"In an online classroom, it is the relationships and interactions among people through which knowledge is primarily generated. Key to the learning process are the interactions among students themselves, the interactions between faculty and students, and the collaboration in learning that results from these interactions" (Palloff and Pratt, 1999, p. 15).


Online Communities - Additional Research


How do you know if you are ready to be an online learner? Take this quiz.

Open up the Forum:
Establish a learning environment that encourages collaboration, interaction, self-reflection and the desire to be life-long learners.

Begin the Forum with an Icebreaker or Introductory Activity that allows:
  • Learners to examine their expectations and desires for the course
  • Learners to identify the necessary norms for the course
  • Learners to negotiate preliminary group norms for the course
  • Learners to gain skills in effectively communicating using an online asynchronous discussion board

Discussions should also promote:
  • A discussion that develops a common identity
  • An online relationship that is both comfortable and engaging

Examples:
  • Have students create a list of Likes and Dislikes (Related to learning)
  • Fill in the Blank - Common Interests
  • Tour My Favorite Website
  • Three truths and 1 lie (Guess the lie)
  • Most people don't know this about me....

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Activities should “provide learners with an opportunity to question assumptions, challenge attitudes, gain a broader perspective on issues, develop constructive study skills, and / or work with others to build proficiencies” (Watkins, 2005, p. 965).
Ownership of the Forum:
Provide students with the opportunity to establish some of the ground rules to online discussions.
  • Instructors should guide students in providing input and discussion related to ground rules that will be used to facilitate online course discussions
  • Instructors should guide students to agree on policies for managing asynchronous or synchronous online discussions
  • Establish ground rules, acceptable behavior, goals and objectives

Organize your Forum:
Topics should be organized by themes or units that are directly related to what is being taught in the classroom.
  • Organize the main forum around the Unit or Topic being taught
  • Create discussions that center around a theme each week
  • Ask questions that are guiding and allow students to elaborate on information
  • Activities in the classroom should prepare students to discuss ideas in the asynchronous discussion forum
  • Ask questions that establish what students understand, before moving to more complex questions
  • Ask follow up questions of your students, encourage them to develop or clarify responses

Bloom's Taxonomy and Online Discussion Questions


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Online instructors must “continuously search for ways to improve student-to-student interaction in their courses, to create more personal and relevant learning experiences, and to promote the development of active and engaged learners” (Palloff and Pratt, 2005, p. 4).
Assess your Forum:
Determine what you want to assess and how. Rubrics are often used in assessing online forums.
Most rubrics grade on the following criteria (grade on quality not just quantity):
  • Frequency
  • Initial Post
  • Follow-up Posts
  • Content
  • References / Support
  • Clarity / Mechanics
Allow students to debrief after the online discussions:
  • Journals
  • Make connections between discussions and classroom topics

Examples of Rubrics for Assessment of Online Discussions:





Resources:
Images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Palloff, R.M. & Pratt, K. (2005). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Watkins, R. (2005). 75 e-learning activities: Making online learning interactive [Kindle Edition]. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Additional Information:

(Website) Tips and Strategies to Facilitating Online Discussions