Teaching Notes for Using Discussions for Active Learning



At the end of the session, participants will be able to:


• describe what it is like to participate as a student in a whole class online discussion and a small group online    discussion.

list strategies that facilitate online discussions that build community and enhance learning.

• evaluate strategies that are most useful for specific goals

• begin to develop questions and assignments that generate online interaction and

critical thinking.

• be able to explain what a rubric is, how it could help students and faculty in a discussion, and be able to identify some elements of an effective discussion rubric.


Stage 1—Identify the problems in an Online Current Discussion


Participants read the following online instructions before coming to class:

You are group of faculty team teaching an interdisciplinary course of 50 students on “Current Issues in the Middle East.” You have decided to use discussions for the whole class to engage students in thoughtful dialogue on issues such as women’s rights, Palestinian homeland, oil interests, and the war in Iraq. You announced that contributions would count toward a class participation grade. Despite the seemingly “hot topic” nature of the issues, you are disappointed in the number and quality of the responses. You see statements like “If you don’t support our troops in Iraq, you are not a good citizen.” One faculty member you know has abandoned the use of online discussions saying, they are unwieldy and don’t contribute anything substantial. Review the postings in the “Current Issues in the Middle East” discussion topic. What are the difficulties with this discussion? Go to the Discussion Topic “Strategies and Resources” and post at least one comment about the Middle East discussion.


As participants enter, class assistant will ask if they have had time to review discussion and make a post. Assistant will work with those who not done so while class waits for stragglers.


In Class Exercise (20 minutes)

• Have participants introduce selves, why they are interested in learning more about discussions for active learning, and any relevant experience they may have had with discussions.

• Review objectives.

• Imagine you are a faculty member in this course, “Current Issues in the Middle East. Explain overall scenario of role playing and the difference between being “in class” vs. in the “online world.”

o Ask someone to summarize what was going on in the discussion.

o What might be appropriate goals for various types of discussion? (such as social interaction, fact gathering, critical thinking)


Move to online world and read the instructions for stage 2 and 3


Stage 2—Formulate Strategies to Improve the Quality of the Online Discussion

(20 minutes.)


Since you cannot get together at the same time, you have opened your own private WebCT discussion topic to sort through ways to improve the quality of student postings. Using your group’s private WebCT discussion, exchange your suggestions about different strategies that could be used to improve the quality of online discussions. As a group come up with at least 10 different strategies. As an individual within the group try to contribute at least 2 strategies.


(Instructor to alert class to move to stage 3 after 20 minutes)


Stage 3—Post Your Best Solutions (stay in role, online world; 15 minutes)

Evaluate the various strategies suggested. As a group select the top 3 strategies to share with the rest of the class. Post your group’s top 3 suggestions to the “Strategies and Resources” Discussion Topic.



In Class Discussion (leave the online world and your role, return to the classroom, 15 minutes)


Talk about how the online experience could relate to the participants classes. Review together the suggested strategies in the “Strategies and Resources” topic. Are they all equally important? Could we rank order them with some being optional depending on the type of class you teach or the type of discussion you are encouraging or the type of students you have? What do we still want to know?


While class is discussing in the real world, experts post some questions and comments in the “Strategies and Resources” area designed to further discussion.


Stage 4—Pose Comments that Stimulate More Discussion and Begin to Dialogue with the Experts

(15 minutes. Return to the online world.

A. As an individual respond to postings in the “Strategies and Resources” discussion topic. Try to come up with responses and questions that will generate more in depth discussion..


B. Develop questions you would like to pose to our experts in active learning and in critical thinking. These can be on anything that might contribute to a rich online discussion. Post your questions to the “Discuss with Experts” Topic. Check back tomorrow for answers and further dialogue.


In Class Mini Lecture (experts have time to begin answering some of the postings) 15 minutes.


What is a rubric and why is it important? What are the elements of effective rubrics? Have the class access Barbara Frey’s rubric under “resources” and review.


Explain the Individual Action Plan. Have class access it under “Ongoing resources.”

Pass out sample action plan. Explain. After the class: Submit a draft action to the “Discuss with Experts” topic to receive feedback from the experts. Try to make several comments about the other draft action plans.



Wrap up: Fill out evaluation sheets. Start action plan. Answer technical questions. Reminders-- Review online resources, encourage participants to make an appointment for follow up and encourage continuing to participate in discussion. Some more resources will be released and further expert comments will be there. 5 minutes