I always struggle with online discussions in my classes. I try to foster active learning by constructing good questions that promote engaged discussions with my students. My hope is that students interact with the content, with their classmates and with me in such a way that I can encourage critical thinking and thoughtful examination and reflection of the course concepts. In reality, however, I work a lot to make sure that my students aren’t posting comments like “I agree!” or “I really enjoyed this article.” in my online discussions. I show the examples of good posts and have even taken to assessing their posts to encourage more thoughtful dialogue. Despite my efforts, some students still struggle with interacting with course content in some meaningful, higher order manner.
In reviewing proposals for the The Teaching Professor Technology Conference, I came across an article from the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching that might help. The article outlined research conducted with students in an online Educational Psychology course and discussed the use of a four-question strategy for discussion forums. The four-question strategy was originally developed by Dietz-Uhler and Lanter (2009) for use in a face-to-face psychology course but the JOLT study translated the questions to online discussions. In the strategy, students are asked to answer four questions when they post to online discussions. These questions include:
1. Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea they learned while completing this activity.
2. Why is this concept, research finding, theory, or idea important?
3. How does this concept, research finding, theory, or idea apply to some aspect of your life?