Discussions or reflection? Why not let students choose?

Some days, the right idea comes along at the right time. In today’s case, that has to do with online discussions. Facilitating authentic, engaging discussions online can be tricky at the best of times. Some students participate enthusiastically, while others may prefer to lurk. Students can learn just as much by watching and reflecting on a discussion as they can by participating, regardless of the format. So the question might be, how do we facilitate engaging discussions that help our students towards the learning goals for the course?

Recently, Mike Wesch – Professor of Cultural Anthropology and a University Distinguished Teaching Scholar at Kansas State University –  shared an approach he will try in his classes for the fall 2021 term, and we at DEU think it’s a novel approach that will achieve the goal of promoting engagement with the material, while providing students the option to engage on their terms. Using self-enrol Canvas groups, students can self select into one of two groups:

  • Discussion Group (I want to interact with others)
  • Reflection Group (I want to write deeply, but not necessarily read or interact with posts written by others)

The idea here is that students can demonstrate the knowledge and skills they develop over the course while participating, but how the participation looks it up to them. The hope is that there are less “I agree” responses to posts and instead an exchange of ideas, arguments, and counter arguments.

For students who choose to reflect, their reflections still go into a discussion forum and are available for others in the group to read, but there is no obligation to read or respond to others. He noted that students mentioned they found it helpful at times to see the reflections of their classmates, but did not necessarily want the obligation of replying hanging over them.

A draft of the description of Mike’s approach is captured in the image below:

Does this approach interest you? One of the instructional designers at DEU would be happy to help you apply this, or other novel online discussion approaches to your class. Contact us at support.deu@usask.ca