Effective Class Discussion
Encouraging Continuous Online Engagement
Content for this page by Dawnja Burris, Assistant Professor of Media Studies
(examples from asynchronous reading/viewing/writing-based seminar courses: Media Theory, Media Ethics, Animals as Media)
One of the main challenges I’ve encountered with asynchronous online teaching that is mainly text based (with media components) is to keep students engaged in discussion throughout the weekly sessions. Typically, during the first couple of weeks most to all students check in and post frequently, then the activity can drop to only one response per student to the selection of weekly questions (responses to readings, prompts to share examples encountered in media relative to the readings, prompts to question the questions) if I do not consistently keep my attention and input up. In order to do so, I have come to follow a method/schedule.
My weekly method is to post a highly annotated “lecture” each Friday, along with a discussion with initial responses due by Wednesday and additional dialog to continue through Sunday. I used to initiate each week’s material on Mondays but several students let me know over the years that they dedicate their weekends to their school work so having new materials on the Friday prior to each new week works well for them (and provides additional time for everyone with overlap of the next week’s subjects each week, also). I also send a weekly announcement with bullet points for the week and conclude with a weekly “debrief”
I begin my replies to student inputs on Wednesday evenings and include additional examples and questions to add to those I’ve started them off with so to engender more multifaceted conversation. Adding these additional questions and leads to additional relevant details seems to keep the majority of students more attentive and motivated to do the same themselves in reply to me and also to fellow students.
Another technique that works toward keeping engagement up has been an assignment to have either individual students or small groups prepare a presentation on an aspect of the weekly topic and lead the week’s discussion on it (I respond as a participant). These presentations can be created in any variety of media, be “readable” within 10 minutes and include at least two probing questions for the class. Students respond very favorably to this method, taking the lead and dialoguing very intently and freely with each other. (Often, their responses begin as skewed toward the complementary only and my input leverages this and encourages further provocation and constructive criticism. As the presentations proceed, students seem to feel more comfortable both asking and replying to each other with higher degrees of critical thought and language.)
There are several additional components to each course in technique and process, but these two have shown to be priorities for establishing a tone and pace.