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March 10, 2006

E-Coaching Tip 7: Promoting Peer Interaction and Discussion

This e-coaching tip is the third of three tips focusing on the role of faculty and students in online courses. This tip includes a few specific ideas for promoting interaction among the learners in a class. We would like this list to be much longer! Please be sure to send along ideas that have worked for you -- or perhaps not worked! In particular, a simple picture of you/your students helps create a "personable" learning experience.

Thanks to the faculty member who responded with an additional technique for getting to know -- and remember -- students individually! You may find some variant of her method useful to how you teach! Note that this really helps those of us who might really benefit from this type of Memory Aid!

"I always encourage posting bio's and responding to others - and allow participation credit for it the first week. I usually ask some type of personalized question. The students appreciate it and I enjoy it. I keep a "cheat list" in the front of my classsroom folder (that contains syllabus and grading sheets) where I have put identifying info about each student (State of residence - for time zone info - family, work, and the response to the personalized question). When I refer back to the info in my later discussions with them, they think I have a marvelous memory! 

I thought this was a great suggestion and also reminds me of the power of association with certain geographies and life experiences as we grow older. Having grown up in Minnesota and having lived in Wisconsin, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania recently was very helpful when at a conference recently in Houston. I met a person from a small college in New Ulm, MN (a small town south of "the twin cities") and when I commented that I had grown up in Minneapolis, he was almost visibly psychically more comfortable with where he was! Simple familiar associations are powerful bonding mechanisms and can serve as a basis for customizing and making learning experiences more enjoyable.

Don't miss the FAQ #7 that provides some helpful templates for touching base with students throughout a course. In another message -- later -- we hope to address some of the ways of incorporating more media, such as audio and video.

Next week's message will provide a few hints about The Why and How of Group Projects within Online Courses

We are continuing the process of collecting additional questions that you might have for the summer courses. Please send questions or suggestions for FAQ questions to Judith and Rita and ecoach@designingforlearning.info.


E-Coaching Tips

Success Tip 7: The Roles of Faculty and Learners in Online Learning Environments Part Three of Three: Promoting Peer interaction and Discussion

6. How do I encourage, promote and improve peer interaction and discussion among the students?

Here are a few specific ideas for promoting interaction among the learners in a class.

  • Set a minimum number of required responses that must be made to peers as part of the participation grade.
  • Provide a special place on the web site where learners can help each other.
  • Design activities in which learners peer-review other learner's postings and discuss the reviews and share with others how their ideas were changed or expanded, etc.
  • Design activities for pairs of students. This is a great way to begin simple to complex problem-solving and sharing of specific challenges form learners respective work environments.
  • For some discussions, require that students assume roles of summarizing discussions of small teams, and then having team members review, edit and expand into alternative scenarios.
  • Allocate some of the grading points making up the course grade to participation.
  • Provide frequent feedback to each student, perhaps a weekly grade, on discussion contributions and include comments on the quality of interactions with peers.

Note about incorporating a TA into your course, if you have one. A TA is a key member of the Instructional Team for an online course. It is very helpful for your students and to you, the faculty, to structure roles and responsibilities such that the sense of a community grows over time. The particular value that a faculty expert brings to a course is that of content expertise and interaction expertise. The particular value of a teaching assistant is supporting the activities and conversations of the students, as appropriate. Thus, many of the nitty-gritty daily interactions and ensuring that postings are recorded and appropriate can be ably handled by a TA. However, as noted many times already, the Virtual Presence of a faculty member makes a significant difference in student satisfaction.

7. How do I promote effective and meaningful dialogue and questioning?

Samples of meaningful dialogue are very helpful, and as with many "online reminders" are effective if they are available in more than one place with more than one example.

Let us assume that you have developed rubrics for assessing discussion posts or a forum dialogue. This is a good place to include brief examples of both effective and superficial postings. Creating good examples can seem artificial; fortunately, the best examples of effective dialogue often occur in the progress of a course. As students post effective responses, you can collect those and create a resource of effective postings for future courses.

Messages for Confirming and Promoting Dialogue

Here are a few samples of messages that you might use for promoting dialogue. In the first weeks of a course it is good to provide weekly individual feedback on the quality of each learner's discussion. Depending on the number of students in a course, this can be done by your TA. These messages can use a pre-prepared template email in which the requirements for participation are stated and then the email is tailored for each learner.

Example of a Week 1 email template

"Dear ----- ,

(Excellent, good, fine, etc.) participation this week! Your primary postings demonstrated an understanding of this week's topic and were contributed in a timely manner. You also responded to at least 2 peers in each question, either asking them a clarifying question or building on their comment."

Or "Your primary postings could be improved by substantively responding to the discussion question. Remember that a primary posting is (and then quote from the syllabus)."

Example of a mid-course email template

As the course progresses the weekly participation note can be shortened to something like: "Great job contributing to the community this week, (name)! Your postings met both the quality and quantity requirements. I particularly appreciated your comment on:." Or "Your main postings met the requirements but you needed to reply to at least 2 peers in Question 2."

Also, ask learner questions that further their initial postings and refer them to the postings of another learner and ask them to comment on it. For example, "Janice posted an interesting comment about the value of interaction. Be sure to read and comment on that."

Suggestions for later course messages

Finally, another way to send the message that dialogue and learner comments are valued is to quote learners in the weekly wrap-up. Try to make sure that each learner is quoted in some manner each week and you'll model that it's not only what the instructor contributes to the discussion that is important but what EVERYONE contributes!

E-Coaching Tip 7: Promoting Peer Interaction and Discussion



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Revised May 20 2013
Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 1997-2013