Before I didn’t like discussion but now I love it, I really love it!
Susan has been lecturing for many years, mostly in face-to-face situations. Her philosophy of teaching is based on learning through interaction, ‘I like to use student interactions … students need to communicate with each other … and feel that they belong to a group’. In face-to-face classes, Susan ‘always felt competent’ conducting discussions – ‘I know how I can get people answering and I can generalise it and lead the discussion’. However this feeling changed when some of her classes moved to flexible delivery. She suddenly felt she ‘wasn’t competent and I didn't know what I was doing and that is not a good feeling for a teacher’. She had ‘never felt [this] in face-to-face classes’. Susan admitted that despite being a successful and experienced lecturer, she was ‘struggling’ with conducting effective forum discussion, particularly in aligning it to her philosophy of interaction as central to learning.
At first, Susan tried putting up some questions onto the forum to encourage participation, but found that ‘some students participated and some didn’t.’ She lamented that ‘some wrote a lot and were kind of dominating’. However, what was more concerning for Susan was that ‘there wasn’t even communication, they just sort of threw in something and … I actually didn’t have posts which would be considered communicative’. Susan also felt that communication was quite basic and that ‘they tended to drift away from the topic to more practical things to discuss, which was much easier, rather than to discuss a concept’. So she ‘wasn’t happy and I actually didn't like it’.
When Susan was introduced to the online communicative strategies she designed a few cases with some controversy students had to resolve to facilitate their use of the strategies. Participation in the forums was not assessed, yet went from a few to ‘everyone’ contributing. In addition the posts ‘were not just posts, full stop, without addressing anyone’. Students ‘actually did respond and they appeared to look at the message and respond … so it was really connected, a relation straight away between messages’. This was a turning point in Susan’ attitude to online discussion – it changed ‘drastically … opposite – 180 degrees!’ Before ‘I didn’t like discussion’ but ‘now I love it, I really love it!’
Susan is convinced that a well-designed task counts to ‘about 50 percent of the success of discussion’ and the strategies are a tool to enable focused and effective interactions around the task. She said it took some time to design the tasks, ‘they’re not easy to design because you have to really think seriously what concept you want to address … additional concepts you want to include and how it represents itself in a scenario’. However she felt this is ‘time well spent … and it’s a key to have something which engages them and also creates that joint point of reference when they discuss’. A well-designed task goes hand in hand with the strategies for forums to be effective.
Susan feels that students benefited because the strategies ‘allowed them to engage in discussion freely and quickly’ by focusing on the purpose of their response with examples of wordings. However, what was most surprising was their final essay, which incorporated a critical reflection to analyse their own participation. She said that often you have that ‘wow factor’ for about 5 in 50 essays, but with this one it was the other way around – for most of them she was ‘absolutely blown away with the quality … I was just like ‘wow’!’ as the essays were ‘really focused … and so well structured’. What was noticeable was ‘the level of connection to the idea that you write about, which was quite phenomenal’. She adds that she doesn’t think it ‘increased their ability to write, but the ability to express an idea and discuss it was definitely there - very strongly’. She reiterated that this was something she doesn’t often see – ‘when they manage to communicate an idea so well’. She also expressed that the flow on from skills developed in forum communication seemed to be in the ‘quality of written work … maybe not in fluency of writing’.
Finally, Susan reflects on how she herself has benefited from the communicative strategies, especially as skills in face-to-face communication and online are so different. She felt that her online communicative skills were not up to scratch, so even though the strategies were targeted at supporting students, they proved also to be helpful to her. She admitted looking at them herself before posting to get ideas from some of the wordings,
I felt I benefited because I learnt those skills. I don't think I’m 100 percent there yet because I’m not participating a lot in discussion, but when I do, I still like to have a look … for my own sake it helps me … I guess I have in mind that I’d better model those strategies as well for students, but yeah it’s good for me too.
Note: only the online communicative strategies were in place – the The Guide was in the process of being developed
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.Learn More
Here we present students’ perspectives on their experience of online discussion, in which the teacher used the Guide.
These vignettes capture the essence of how the FOLD strategies have influenced lecturers’ experiences of facilitating online discussion.
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.Learn More