The Guide

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The Guide to Fostering Asynchronous Online Discussion in Higher Education

3. Interactional scaffolding

Lecturer’s participation in asynchronous online discussion

By creating meaningful discussion tasks and explicitly describing how to communicate with peers, the lecturer provides a foundation for discussion, which enables students to sustain the momentum. This will occur when students are truly engaged, are clear about the expectations for engaging, and have the strategies to help construct their responses.

Nevertheless, as the lecturer, you also need to maintain a ‘presence’ in the forum space, providing students with ‘interactional scaffolding’ - on-going support at the moment of need. This provides reassurance, particularly important for distance students, as they are often anxious to make sure they are on ‘the right track’. Knowing that you are monitoring discussion as it unfolds provides assurance to students that their lecturer is not too remote from the happenings and that they will be guided if the discussion strays from the intended outcomes.

Effective interactional scaffolding, however, does not mean that the lecturer has to respond every time someone contributes.

The role of the lecturer is crucial in aiming to ensure that:

  • student interactions are supported through modelling discourse and ways of communicating
  • knowledge is constructed (i.e. directing the discussion to keep it moving towards learning outcome(s))

It is also useful to be aware that students often model the tone and language the lecturer uses in discussion texts. Even if unintentional, the things you talk about and how you talk about them flags to students what you consider to be important (e.g. using the suggested academic strategies to model their use). If you give positive comments about certain things that your students post (such as “thanks for sharing about your son’s experience – it certainly reminds us that as teachers we need to be sensitive”) they will pick up that you value the sharing of relevant and personal life experience.

With experience, you can probably anticipate when or what concept is likely to cause students to become ‘stuck’. As a timesaver, you could prepare for this by having a range of prompts - questions or statements which propose alternatives for the purpose of furthering the discussion - which can be easily accessed should you need to keep the discussion moving towards the learning outcomes (Blanchette, 2012).

Techniques of interactional scaffolding

The techniques of interactional scaffolding in asynchronous forums might include:

  • instructing (providing clear, unambiguous directions; organising)
  • steering the discussion toward shared understanding of the concepts by prompting, focusing, questioning and clarifying

(Delahunty, Jones & Verenikina, 2014)

Table 6 below displays the elements of Instructing and Steering, with examples from our data of how lecturers enacted their teaching support, taken from a range of forums.

Table 6 Interactional scaffolding: Instructional techniques

Table 6

Providing appropriate support to students, which lays the foundations for learning and sociality in online discussion in order to gain momentum in the subject, may indeed require a little more effort in the set-up and beginning stages. However, once students are relieved of the ‘guesswork’ of how to participate and why discussion is beneficial to their learning, you should see the discussion space take on a life of its own.

4. Clear expectations for participation next

The Guide

Articulates a set of principles for fostering online discussion in higher education, based on theory, the literature and evidence from postgraduate and undergraduate flexibly delivered courses.

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Student Perspectives

Here we present students’ perspectives on their experience of online discussion, in which the teacher used the Guide.

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Lecturer Vignettes

These vignettes capture the essence of how the FOLD strategies have influenced lecturers’ experiences of facilitating online discussion.

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The resources in this section are the literature used to inform the Guide as well as presentations made by the Project Team. These will be added to as we continue to disseminate.

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