Discussions can be a rewarding, but also a challenging activity to work into a class session. At times the use of technologies can help foster richer in-class discussions. Below are some suggestions and resources for thinking about the ways in which technologies can help you facilitate in-class discussions.
Avoid the slow process of generating in-class discussion. Instead, require your students to send you brief responses to assigned readings via email, a blog, discussion board, or a social media site (Twitter for example) before class. Then use those responses to give your students a place to start the discussion. For example: "Melissa, you had an interesting reaction to the first article. . . can you elaborate on that for everyone?" then "Jeremy, Melissa's argument seems counter to what you said--how would you respond to her view?" Instantly debate is in motion, and you can continue drawing other students in from what they wrote in their emails or posting.
When a student asks a good question or makes a good point via email, a blog, discussion board, or a social media site, be sure to remark upon it to everyone during class. This public recognition can encourage that student to speak up in class, as well. Furthermore, it sends the message to everyone that online technologies are a legitimate way to get in touch with you, which can encourage students to ask you questions via online technologies, such as email that they might not feel were "worth" the trouble of finding you during office hours.
Undergraduate schedules are very fragmented. Capitalize on the continuity that electronic communication can create for your students between class meetings. If you think all your students could benefit from the answer to a question asked by one, email or post online the answer to everyone. Send brief reminders about upcoming deadlines, activities or schedule changes.
- Taking it farther with using technology in generating effective discussions:
- Generating and Facilitating Engaging and Effective Online Discussions (PDF
Many experts on student-centered online learning agree that the discussion board is the place where some of the most important learning can happen. But as teachers and facilitators, we have to find ways to support students in "driving" that learning.
- Using Blackboard for Assessment (PDF
Blackboard offers two online assessment features instructors can use to facilitate better discussion, assess lecture clarity, highlight key information from readings, for evaluations and more.
- Using Twitter to Facilitate Classroom Discussions
From Faculty Focus: "Students, even those who had never used Twitter before, liked the format because it made participating in class discussions less intimidating and allowed even quiet students to have their voice heard."
- Using a Blog to Enhance Student Participation
Another piece from Faculty Focus: "Because blog writing occurs online, it is public, thereby giving students the opportunity to read one another’s ideas. Responding to one another engages them in the creation of knowledge."
- Generating and Facilitating Engaging and Effective Online Discussions (PDF 368K )