the people in their group forming a bond that carries over to other activities in the class. I often find groups start to ask questions of each other instead of asking the instructor. This is facilitated if you have a good tool to do so, which is why I adopted Piazza to help with Q&A and discussions in my class. Students don’t feel like they are alone in this process after they’ve completed the first peer review/discussion assignment.
Most students hate online discussion. It’s true. Ask them. I don’t blame them. I hate it too. Ha! Yep, I just admitted that. It’s not the idea behind asynchronous discussion that I dislike. It’s how it is implemented in most online courses. It’s almost as if it’s an after thought. Oh wait, I need some student to student interaction, so I’ll throw a few questions in a discussion forum and be done with it. There’s no clear purpose. Then 24 students all jump in and try to manage what can quickly become unruly or worse boring and meaningless. First, my horror story. How do 24 students “discuss” this question: What was the theme of the story? Yes, I’ve seen that discussion question in an online course. Well, after the first student nails the answer, and it didn’t take long in this case. Everyone waiting 4 days until the one brave soul responded with the correct answer. Done. What was everyone else supposed to say after that? Not much and the discussion was a flop. Twenty-four students echoing the same response. And I’ve seen worse.
There’s a lot that goes into creating successful asynchronous discussion in online courses. I talk a little about some of it in the video at the end of this post. Instead of elaborating on that further, I’d rather share with you a very rewarding asynchronous discussion going on right now in my ENG102 online course. Discussions don’t have to take place in a traditional discussion forum. That’s the first lesson. In this case, my real goal, aside from getting students to interact with each other, was to have students help each other out with their writing by offering some valuable feedback. This discussion begins in Connect Composition where students submit their latest essays. I set up a peer review assignment and put students in groups of 3. Their goal at this stage is to review the other two papers in their group and offer feedback based on the 6 questions I set up for them to answer.
The objective is twofold: Read more
I’ve talked about Piazza before, but that was before I really had a chance to use it. I introduced it to students in my online ENG102 course last semester, but I think students asked about 3 questions all semester. They resorted to texting and emailing me most of the semester, and I pretty much didn’t enforce the “Ask Piazza rule.” But this semester, not only am I insisting that students use Piazza to ask questions, I’m also using it for discussions. This is part of my MIL project I’m working on this semester.
Using Piazza is very easy, especially since Piazza has an LTI that lets you integrate the tool right into Canvas. So I have a button on the menu bar that opens Piazza right in the Canvas window. It also takes the user information from Canvas to authenticate the user in Piazza, so they only have to log in once (to Canvas) and then they can go straight to Piazza without having to log in again there. I think I’ve already talked about how the Q&A works in Piazza. This post is more about using it as a discussion forum.
In Piazza instructors and students can ask questions or post notes in the Q&A forum. If they post a question, users are prompted to supply an answer to the question. Instructors have a place to answer and students have a separate box to answer in. Student answers are like a wiki. Other students can edit the answer to try to improve it. The instructor can then mark the answer as a “Good Answer.” I plan to use this feature in some manner later down the road. For now, I’m using the “notes” posts for small group discussions. When you post a note, users are not prompted for an answer, but are encouraged to post “followup discussions.” Follow up discussions let students post their own responses and then let’s others reply. Each student can post a followup discussion within a note. Read more
So this past week we had a two day retreat for new and old MIL fellows. On the first day we got to spend the day getting to know each other and learning the ins and outs from the exiting fellows. The first thing I noticed was the comradeship of the five exiting fellows. They lost one fellow at the start, so they only had five. These five individuals sounded like they truly had a good time and supported each other throughout the process. They shared their experiences, as well as their research projects, and I felt overall very comfortable with the expectations of the program. I left excited to get started on my own project.
For those of you who are not familiar, “The Maricopa Institute for Learning (MIL) is a fellowship for residential faculty in any discipline who are interested in examining significant issues in their teaching fields and contributing to the scholarship of teaching and learning through classroom research projects. Its secondary purpose is to create a community of scholars that will engage in conversations about the scholarship of teaching and learning.” The program is weighted heavily in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), hence my stolen logo from some other institution.
The best part of the retreat this past week was getting to know my own group of fellows. We are a very diverse group coming from only 3 of the 10 colleges: GCC (me), MCC (3) and EMCC (2). Only two of our disciplines overlap; myself and Annie both teach English, but Annie’s project dips into dev ed and accelerated learning and my project deals with online learning and is not discipline specific. It will be relevant to all courses that can be taught online. It was really interesting to hear what each participant is planning to study during our time together. I know I will learn as much about their projects as I will about my own. I’m excited to get started.
So our first steps, as recommended by the out going fellows, are to get the project sured up so I can get my IRB submitted and hopefully approved by the end of summer. And secondly get the literature review completed during the summer when you have fewer obligations to get in the way. I think this is good advice, and I plan to do just that. I’m not intimidated by the IRB process. For one, I’ve been through this all before with my doctoral dissertation, and I stressed enough then to cover any I may have now. Also my current project is pretty basic. I’m not doing anything outside of normal teaching practices. I’m just asking to collect the results of how my students do with these practices. It should go through easily (knock on wood).
We were also given some summer reading, so I’ll probably start with that. We’re reading Enhancing Learning Through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning by Kathleen McKinney (left) and Blueprint for Learning: Constructing College Courses to Facilitate, Assess, and Document learning by Laurie Richlin. I’m going to enjoy this next week of break before I jump in full force June 1st. I’ll be back then to report out on how it’s going.
So I’m finally getting around to applying for the Maricopa Institute of Learning (MIL) Fellowship Program in the district. MIL is a “Fellowship for six residential faculty in any discipline who are interested in examining significant issues in their teaching fields and contributing to the scholarship of teaching and learning through classroom research projects. Its secondary purpose is to create a community of scholars that will engage in conversations about the scholarship of teaching and learning.” I’ve wanted to apply for about five years now, but I’ve never gotten around to it. Well, this is the year, and here is my statement of project goals. I’ll post the rest once I’m accepted (fingers crossed).
With the growing popularity of online courses in the district, more students are opting for an online course of study. And as we rush to provide these online courses, we continue to look for more effective online instructional practices. Online asynchronous discussion seems to be the most prevalent practice in online courses. Online asynchronous discussions are discussions through an online media where participants are responding to each other, but not simultaneously. Online discussions are good practice because the discussion is happening in an asynchronous manner, participants have time to think about the question and others’ responses before posting their response. They are able to develop their thoughts more fully, rather than responding immediately after the question is asked. The discussion groups also provide an opportunity for participants to hear feedback from members who may be reluctant to share information in a face-to-face group setting. It is an effective online instructional practice. However, in most cases asynchronous discussions, despite their good points, more often than not are the least favorite aspect of the online course according to students. This is the case mostly because online discussions are not implemented effectively by instructors. My goal for this project is to research effective ways to structure online asynchronous discussions with particular emphasis on student led small group interaction. Discussions in online and hybrid courses as an instructional technique are integral to using cooperative learning structures, so that will be the focus of my research.