Just like discussions in face-to-face settings, occasionally you will run into one of two problems in threaded online discussions:

  1. Students won’t talk
  2. Students just swap personal opinions

If this is happening in your course, consider assigning various roles to discussion participants. For example, if you are studying a topic you may want to assign the roles of the various stakeholders to learners. You may want to first break learners up into smaller discussion groups. They would then respond to the discussion topics and peer posts from the perspective of their assigned role.

Another option for assigned roles is to again break learners up into smaller groups. You may want to have more than one learner assigned to a role. Create and assign roles such as:

  • Question Creator-the learner in charge of composing the discussion topics or questions.
  • Replier-the learner who replies to the discussion topics or questions.
  • Commenter-the learner who comments on the replies to the discussion topics or questions.
  • Related Media Searcher-the learner who searches for media related to the discussion.
  • Fact-finder-the learner who finds facts to share about the discussion topics or questions.

Finally, Brookfield (2011, p. 13) described the following roles that you could also use:

  • Devil’s Advocate: This person listens carefully for any emerging
    consensus. When she hears this she formulates and expresses a
    contrary view.
  • Umpire: This person listens for judgmental comments that sound
    offensive, insulting and demeaning.
  • Connector: This person does her best to show how participants’
    contributions are connected to each other.
  • Appreciator: This person makes comments indicating how she
    found another’s ideas interesting or useful.
  • Speculator: This person introduces new ideas, new interpretations
    and possible lines of inquiry into the group e.g. “I wonder what
    would happen if …?”, “I wonder what (major theorist) would say
    about ….?
  • Active Listener: This person tries to paraphrase others’
    contributions to the conversation (“So what I hear you saying is
    …”, “If I understand you correctly you’re suggesting that …”)
  • Underscorer: This person emphasizes the relevance, accuracy or
    resonance of another person’s comments and underscores why the
    comments are so pertinent
  • Evidential Assessor: This person listens for comments that
    generalize or make unsupported assertions. She then asks for the
    evidence that supports the assertions being made.

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