By Amy Erickson
Have you ever been in a discussion forum that looks like participants submitted posts from their phones? The tell-tale signs include improper capitalization of basic words, vague statements lacking any reference to the content being discussed, and a wish for future success. It looks something like: Hi, i really liked your post. You said it perfectly. Best of luck to u in the class! Such posts can be frustrating for peers and instructors, but what can one do?
In her “Tips from the Pros: How to Deepen Online Dialogue” article, Rebecca Zambrano offers advice to foster more fruitful conversations in the discussion boards. It seems there is often going to be one student who waits until the last minute to submit discussion responses—via their phone. Maybe we can do more to prevent this, though. Zambrano (2016) believes that instructors can improve online discussions by allowing informal language, encouraging students to engage in deep listening, and creating questions that allow students to connect to the content by sharing personal experiences.
Zambrano (2016) stated “focusing on lower-level writing issues, such as grammar, APA style, or academic language, takes students away from content issues toward format issues” (para. 1). If you have read any of my previous articles, you know that this is the point where I am going to disagree with the author. Students are surrounded by informal language. Some read nothing but blogs, tweets, and Snapchat stories, and I have some students tell me that they don’t have a favorite book. I think we would be doing students a favor to write like a professional and focus on grammar, academic language, and APA formatting. Corrections to grammar and formatting can be done in a gentle, encouraging way. I use errors as teachable moments for everyone in the class. In fact, I typically tell the student that I am glad the error happened in the discussion forum, so we can all learn from it. Mistakes offer instructors an opportunity to share APA instructions or directions to a resource like Grammarly. I have previously shared this APA cheat sheet in two discussion posts:
An in-text citation for a research article includes the author’s last name, publication year, and page number.
- For example, (Smith, 2015, p. 45).
The period goes after the citation.
If you have more than one author, use an ampersand and not the word and.
- For example, (Smith & Wesson, 2015, p. 12).
If you have three to five authors, you must list all the names in your first in-text citation, but subsequent citations can use the first author’s name and “et al.”
- For example, the first citation might be (Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, & Vixen, 2012, p. 100). Subsequent citations for this resource could be listed as (Dancer et al., 2012, p. 100).
If you have six or more authors, you may immediately use the first author’s name and “et al.”
- For example, (Jones et al., 2015). Note that there is a period then a comma after “al.”
Why not take as many opportunities as possible to encourage professional, accurate writing? Such precision does not take away from exchanging ideas, and one can still engage in a manner that demonstrates respect, interest, and humor.
Connecting to Content
Adult learners have experience and wisdom to share in the discussion boards. Zambrano (2016) recommends posing questions that allow students to examine and share these experiences. “Discussion prompts that invite students to tell stories they have heard or experienced can invite highly engaging conversations” (para. 3). Have you noticed this in your own classes? When asked about a personal experience in relation to the content, students fill up the forum with thorough and thoughtful posts. Students seem to pay more attention to their classmates’ personal posts in the forum, too. If you find that a discussion is stalling, consider redirecting it with a personal twist.
Sometimes students do not have experience in an area, so consider asking them to perform research in order to ascertain a position on the topic. This, too, can lead to interesting conversations and allows students to share current research on the topic being discussed.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Years ago, an instructor told me that she encouraged students to engage in the discussion boards as if they were at a dinner party. When attending a dinner party, one is involved in discussions and an exchange of ideas. One must listen carefully and respond accordingly. It is not simply one person after another marching into a room and making disconnected statements. Zambrano (2016) similarly encourages students to carefully listen to one another in the discussion boards and says, “I tell participants that the greatest compliment you can give other people is to tell them (honestly) that their thinking has changed or expanded on your own, and how” (para. 4). Zambrano (2016) also believes that deep listening should be a part of the evaluation process for discussion boards (para. 4).
Back to the Beginning
Although instructions provided by Excelsior course developers are exceptional, some instructors find it helpful to compose additional guidance to post in the first discussion forum. Below is an example you could use that sets clear expectations and incorporates ideas presented in Zambrano’s article.
Your initial post and subsequent responses should contain information that demonstrates comprehension of the material. This is accomplished by sharing relevant experiences, posing questions to classmates, sharing websites or research, and answering all the discussion forum questions. Replies to classmates should advance the discussion, share ideas, and demonstrate that you have read their post. Simply saying, “Right on, man!” will not earn full points. Use this forum to dive into the material, ask questions, practice APA formatting, and get to know your classmates.
If you have additional suggestions for enhancing discussion boards, please consider sharing them with us here.
Zambrano, R. (2016, November). Tips from the pros: How to deepen online dialogue. Online Classroom. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/online-classroom/153/Tips-from-the-Pros-How-to-Deepen-Online-Dialogue-14263-1.html