Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

March 4, 2013
by leesensei

5 Things to Consider for Your On-line Class Discussion

Class discussions that can occur any time of day and students engaged in that discussion. It took me a while to get my head around ‘on-line’ discussion and I used the experience of other teachers in my school who’d tried it. I currently use this with my Independent Directed Study students (Japanese language) and will be expanding it to my Year4 students next year. What to consider? Here’s a few of my thoughts:

Platform – a secure program such as Edmodo or Schoology . My key is that it comes with a free mobile app and is a secure environment.  Students enjoy the ability to contribute via mobiles but I ensure that computer access is also available for those without smart phones. I am not at the point comfortable using social media for this.  With regard to Twitter,  I don’t feel comfortable asking students to join, for the purpose of a course, something that opens them up to outside ‘spam’ followers. Facebook I also avoid as I want to maintain a clear and professional distance from my students. For me the link between their personal Facebook, and my role as their teacher should be separate.

Topic – For me the point is to have them interacting and sharing ideas. Thus a topic that is reachable with the language that they know and just ‘controversial’ enough to court opinion. In the past we have touched on ideas such as “It’s a good idea for a high school student to have a part-time job” to “Students should take a mandatory year off between high school and post-secondary school.”

Group Size – To ensure a robust discussion I like to do this not as a ‘whole’ class but rather in smaller sub-groups. I like the ‘small group’ options that Edmodo and Schoology offer so that my class of 30 can be comfortable discussing among a smaller group of 8-9. As a tip – don’t forget to include yourself in the group so that you can see their posts!

Rules – In order to ensure that students are engaged the ‘discussion’ occurs over more than 1 day – and is done in two parts.  Typically I allow 4 days for on-line discussion. It starts at 7:45 on the first day and students have until midnight of Day 2 to post 1 comment stating their personal view and 1 specific response to a classmate’s comments. If a student does NOT do that then they are locked out of part 2 of the discussion and can only generate a maximum of 1 out of 5 marks for the exercise. Once they have completed part 1 – then in part 2 they are asked to extend the discussion by contributing at least 5 more posts including 2 specific references to another person. Naturally the students are aware that our district code of conduct applies – and failure that adhere to that not only removes them from the discussion but will include further school-based discipline.

Marking – I am not marking for ‘grammar’ or other technical parts but rather am looking for opinion – and the ability to quality of thought behind their responses. 5 POINTS – Excellent. Insightful and reflective discussion contributions; expands upon ideas presented in discussion; Multiple contributions to the discussion; language reflects concepts studied 3 POINTS – Acceptable. Elaboration and contribution to one or two ideas within the discussion; Participated in both halves of the discussion to the minimum amount; language mostly reflects concepts studied. 1POINT – Marginal. Simple insight or contribution to the topic; only participated in Part 1 of the discussion. I sourced the ideas for the rubric from Rizopoulos, L.A., & McCarthy, P. (2009). Using Online threaded discussions: best practice for the digital learner. Journal of Educational Technology Systems.

It’s rewarding to see my students defending their ‘ideas’ in a second language – and some of the best ‘authentic’ interaction out there! What’s your experience with the on-line discussion world?


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