Challenges of Facilitating Online Discussion

exchange-of-ideas-222789_640The most important function of an online facilitator is making comments on discussions. Discussions are not like a checkmark on a paper. Online teachers need to be thoughtful in responses. It is important to engage with students, but not every student all the time. Online educators need to provide them with opportunities to work things out together. The role of the online teacher is to guide the conversations gently by engaging with students and bringing in antidote, and should end posts with thought provoking questions. Another technique is to summarize many posts while choosing some elements of everyone’s posts. This little step celebrates good writing and lets the student know he/she has made impactful statements in his/her discussions.

Of the “roles” of a facilitator (pedagogical, social, managerial and technical) the social roll, I feel, is most important. The student needs to feel like the work is essential to the learning process. If there is a social expectation, then the student will be motivated to do the assignment more than just turning in a paper. The online teacher is not the conveyor of information or “guide on the side”. He/she is the guide to the information. Teachers should not try to be the “expert” as much as a co-learner, one that assimilates information in real time from the perspective of a student. There may be no right answer.

I imagine that at some point discussions could have problems. For example, perhaps at some point the discussion goes the wrong way. Students might try to take advantage and test out the teacher and make general comments based on the discussion but not incorporate the reading. If students miss the point, and try to get out of doing the readings, they might not get the full experience.

In the online article, “Tips for Overcoming Online Discussion Board Challenges”, Errol Sull offers some great tips to help me with my anxieties for working the discussions. These include:

Challenge Solution
conflict in the discussion be an active presence
personal attack or bullying active intervention, single out only positive comments, contact via PM or email
students who do not contribute to discussions pick some of their positive posts to include in summaries or news items, PM or email
plagiarizing other students’ work contact student PM or email, do not leave unnoticed
off track discussions constantly monitor discussions, acknowledge “students’ zeal and excitement” (Sull, 2012) but remind them they are to master the topic
students offering weak posts choose weak posts and show how they can be expanded

I’m excited to teach online next year. I feel like I am going to be reading all discussions, responding to everyone’s posts, and letting VHS consume my life because I really want to be impactful with my teaching. I’m sure that with time I will learn how to regulate that. As with everything we do, experience matters.

 

Tips for Overcoming Online Discussion Board Challenges, September 2012. Retrieved on May 20th, 2015 from  Facultyfocus.com:
http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/tips-for-overcoming-online-discussion-board-challenges/

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