This week I stumbled upon a position paper titled Digital Critical Dialogue: A Process for Implementing Transformative Discussion Practices within Online Courses in Higher Education, by Jason T. Hilton, and coming across this article happened at a good time. Right now I am working to develop a model course structure as an introduction to teaching online, and the article prompted me to really consider my suggestions for enhancing discussion practices. Albeit, they may not be as transformative as Paulo Freire intended – I would just like if faculty members leveraged the technology available to create critical dialogue within their online courses. Additionally, B-School has taught me a thing or two about critical dialogue, and I think I can marry these two resources to develop a fairly comprehensive suggestion list for enhancing critical dialogue in online courses, specifically within higher education.
- USE YOUR FORUMS! – And by this, I do not mean just using your forums. Use them responsibly! You should build discussion posting requirements into your course outline. For example, adding a 5-10% participation mark that is awarded based on 1 unique post (usually to a question posed by the instructor) and 2+ responses to peer posts. Quality can be rated based on criticality of the dialogue – “Great post!” is not a quality response to a peer post – I’m sorry. Right now I am seeing many green professors grading based on participation, but while the forum is present in their course, they’re grading students based on attendance in VOIP sessions, and in online courses, it’s not always possible for students to attend all VOIP sessions – there’s usually a reason students are taking online courses.
- Assign group work – Most students aren’t a huge fan of group work; I certainly wasn’t – I preferred to go it alone and not have to rely on others for part of my grade. However, group work, when structured properly (more on this in a moment), can create critical dialogue by inciting a collaborative approach to learning. What do I mean by ‘structured properly’? Well – Create group environments (e.g. forums specific to only group members) where individuals can discuss aspects of the assignment amongst themselves. Within the assignment specifications, dictate that students must respond (usually at a minimum of 500 words) to each group member’s submission and indicate that there will be peer evaluations – doing this may enhance honesty and integrity, allowing students to understand that not only will their cooperation within the group be graded by the instructor, but also by their group members.
- Use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) – Most institutions have some form of VOIP (e.g. Collaborate or Adobe Connect); you should leverage these technologies for two main reason – 1) to provide students with a variation of traditional face-to-face learning, which is critical for students who prefer this type of learning, but are hindered in their ability to commit to a physical classroom, and 2) to enhance critical discussion by allowing students to critique one another or ask questions within a more traditional style lecture. I have found these sessions to be incredibly effective when used as a forum for oral presentations. As a student who hated giving oral presentations, VOIP sessions allowed me to hone my speaking prowess, while reducing my associated anxiety.
Other ways of enhancing critical dialogue may be through the implementation of Learning Management System (LMS) database functionality (e.g. students may upload material, view peer uploaded material, and comment on peer uploaded material), allowing students to use blogs or curate wikis, and assigning annotated bibliographies (less of a focus on collaborating with peers, and more of a focus on critically considering the literature).
In any event, you don’t want to create page-turner courses, especially in higher education – you want to show of the passion of your discipline and perhaps make students passionate and engaged with their studies. While many instructors may be resistant (or afraid) to changing their teaching methods, it is essential to understand the technologies available for leveraging your online courses and engaging your students, especially with students coming from a digital age. If you’re afraid of technology, as your resident Instructional Designer or Ask Me – I would love to help!
Follow these tips, and I’ll be a very happy gal!