Facilitating Online Discussions: Diane McKay

Phil Gay


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Interview Participants
Facilitating effective discussions to me means enabling the students to apply their knowledge of what's learned in class, what's in the text book, talk about these concepts to one another and see where everyone else is coming from. So, it's kind of like a peer-to-peer method of teaching.
In my online class, the class discussions are really at the heart of the online class, primarily because the students never have any face to face interaction with either each other or with me and there are two methods. One is just a general discussion board where they can pose questions to one another or post some new study that came out or some article.
In addition, we also have several graded discussions. Students are asked to read some material on a particular topic, half of them may be assigned to argue the pro side of some topic, the other half will be assigned the con. The second part of that discussion is to have them all go back and read everyone's postings and ask them the question,
Has anything changed your mind about your original idea or your original position? It forces them to get out of their own mindset and forces them to look at the other side of the equation. One of my graduate student face-to-face courses, it's full of students who come from a social science background so they're used to discussing a lot of things.
This is a science based course and we cover a lot of material so it's going to be very difficult to stop every five minutes and have a prolonged discussion about potassium absorption and sources of this and that. I'll usually ask students to post something on the general discussion board after class and then
for those students who want to participate they have this forum and the rest of them, it's completely optional for them. Engaging in these online discussions gave me the skills to be able to facilitate discussions within my face-to-face class. And give these social science students an opportunity to participate in a discussion without having to take up class time.
Also, being engaged in research at the same time has really made me more credible as an instructor because they realize that 'Hey, she's doing research right in the thick of it right now.'
It makes me more interesting as an instructor, more interesting as a person, I have more anecdotes to share with them about little things you have to consider when you're doing human subject research. And I think that really adds to their experience.
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