Instructors are often faced with many classroom situations when they want to make students talk during discussions. In most cases, there isn’t enough time to discuss everything just when everyone seems to be heating up. Alternatively, instructors want to hear from students who appear interested, but seem to be out shadowed by their extrovert classmates.
It is for these reasons why online discussions are becoming popular as teaching and learning tools in response to these situations. Nevertheless, how does an instructor create online discussion questions to achieve learning outcomes, send out information, and steer a meaningful discussion thread between mentors and students?
What are the questions to ask to make sure students engage themselves in critical thinking and develop a cohesive response? Well-formulated questions do not only guide students in understanding concepts, but can motivate them into analytical thinking. Questions designed to foster an environment conducive for learning have the following purposes:
• provide students with basic, but accurate knowledge
• gauge how the students comprehend the topic
• instruct learners to use the knowledge gained in the right perspective
• engage students into in-depth and thorough thinking
• challenge the learner to closely examine information
• develop the students’ ability to make relevant judgments
• more meaningful and active class discussions
• submission of cohesive and reflective responses
• practice of proper netiquette where students feel accountable of their comments, and respectful of others’ opinions
• availability of conversation record that can be reviewed as reference
• development of a venue for student online interaction
With all the perceived purposes and benefits, both instructors and students can expect to have a lively online discussion on course topics. However, instructors are inclined to post definitive answers that can stifle further discussion. Instead of juicing out more pieces of comments, and ideas, instructors tend to dominate a forum with their expert close-ended opinions.
To encourage critical thinking, instructors need to develop questions that can inspire students to reflect and formulate responses based on both their stock knowledge and outside sources. Students must be driven to support their posts so that it will be easier for others to follow up with their own opinions until a lively online discussion is achieved.
Not all members of online discussions have prior knowledge of the topic being discussed. To cater to such students, instructors need to work on elaborating questions. This means making series of questions relevant to the initial query. Students must be given a clear guide on how to respond which includes asking for references, examples, detailed explanations, implications, and personal viewpoints. In other words, the questions must motivate students to spend time reading the reference materials. In effect, this encourages the students to study and provide meaningful responses knowing that instructors as well as fellow students will be reviewing and analyzing each other’s posts.
Instruct students on how to reply to questions either coming from instructors or fellow students instead of waiting to be spoon-fed with the right answer. If there’s a need for instructors to provide the answer, include the reference sources or the link to a website for students to check out for reading that is more extensive. It is understood that students can provide their answer only after reading and analyzing the materials. The guidelines must be clear that answers must not be something repeated from the sources.
If a discussion reaches a blank wall, a new question is needed to start a new thread. Stagnation often occurs when students feel they have nothing to contribute hence they stop posting. However, when any friction appears to be brewing, the instructor must nip it in the bud before getting any worse. Remind members of proper netiquette otherwise disrespectful posts warrant sanction. Without it, anything can happen regardless of how well created online discussion questions are.