Asynchronous tutorials and discussions are useful ways to encourage students to think deeply about content and to connect with classmates, instructors, and TAs beyond lectures. However, as students are required to be online for significant stretches of time, if not done properly or done too often, they can become tedious and boring. To avoid fatigue and motivate students to participate meaningfully, be selective and consider the following.

1. Teach about Netiquette

To ensure respectful, meaningful, and productive contributions to discussions, create and share information about netiquette. Netiquette, a set of rules for online conduct (Preece, 2004), is important so that all members of a learning community feel safe, respected, and engaged. When rules of engagement are established and adhered to, increased interaction and engagement occurs. 

For more information about netiquette and its role in online learning communities, check out this excellent resource from the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at Memorial University.

Additionally, here are few McMaster resources to think about netiquette from the student perspective. Providing links to these resources in courses will help in developing professionalism in the online space.

1. Netiquette – Student Support and Case Management
2. Netiquette – Student Groups

A few other basic netiquette rules to keep in mind and to share with students include:

  1. Avoid using all caps: It comes across as shouting.
  2. Consider formality: Is it okay to use emoticons, or should you keep a professional tone?
  3. Assume that all posts are permanent: Even if a post or email is deleted, it may still exist in screenshots or have been forwarded to others.
  4. Remember that there is a person behind every post: Always keep your tone polite and respectful because there is a human behind every screen.

Complete the following activity about text speak.

2. Have a Goal, Make It Known, and Be Organized

Given the required online presence, there may be temptation to skip video tutorials and discussions, especially if they do not seem relevant or necessary. Make the purpose of the video tutorial or discussion specific, and clearly communicate it to students. Stating the learning outcomes of the session and indicating how the activity connects with the course and expectations more broadly will result in greater student ‘buy in.’

Students may not be motivated to watch a video tutorial. Therefore, be concise. Many people will stop watching a video in the first few seconds if it is not interesting or relevant. Be brief and focused, and make explicit connections between the content and the course more generally. MacVideo has several features that encourage engagement with videos. For example, quiz questions can be built into the video at specific timings; this ensures that students watch the video and consider the content. Additionally, captioning on videos ensures accessibility for all. 

Regarding online discussions, organize discussion boards on Avenue to Learn clearly. Taking the time to organize discussions into appropriate forums and topics will reduce students’ cognitive load in finding and accessing the discussions, resulting in better engagement with prompts and peers.

When designing a discussion in Avenue, first create a forum and title it appropriately. Then, create topics. Multiple topics can live inside a forum. Students then create threads to respond to topics. For example:

Forum: Module 1 Discussions
Topics: Week 1 – Introduction to Sustainability; Week 2 – Sustainable Resources; Week 3 – Sustainable Business Practices
Threads: Created and titled by students

To learn more about the parts of a discussions and how to effectively organize discussion, check out this article called Creating Discussions in D2L.

3. Provide Engaging Prompts and Questions

It is important to provide students with engaging prompts, so take time to develop interesting questions. Consider topics that can be presented as problems, debated, or approached from different perspectives. Bogar and Spencer (2019) recommend using the Socratic technique and designing questions that begin with why, how, and what. These types of question serve as jumping off points for discussion and debate and encourage students to use higher-order thinking such as analysis, comparison, and evaluation.

Additionally, build in personalization wherever possible. When students comment from a personal perspective, they are more likely to remember and care about the topic.

 
Original Discussion Prompt Improved Discussion Prompt Explanation
Describe the three business concepts in chapter 3. Which of the three business concepts in chapter do you think is most important? Why? The improved discussion prompt requires students to read the text in full, consider the pros and cons of each concept, and express their personal opinion.
Do you understand this weeks’ reading? What are two points that you find interesting about this week’s reading? What are two questions you still have about the reading? The original discussion prompt simply requires a yes or no response. The improved discussion prompt encourages reflection and critical thinking.
What is the author’s opinion about electric cars? It is clear from the article that the author supports the development of electric cars. What are three arguments against the development of electric cars? The improved discussion question encourages higher order thinking as students need to think about the topic from the opposite point of view.

Look at the original discussion prompts and match them with the improved prompts.

4. Require Participation, But Allow for Alternatives

To avoid fatigue, increase opportunities for students to engage in discussions and tutorials in a variety of ways. For example, instead of always requiring students to contribute a written response, consider if the discussion could be completed through the sharing of images, infographics, or audio responses.

This adds variety to the traditional discussion board participation format and incorporates Universal Design for Learning principles. UDL guidelines include multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression. Allowing students to represent and share their learning in ways that are meaningful to them will increase motivation.

5. Be Present, But Not Too Present

As the instructor, it is important to engage with the tutorial or discussion board and respond to students’ posts and ideas. There will be more investment in the activity if the instructor is participating. Prompt and meaningful feedback from instructors is encouraging, so set aside time each week to review and respond to posts and questions. Whenever possible, avoid one liners like “Good job” or “Extend this idea.” These kinds of lines are not useful or meaningful for learners. Likewise, avoid copying and pasting the same responses to posts; this has the potential to seem inauthentic and negatively affect the development of connections (Bogar & Spencer, 2019).

That said, research has shown that increased instructor feedback on discussions does not necessarily lead to better learning outcomes; in fact, students feel freer and more confident to share their ideas and opinions if instructors are modest in providing feedback (DeNoyelles, et al., 2014). Thus, provide feedback, but keep it measured and controlled.

For tips on how to effectively respond to student posts, check out this article called Creating Effective Responses to Student Discussion Postings.

More Links

To read more about successful asynchronous discussions, check out the following links:

  1. Discussion Boards: Valuable? Overused? Discuss. – Inside Higher Ed
  2. Online Discussions: Tips for Instructors – University of Waterloo

References

 

Bogar, C. T., & Spencer, J. L. (2019). Effective Practices in Online Forum Discussions. Journal of Online Learning Research and Practice, 7(2), 37-46.

DeNoyelles, A., Zydney, J. M., & Chen, B. (2014). Strategies for creating a community of inquiry through online asynchronous discussions. Journal of online learning and teaching, 10(1), 153-165.

Preece, J. (2004). Etiquette Online: From Nice to Necessary. Communications of the ACM, 47(4), 56 – 61.

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Blended Teaching: A Guide for Applying Flexible Practices during COVID-19 by Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation and Excellence in Teaching is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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