JUNE 2, 2015

CityU Library Reviews “Discussion Based Teaching to Enhance Student Learning”

Cover of "Discussion Based Online Teaching"

Review by Jennifer Bodley, Librarian

Librarian Jennifer Bodley
Librarian Jennifer Bodley reviews “Discussion Based Online Learning”

Don’t you get excited when you have several students trade meaningful, responsive posts in your discussion board activities?  I know I do!  It makes me smile to see the collaboration and learning among students. Unfortunately, not all discussion board questions are set up or presented in a way to elicit “discussion.” Do your discussion board activities and questions promote community and collaboration, provoke critical thinking and provide leadership opportunities?

Discussion-Based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning has a great section discussing ways to engage students and build community at the start of an online class.  As the author, Tisha Bender, notes, students may trickle into an online class because of delayed enrollment, technical difficulties or anxiety.  Bender suggests many introductory discussion topics meant to hook the students in to a quick start.  The goal is for students to share their personality and interests and start building community.  A suggestion which stood out to me is to play a sinking ship game (p. 83) instead of a using a general student introductory assignment.  In the sinking ship game, students are presented a scenario of a sinking ship with only one lifeboat.  Detailed information about passengers is used by students to determine who should be saved by the one lifeboat.  This game could later be tied in to course concepts like leadership or communication.

You want to use engaging and community-building questions not only at the beginning of your class, but throughout the quarter, right?   Google, “How to write a good discussion question,” and you will find many resources that give tips on what words are best to begin questions (imagine, defend, predict, etc.) and what types of questions are best to avoid (yes-no questions, questions with definitive answers, etc.)  Many of the tips I’ve found are great, but they really only focus on individual student responses to a posted question.  They don’t focus on rich conversation starters for discussion and learning among students.  Bender does focus on this.  She discourages hierarchical structures for discussion questions and recommends staying away from a one-on-one approach for instructor discussion replies.  Bender includes many practical ideas for implementing discussion-based teaching.

My favorite passage in the book talks about collaborative learning.  Too often, collaboration is required or encouraged only narrowly though a team project.  Students might write separate sections of a team paper or present discrete components of a team proposal. Create, lead, present and expect discussion boards as collaborative learning!  Bender provides this quote from Gilly Salmon’s book, E-Moderating: The Key to Online Teaching and Learning:

What [students] learn, of course, is not so much product (e.g. information) as process— in particular, the creative, cognitive process of offering up ideas, having them criticized or expanded on, and getting the chance to reshape them (or abandon them) in the light of peer discussion (p. 111).

Are you new to instruction online? Do you want to learn more about discussion-based teaching?  Are you encouraging conversational development in your discussion boards?  I challenge you to take 15 minutes to scan “Part Two: Practical Applications” in this book.  If you like it, keep reading.  I bet you’ll be inspired to change or tweak your discussion board activities and questions.  Share your ideas with your colleagues, and let the conversation develop.

Discussion-Based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning. Bender, Tisha. 2012. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing. 280 pages. Available in Ebrary [Cityu login required] or check your local library.

Curriculum Connections

All disciplines would benefit from exploring the themes discussed in Discussion-Based Online Teaching to Enhance Student Learning. Online teaching occurs in fully online, partially online, or even for in-person courses, which might feature supplemental instruction outside of the classroom.

Related Resources

Please note: Resources listed with [Login required] are available to CityU students, faculty and staff, and may be available to other readers through their local libraries.


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