Many professors in distance learning programs constantly challenge themselves to keep students engaged in the discussion forum part of class. If students are presented with 5 questions during a course week, there will absolutely come a time when students have totally exhausted every aspect of each question.
How can professors keep students engaged in the distance learning process using discussion boards?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Create a discussion question bank. Discussion questions can become depleted when you have 20 students posting on average 3 times per day 7 days per week. It is helpful to develop a discussion question bank that can be used to generate ideas for student discussion topics. This can be done in as a Microsoft Word or Excel document, or even written in a notebook! The idea is to generate as many questions as possible that is relatable to the text and lecture notes. It is important to challenge students to think critically which means asking questions that require analysis.
2. Resource sharing. Many times students will answer questions based on the text and without venturing out to find other resources on the topic. This tip suggests that instructors can challenge students to access resources online, or in texts that will support their thoughts on particular topic. Students can provide and exchange sources which promotes "information sharing".
3. Discuss "real world" examples. Instructors can begin by posting a case study of a real world example. The instructor can challenge students to think of scenarios that they have encountered that mirrors the objectives of the week. Each student will have a diverse background, and the class can benefit from the work experience of each student. If the student has not had a scenario in the "real world" to relate to, challenge them to find someone who has! This is a great way to help students to relate to the different examples of the text.
4. Interact with the class. Professors should always engage in discussion with students! This helps the students to build respect and appreciate the expertise of the instructor. In an effort to build this kind of relationship, the instructor should be willing to share background information, examples encountered in their career, as well as expand on examples that may apply to the text.
5. Take Suggestions. Many times, students have a plethora of ideas, questions, and expectations for a course. You can help the students to stay engaged and exceed their class expectations by taking suggestions for topics that are related to the weekly objectives. Many times students may have "side" conversations on the discussion board that are directly related to the course objectives. Make a topic of those conversations! Begin to expand on what the students are considering and analyzing. This will keep the students engaged and allow them to appreciate your attention to detail.
Nicole Hickland Harris is a professor teaching several courses in the area of information technology. Nicole also runs her blog full time http://www.educatedandfabulous.com.