Texas Tech University

From the ID Team

Student Feedback for Online Course Improvement

by Brian Ditmer

Did you know that studies have shown that online educators who use discussion boards effectively can see interactions with students that are as much as three times the interactions of students in a face-to-face classroom? And that student-to-student interactions are higher still?

Effective discussions are the result of preparation, alignment and consideration of the three types of student thinking that good discussion topics produce.

Preparation means a plan that integrates discussions into the course as a learning element equal to that of the rest, such as quizzes, assignments and lectures. The decision should be made on whether the discussions are graded. And if they are, how much they will count in the assessment mix for the students must be decided. The quantity and frequency of the discussions should also be considered.

An element of preparation in itself, alignment is an essential attribute to effective discussion design. Let the students know the relevance of the topic to the course outcomes through clear explanations which can be a part of the discussion header, or provided in a learning module or content folder.

Also, to prompt student thinking, consider these three modes as you create the discussion postings:

  • Convergent thinking: a topic that asks students why? How? Or in what way?
  • Divergent thinking: a topic that asks students to imagine, suppose, predict. Also "if...then" concepts.
  • Evaluative thinking: a topic that asks students to defend, judge, justify or debate.

What about your role in the discussions? Is an effective discussion one where you participate? Yes—to a degree. Just like in a face-to-face group's discussion where an instructor joining a group discussion can "jam" the interaction between learners, too much participation by the instructor in the online discussion can easily inhibit the flow of ideas and sharing of experiences. Call it "moderating in moderation." Be there to inspire the learning and keep the flow on track...and watch as the students actually learn from one another.

For more info on improving the effectiveness of your discussions, contact the TTU Worldwide eLearning Instructional Design staff at 742-7227 or elearning@ttu.edu.