An extract from A Resource for E-Moderators on Fostering Participatory Engagement Within Discussion Boards for Online Students in Higher Education, first published from the open access journal Student Success ISSN 2205-0795 on 15 March 2021
Strategy #1 Use media
Using media meaningfully may pique students' interest and reduces the heavy use of text. There are many tools that can be used to integrate media, a selection of these are: Canva, Powtoon, video or audio recordings, GIPHY and Unsplash. This does not mean that we need to apply a radical shift to using audio/video, memes, emojis, and GIFs as a means of scholarly communication. Instead, we should use multi-media in illustrative and organisational ways to gain students’ attention and to add visual appeal. The goal is the modification of instruction and content to generate greater engagement.
Contrast and colour use are vital to accessibility. Users, including users with visual disabilities, must be able to perceive content on the page. If you are unsure if your text or media meets accessibility requirements, please use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Strategy #2 Affiliative humour and storytelling
We all have a unique story to tell. When online instructors incorporate storytelling and “affiliative humour” (Pundt & Herrmann, 2015), rapport can be more rapidly built. Personal narratives establish human connection which students can more deeply appreciate.
Dialogue is crucial to the student experience. Storytelling should incorporate personal or professional experiences that align to concepts being taught. A personal, engaging and conversational tone initiated by the unit facilitator may assist students in better understanding the content as there is a likelihood that less academic jargon is used. I like to incorporate such video dialogue as mid-week discussion board prompts; I integrate my own personal/professional experiences with the weekly content. By contextualising the content within my own lived experiences, I strive to demonstrate “teacher immediacy” (Anderson, 1979, p. 544 as cited in Rourke et al., 2001, p. 5). Engaging in eye contact, embracing a relaxed body posture, motioning and smiling improves students’ affect toward course content and toward their e-moderator (Rouke et al., 2001).
Strategy #3 Socratic questioning
The Socratic approach to questioning is based on intellectual, introspective dialogue; the early Greek philosopher/teacher, Socrates, believed that thoughtful questioning enabled the student to examine ideas rationally (Payne, 2021). Socratic questioning encourages student agency and self-regulated learning.
Some of my most employed Socratic question types are questions about an initial issue, clarification questions, reason and evidence questions, origin/source questions, and viewpoint questions. Within my discussion forums, this kind of querying has promoted peer-interaction as well as independent thinking and strives to encourage student ownership of the learning process (Intel, 2007).
Strategy #4 Reframes
It is the role of the unit facilitator to guide students in discussions involving effective summarising of formative and/or summative activities (Salmon, 2011). I plan out meaningful reframes (introductory posts) each week that guide the student through the formative activity. Reframes serve to motivate students to connect with the discussion activity.
Reframes aim to reproduce the material in a shortened form, picking out the main points and posing a discussable prompt (Salmon, 2011). A discussion activity asked students to watch a video and read prescribed literature regarding the key topic of modern relationships in Australian society. Students were then requested to post their perspective, backed up with scholarly evidence, on whether dating applications were of benefit or detriment to relationships. One aim was for students to able to actively explore the topic and provide a range of potentially divergent but informed viewpoints from several different perspectives.
Strategy #5 Weaving
A weave is a discussion board post which acknowledges student contributions and earlier discourses (mentioning students by name), expanding upon the conversation through Socratic questioning and prompting students to engage with their peers to learning and establish a sense of community. “Weaves seek opportunities to add value to participants contributions” (Salmon, 2011, p. 207). Where appropriate, weaves can and should incorporate relevant and/or witty multi-media such as GIFs, memes or other images, audio or video.
Respond and adapt
It is vital to be responsive and adaptable to students. Dewey (1997) advocated for empowering students by honouring their experiences. It is equally important to maintain a strong visual presence on the forums. E-moderators should strive to provide group and individual responses where appropriate. We should demonstrate a continuous stream of communication and provide timely and detailed responses (Jarvenpaa et al., 1998). In my experience I believe that e-moderators should aim to post in their forums at least every 48 hours (even if there is little active engagement).
Online educators should establish the kinds of dynamic and supportive discussion forums that are unsupported through didactic and pedantic instruction. The creation of engaging, high trust spaces that are rich with optimism, excitement, interactivity, continuous streams of communication, rapid and thorough responses, and two-way dialogue facilitate and enrich the learning process.
The student discussion board learning experience should encourage participation and connections – both between experiences, content and with peers. Ultimately, we want to have students who are engaged and supported in their learning, leading to successful outcomes in their chosen units. This aims to feed into student retention, advancement and ultimately successful completion of a tertiary qualification.
Ameena is conducting an interactive workshop, Embedding presence and participatory engagement within discussion boards for online students in higher education: a workshop for e-moderators at the Advance HE Curriculum Symposium on 8 June.
In 2020, overall positive ratings for learner engagement sat at 33% for fully online students (@qilt_src)— Ameena L. Payne (@ameenalpayne) June 1, 2021
Join me at @AdvanceHE Curriculum Symposium 2021: Post-Pandemic Curriculum on Tue 8 Jun 9:30a BST/ 6:30p AEST for an interactive workshop 🛠️#AHE_PPC21 @AdvanceHE_chat pic.twitter.com/VicORlxIOT
Ameena Leah Payne is an educator within the disciplines of education and business in vocational and higher education. She holds a Graduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching (Higher Education), Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Diploma of Project Management and a Certificate IV in Training & Assessment. She is currently pursuing her Master of Education (Research Intensive) at Deakin University where she is a Deakin International Scholarship recipient. Her education interests are in learner analytics, assessment design and information communication technology – not to mention equitable education and education reform.
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