Online Class Discussion

In online courses, class discussion is a mainstay of learning and participation.  as we make the move from blackboard to bright space, we are using this as an opportunity to make adjustments to our expectations and assessment of online class discussion. We have developed a new AGS online class discussion guidelines document (available here). Beginning this past August, all new online cohorts and students will be working with these new guidelines. Courses that are being migrated over to bright space are also being updated to incorporate these new guidelines. Those of you teaching in the online program, you need to begin familiarizing yourself with these new expectations. While there is not a radical change in philosophy, it is different enough that you will need to be pretty familiar with it before you get into the class.

One of the motivations for the change was to try to help improve the academic learning and scholarly component of many of our online class discussions. While students tend to quite naturally include their own experiences and understandings-as, of course, they should-many struggled or simply were not expected to  extend that scholarly inquiry throughout the discussions. All of us have dealt with classes where the students had a minimal of academic support in an initial post and then languished in the realm of opinion and affirmative descriptions in the remaining of the replies. Now, this is not to diminish the engagement value of such a dialogue, but when that is the norm, it limits the opportunity for significant, collaborative growth around key ideas, content, and concepts from course materials in. A second objective was to provide a greater sense of flexibility for the students weekly schedule while still upholding an expectation of being involved regularly across a period of time.

Read the new guidelines

Summary of Changes

There are three basic changes at the heart of the changes to the new guidelines. You can see the full list/chart in the guidelines but here are the big three.

  1. SUBSTANCE –  students are required to contribute multiple “substantive” posts during the week. The guidelines much more clearly define what substantive means with respect to a discussion post.
  2. FREQUENCY –  the guidelines require a minimum number of days (4) with a substantive post emphasizing frequency during the week at the expense of rigidly defining Tuesday and Thursday as deadlines for original posts.  Before, students might submit their first post by a midweek deadline but not participate with any further thoughtful contributions until very late in the week. In this new version, there is less stress on submitting one post in a particular day and more on having a meaningful contribution on multiple days during the week, which the student can choose for their own situation.
  3. SUPPORT –  the use of scholarly citations is now part of the definition of substantive. This means that students are required to have a minimum of four contributions to discussion throughout the whole week with scholarly and academic citations.  in the past, many students and faculty interpreted the guidelines to mean that only the original post had to have academic support.

Changes in Course Design Philosophy

As we are revising and creating new courses, we are making a change to our philosophy about the use of discussion questions. Previously, the standard format called for two discussion questions and the spiritual life question every week.  Now, our rule of thumb is to limit class discussion to two topics per week and find more significant ways to incorporate the spiritual life and biblical worldview component into both classroom discussion questions and was written assignments. This may take the form of spiritual reflection papers and journals for a more careful crafting of discussion questions that requires the student to integrate a biblical worldview and understanding of Scripture into the topic and content itself.

How does this relate to the guidelines above about numbers of days and numbers of post? Note that the guidelines defined in them number of posts, not provide a prescription for how many post should take place. At the very least, students should contribute for posts to classroom discussion during a week. However, a particular course and might in fact include two weekly discussion topics,  each requiring a minimum of three discussion posts, for a total of six per week. This is not a contradiction to the guidelines as it still meets the standard of having the student contribute four times during the week. students may also have any number of post that are not substantive according to the definition; e.g.,  Focused mostly on their own thoughts or anecdotes without any academic support or integration. This is not a problem provided that the requirements of four substantive posts per week and three substantive post per discussion topic are achieved.

Integrated Learning Model

The other change that we are continuing to incorporate more and more involves the idea of integrated learning as a primary objective of classroom discussion. This goes back to the Integrated Learning Model that we wrote about in last month’s newsletter. This is the three-circle Venn diagram that we have been sharing using for the last year. The Model emphasizes the integration and intersection of three essential domains of learning: academic/scholarly, practical/experiential, and biblical/spiritual.  as this model has continued to be used in courses in faculty have in incorporated it into their grading philosophy and discussion grading feedback, it has resulted in a increased level of biblical syncing across the spectrum of class discussion as well as a much better job of pushing students to think academically and scholarly about their workplace environments and practical experiences. This kind of integration and looking at all aspects of their learning through the lens of the worldview is ultimately what we are after.

Read the new guidelines 

How does this affect you as an online instructor?

the most immediate thing is that this really comes into play for you when you get your first class being taught in Brightspace. Or, we are in a year-long transition process that will classmate at the end of June 2017. Some of you have already begun teaching Brightspace others of you will start later in the year, and still others of you will not transition until later in the spring. But the main thing thing is for you to be aware that these new guidelines are out and that the transition point for you to understand and incorporate them into your teaching coincides with teaching in Brightspace.



Share this

Bryan Easley

About the author

Dean of Online Education, Oklahoma Wesleyan University

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *