Feed on

You can find MindEdge CEO Jefferson Flanders’ guest column on adaptive learning at Edtechdigest by clicking here.

Copyright © 2014 MindEdge, Inc.


Leading an online discussion is both similar to and different from leading a classroom discussion. Instructors should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each of these types of forums.

Online instructors must remember that students may be new to the subject matter and often need help in having productive conversations in discussion forums or virtual classroom settings.

Instructors can help facilitate these interactions by prompting learners when conversations stall or head off course. They may need to gently correct statements made in a group setting that are inaccurate or foster a misinterpretation of the material.

The best discussion topics encourage learners to apply what they have learned in the course content, either to what they already know or to new circumstances. Another approach is to ask students to take a position on a question and explain why they are doing so.

To spark collaboration among learners, instructors can ask students to jointly resolve a difficult question through discussion (in larger classes, some instructors use polling technology to surface the “winning” position.)

Here are tips from experienced online instructors for leading discussions, both in real-time and iterative modes.

  • Establish the parameters at the outset for appropriate discussion (parameters which might include civility, courtesy, respect for others, no use of profanity, etc.). This can be communicated through an initial post and/or in the course outline. You may want students to know that you reserve the right to edit or delete posts.
  • Connect topics with the readings and online materials but seek to challenge students to think critically and move beyond simple recall. For example, a discussion about the origins of the Civil War might be started by asking students whether or not the North and South could have found a compromise to avert war and what would such a compromise have looked like. This sort of question asks learners to synthesize and move beyond a simple recitation of what they’ve encountered in the course materials.
  • Encourage all learners to participate in online discussions by linking their involvement to grades or by providing other incentives.
  • Praise learner posts that contribute to a discussion.
  • Guide off-topic conversations back to the question at hand.
  • Ask students to describe their real world experiences (where appropriate) as a way of making the discussion more relevant.
  • Don’t feel the need to constantly interject yourself into the discussion—pick your spots judiciously.

When handled correctly, online discussions can engage and involve all the students in a course or class. Some students who don’t feel comfortable contributing in a classroom setting find online discussions more inviting. The more an instructor can do to encourage this participation, the greater pedagogical value this activity will have for learners.

Copyright © 2014 MindEdge, Inc.

Here are some notable quotes about the world of online learning from the past several months.

On addressing distance education regulatory burdens

“A major initiative to ease the regulatory burdens of online learning across state lines found its first ally this week as the state of Indiana joined the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA).

SARA is a nationwide attempt at making distance education courses more accessible to students living in different states.”

Jake New, editor, eCampusnews.com

SOURCE: “Indiana clears online learning regulatory hurdles,” eCampusnews.com, February 25, 2014

On MOOCs as a gateway for prodigies

“If innovation in its many forms is the currency of the future, could MOOCs emerge as a tool for finding the unknown geniuses of tomorrow? That’s what universities from Harvard to Duke to MIT to the Berklee College of Music in Boston believe. They are rushing to use online courses as a way not just to bring education to vast numbers of people who normally wouldn’t have access, but also to use them as a way to conduct a global talent search. It’s like “American Idol” for the Einstein set.”

Laura Pappano,correspondent, Christian Science Monitor
SOURCE: ““How colleges are finding tomorrow’s prodigies,” Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2014

On using online learning to deal with severe weather

“Online learning is getting a boost at area colleges and universities this semester, as snow, ice and power outages continue to force closures at a rate not seen in recent memory.

With some schools already having closed for as many as seven days, mostly since the start of the second semester, schools are asking professors to use more online lectures, journals, blogs, quizzes, database research and other methods that don’t require face-to-face meetings, officials said.”

Susan Snyder, philly.com
SOURCE: ““Universities use more online learning to deal with winter woes,” philly.com, February 13, 2014

On the schools of education and online learning

“Technology is swiftly assuming a dominant role in classrooms, and in students’ lives. Many observers have raised doubts about whether schools of education are providing future teachers with the skills they need to address blended learning, and whether they’re using digital tools to improve instruction.

Faculty members at Clemson’s school of education and at a number of other higher education institutions are determined to address the issue head-on.”

Robin L. Flanigan, Education Week

SOURCE: ““Teacher Colleges Seek to Shift to Digital Age,” Education Week, January 27, 2014

On higher education online growth

“Online learning activity in higher education shows modest improvement. The overall number of students enrolling in online courses has increased year over year by over 400K, though the annual growth rate has dropped from 6% to 9%. This drop in growth is compounded by retention fears: 40% of academic leaders believe retaining students is a greater problem for online courses than it is for face-to-face courses. Babson reports the total number of online learners at 7.1 million, though industry consultant Phil Hill feels that number is closer to 5.5 million as outlined in the longitudinal data from NCES’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.”

SOURCE: “Survey Captures Online Learning Attitudes in Higher Ed,” edsurge.com, January 21, 2014

On working papers by Harvard and MIT on MOOCs

““A fixation on completion rates limits our imagination of what might be possible with MOOCs. A better criterion for success might be for students to complete more of the course than they thought they would, or to learn more than they might have expected when they first clicked on a video or course forum.”

Andrew Ho, professor, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education

SOURCE: “Harvard and MIT release working papers on open online learning,” Harvard Gazette, January 21, 2014

Copyright © 2014 MindEdge, Inc.

Older Posts »