Why Do Online Discussions Fail?

Over the past few months I have been re-designing online courses that help to support teachers as they integrate technology into blended and online learning environments.

I am going to try to make more time to share my insights with you, beginning with this post about using discussion boards in learning.

Many educators use online discussion tools to facilitate conversations with students, colleagues, and other contacts. Educators often find that the quality of the responses are poor and/or participation is low. Here are some possible reasons why students may not fully engage in discussions:

  • Students have been provided with too little scaffolding and support. 
Is there a response rubric for the discussion? Have students had the chance to practice quality responses? Has the facilitator modelled responses that provide illustrative links and resources, ask further questions, or provide examples to fuel the discussion?
  • The discussion came from, and leads, nowhere. 
What happens before the discussion that led to an online conversation? What happens after the discussion? How do participants and facilitators draw and share conclusions based on their discussion? Like any well-planned lesson, students need scaffolded instruction and activities that build on previous learning and help them to build understanding over a sustained period of time.
  • Discussion questions are unclear. How have discussion questions been worded? What is the purpose of the discussion question? Is the question too open- or closed-ended? Here are some examples to consider:
    • Poor example: Have you ever been in a blended classroom? 
(Problem: The question has a “yes” or “no” answer; the question is too “closed.”)
    • Better example: What do you consider to be the difference between blended learning and face to face instruction? 
(Problem: The question is asking an opinion without the need for examples or references; the question can have a very broad interpretation.)
    • Great example: Explain what you consider to be the three key elements of blended/online learning and the three key elements of face to face instruction. Include links, examples, and resources to illustrate your ideas. Respond to two other posts with links, examples, ideas, and resources.
      • This great example would be even better if participants built upon their first round of posts after additional lessons and/or application. Example: Add to your original discussion thread and include one example of how you applied an element of blended/online learning in your environment. Highlight two elements that you feel were most successful in your example and two changes that you would make next time. Respond to two posts with feedback or resources that relate to your colleague’s example.
  • Discussions are used only to share opinions.
Discussions can also be used to:
    • Share and gather feedback on in-progress work
    • Hold reflective conversations about learning progress
    • Share resources, materials, and links
    • Spark or follow up after f2f conversations, review concepts, and more.

There are many tips around using discussions as part of a dynamic learning environment. Do you have more to add?

(Image: Pacman, by Fenix_21. 2008. Available under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.)

From Scroll to Book to Internet: Educational Technology Changes Everything

New technologies can change everything–what and how we learn, know, understand, communicate, socialize, and think.

Many people have enjoyed the video called Help Desk, posted by Zauron3ooo, that hilariously depicts an interaction between two monks as they try to figure out how to use the new technology of the book, as opposed to the old way of the scroll.

I believe that Help Desk is a great prelude to this video called Joe’s Non Netbook, posted by sabestian. In it, an educator has a candid conversation with a teenage student about the difference between his textbook and the Internet.

What do you think of these two videos, examined together? A few brief thoughts from my brain include:

  • a move from linear to completely non-linear thinking (also a huge part of e-books and how they have re-defined literacy)
  • a struggle between how things were done in the past, and how they are done now, but no less effort or willingness to learn
  • the importance of learning about and discussing the medium or tool that is used to learn, share, or create, no matter what the content may be
  • the importance of organizing, linking, and categorizing information in the process of learning

What are your thoughts, connections, or opinions on both of these videos? I would love to know what students and teachers come up with when examining them together.

Let’s Chat: Discussion-Stimulating Videos on Ed Tech & Change

My brain is getting tired since spring break is just over a week away and my city has experienced enough snow and -30-something degree (celsius) temperatures to last the entire year–in the last few weeks.

So I went in search of something both light and thought-provoking in the form of short videos of high interest, design, and accessibility, about educational change. Here is what I found:

21st Century Education in New Brunswick, Canada (5:35) by 21stCenturyNB

This video was produced by the New Brunswick Department of Education in 2010 to help stimulate discussion among educators about how technology has been a major force in shifting education, and how the education system must move forward in the personalization of learning. It includes facts and figures, as well as approaches to teaching and learning. The tone is positive and enthusiastic about the future, as well as the important role that educators play in helping students learn using technology tools and differentiated approaches. I especially enjoy the segment from about 3:00 minutes until the end, where it shows examples of ways in which we can increase personalization for students. These examples are very realistic and can already become a reality in our schools.

Did You Know 4.0 (4:46) by xplanevisualthinking

Practically everyone I know has seen the older Did You Know videos from a while back, like Did You Know 3.0 by vlbworks2010. What I admire about this newer version (uploaded in late 2009) is that it presents many facts and figures that I did not know. I am sure that most students have not seen it either. I believe that this video would be a wonderful resource to help stimulate discussion with students as well as adults of all kinds, around the ways in which technology has changed how we interact, think, and learn. I was impressed also with the calibre of the professors who helped contribute to it and the extensive reference list at the end of the video.

The Networked Student (5:10) by wdrexler

I wrote about this video in a past post, Rare Find: Positive and Practical Look at 21st C Education. This video, uploaded in 2008, is a surprisingly positive and useful look at modern education. I am tired of videos about educational change that do nothing but criticize everything about the education system, or highlight only issues without inspiration or solutions. In particular, this is a great video that highlights real ways in which students and teachers alike can build effective learning networks.

Do you have some recommendations for high quality videos that can be used to help educators and students to re-think thinking, school, schooling, and their futures? Please share!