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There is a pertinent quote in chapter 7 of Terry Doyle’s book, Learning-Centered Teaching.

Pedagogies that take the social nature of learning tend to be more successful.  Students give witness that when they have opportunities to discuss, critique, and relate the material to their own lives, it becomes more meaningful and memorable.

Discussions are used in most, if not all,  online courses  at Granite State College.

This chapter provides rationales for using discussion, including:

  • It’s important to be able to express one’s ideas in the workplace.
  • Students need to hear the different views of their peers.
  • Research shows that learning is enhanced by discussion.
  • Most work is done in teams and groups and working in discussion groups may be good practice for this.
  • Discussion develops critical thinking skills.
  • Challenging or agreeing with others is an important tool in effective communication.
  • Discussion allows students to clarify their thoughts.

This chapter talks mainly about face-to-face discussions, but many of the important points to consider are also important for online discussions.

  • One thing to think about is whether the discussion will take place in groups or among all members of the class.  If in groups, make sure the students know how to work in groups.  If not, teach them what they need to do.
  • Another thing is the discussion question(s). Some instructors find this to be difficult.  The questions must be open-ended.  These can include questions which ask for evidence, clarification, cause and effect, hypotheses, and more.
  • The third thing to consider is the discussion method.  Will you have a guided discussion, a debate, role playing, or something else?
  • What happens after the discussion ends?  Do students write a summary, a reflection, a mind map, or do they do nothing? Are students assessed on what happens in the discussions?  They should be, especially if discussions are a large part of the class.

Beth Rubin provides good guidelines for managing an online discussion in this video.

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