Faculty Focus Special Report 051910

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Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning
Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online
Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded
Discussions and Blogs

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Faculty Focus Special Report 051910

  1. 1. Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs Featuring content from A MAGNA PUBLICATION Effective Group Work Strategies for the College Classroom. • www.FacultyFocus.com
  2. 2. Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs In a traditional face-to-face class, students have many opportunities to interact with their instructor and fellow students. Whether it’s an informal chat before or after class, or par- ticipating in the classroom discussion, interaction can be an important factor in student success. Creating similar opportunities for participation and collaboration in an online course is one of the biggest challenges of teaching online. Yet, opportunities for meaningful interac- tion online are plentiful, provided you design and facilitate your course in the correct manner and with the proper tools. Asynchronous and synchronous learning tools, such as threaded discussions, instant messaging, and blogs play an important role in humanizing online courses by replicating the classroom experience of information exchange and community building, not just between students and teacher but among the students as well. This Faculty Focus special report features 15 articles from Online Classroom newsletter, and will provide you with specific strategies on how to use synchronous and asynchro- nous learning tools to engage your online students. Here are just some of the articles you will find in this report: • A Plan for Effective Discussion Boards • Using Video Clips to Stimulate Discussion • Using Individual and Group Instant Messaging to Engage Students • Nine Strategies for Using IM in Your Online Course • Four Ways to Improve Discussion Forums Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs is loaded with practical advice from educators who’ve found effective ways to promote learning and build community in their online courses. Rob Kelly Editor Online Classroom Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 2 www.FacultyFocus.com
  3. 3. Table of Contents Asynchronous Discussion: The Heart of the Online Course ........................................................................................4 What Do Students Say about Online Discussion? ........................................................................................................5 Using Video Clips to Stimulate Discussion ..................................................................................................................7 A Plan for Effective Discussion Boards ......................................................................................................................8 Four Ways to Improve Discussion Forums ................................................................................................................10 Nine Strategies for Using IM in Your Online Course ..................................................................................................11 Blogs or Discussion Boards? ....................................................................................................................................12 5 Suggestions for Equitable Online Facilitation ........................................................................................................13 Using Individual and Group Instant Messaging to Engage Students ..........................................................................14 Protecting the Online Classroom Community ..........................................................................................................16 Using Discussion Boards for One-on-One Interaction ................................................................................................17 Threaded Discussion: ‘Lifeblood’ of Online Math Courses ........................................................................................18 How to Engage Students in Meaningful Discussion ..................................................................................................19 Threaded Discussions: They’re Not Just for Controversial or Ambiguous Issues ......................................................20 Open-Source Blog Platform Provides Much-Needed Communication Flexibility ........................................................22 Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 3 www.FacultyFocus.com
  4. 4. students know generally when I will Asynchronous Discussion: be in the course, and that’s important.” The Heart of the Online Course To help get a better idea of how well she was communicating in her courses, Heflin sought feedback from her students beyond the standard course evaluations. She learned that By Rob Kelly her communication was coming across as “tense, concise, and abrupt.” She decided to use emoticons to synchronous online discussion schedules. I tried that, but the course A plays a key role in humanizing online courses. Asking provocative questions is an important lost that interactive quality. It’s critical to keep people on the same schedule, or else they don’t talk to communicate tone and posted a photo of herself and an introduction (not just an e-mail that gives infor- mation about the course, but a part of getting students to participate each other,” Heflin says. message that gives some personal in- in discussions, but the right With just one deadline at the end formation), and her students were questions alone are not always of a discussion, students tend to cram very positive. “These things don’t enough to create a truly connected the discussion into a few hours just seem like a big deal, but they can class. before the deadline. This decreases change the course. I’ve gotten so “The discussion forum is most much feedback from students that closely going to replicate the experi- they like having a face to place with ence of exchanging information, not “The discussion forum is most a name and the text that’s coming just between students and teacher across. It’s a very simple thing, but it but among the students, as if we were in the classroom. It has to be closely going to replicate the really works.” Heflin also makes it a point to the heart of the course,” says Kyla experience of exchanging make students aware of her presence Heflin, director of extended studies in in the course by posting weekly an- the College of Education at the information, not just between nouncements and posting frequently University of Colorado at Colorado students and teacher but in the discussion forum, “so it isn’t Springs. just me posting one lecture and never To get students to appreciate the significance of the discussion forum, among the students, as if we getting back on there. It feels more like a conversation that way.” @ Heflin has a Web page in her courses that explains the grading rubric for were in the classroom.” discussion and her expectations. An important part of her rubric is having two deadlines for each weeklong dis- the likelihood for well-crafted cussion. The first deadline, which responses and leaves those who occurs in the middle of the week, is posted early waiting a relatively long for students to post their initial time to receive feedback. responses to the discussion prompt. Requiring students to respond to at Then the students have until the least two classmates’ initial responses second deadline to respond to at least keeps them from getting stuck in two classmates’ initial responses. their own threads and talking about “At first, students were very what they posted. resistant to having two deadlines per Heflin actively participates in each week. They felt that taking an online discussion and holds herself to the course would give them complete same deadlines in the discussion freedom to do the work on their own forum. “I noticed that that has helped Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 4 www.FacultyFocus.com
  5. 5. Equally interesting was looking at What Do Students Say about their reasons for not participating in online discussion. Responses varied between the anticipation of the online Online Discussion? course discussion and the post-course reality. Half of undergraduate and 65 percent of graduate students believed that a lack of interest would keep By Glenna L. Decker, EdD, and Sarah J. Cox them from participating, but fewer than 19 percent reported the same at the end. The biggest barrier to partici- e know that the literature courses. On average between the two pating was time. At the end of the W suggests that online collab- oration and discussion are key elements to success for an online groups, nearly 12 percent reported that they read 100 percent of the online discussion, and approximately courses, an average of nearly 88 percent reported that lack of time kept them from participating. Half of un- dergraduate students thought that too course, but what do students think 55 percent reported that they typically about online discussion? We decided read 75 percent to 99 percent of much text on the discussion board to find out by conducting an online discussion. Just over 24 was a barrier, as did 38 percent of anecdotal study to see if what our percent read less than half, while graduates. On average, 12 percent did students (undergraduate and graduate nearly 10 percent chose not to answer. not complete the preparation work, 10 students in a midsize Midwest univer- We were interested in what percent did not participate in non- sity) reported matched what the liter- motivates students to participate. In a graded discussion, and 14 percent did ature suggests. pre-class survey, 100 percent not respond. After years of listening to varied expressed that interest in the subject Summarizing their responses, along comments from our students, we will get them to participate; on with the literature, we determined our surveyed two classes at the beginning average, 78 percent reported that they own “best practices.” of a semester. Of 32 surveys sent, 25 participate if it is graded. This last were returned. We then held focus number, however, rose to closer to 85 1. Make the topic interesting and groups with an additional 20 graduate percent in a post-course survey. Few relevant. The online discussion must students and with 20 undergraduate claimed that peer pressure served as a be a topic of interest. Questions that students. Our topic was their percep- motivator, but comments included the have relevancy to the students, tions of course online discussion. We importance of other students also par- whether in their immediate lives or asked such questions as ticipating. Other comments suggested that they can connect to their future, • “Do you participate in face-to-face comfort in the online environment will elicit higher participation. Take class discussions?” because they have time to think time to inform students why you • “How much do you generally read before responding. Of particular value discussion and what you hope of online discussion?” interest is how much of the online they gain from it. Identify ahead of • “What motivates you to partici- discussion students read. time the educational objectives, and pate?” Approximately 23 percent of inform students how the discussion • “What has made for good (and graduate students and no undergradu- will add to their understanding of the for poor) experiences of online ate students reported reading all of content (Jenkinson, 1994). discussion?” the online discussion; an average between the two groups indicates that 2. Encourage timely participation. More than 80 percent of graduate approximately 58 percent read Students reported that they preferred and 66 percent of undergraduate between 75 percent and 99 percent. when all participated in a timely students reported generally contribut- The rest (except for the 9 percent who manner. The instructor can be pre- ing to face-to-face class discussions. did not answer) read less than half, scriptive in this, allowing only a few More than 80 percent of the total with about 8 percent of graduate days for initial responses, with follow- reported that they had participated in students reporting reading less than PAGE 6 online discussions in previous 25 percent. Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 5 www.FacultyFocus.com
  6. 6. FROM PAGE 5 posting solely for credit. One way to A final note is to address the instruc- manage this is to rotate students or tor’s role in the discussion. Be clear up responses one or two more times groups to be the topic facilitators. with your students about your own throughout the duration of the discus- Students will then hold each other ac- participation. Students report that an sion. Another approach that has been countable for the relevancy of the con- overly involved instructor will inhibit successful with the author’s graduate tributions to the topic at hand. participation, as students will be students is to spend the first week of waiting to hear the “correct” answer. the course having the students them- 6. Create a safe environment. The In addition to the author’s own inves- selves define the parameters. As they quickest way to shut down discussion tigation, a study by Rourke & discuss their own positive and is for someone to feel attacked. Anderson (2002) concluded that negative experiences in online discus- Students need (and deserve) to feel “student-led discussions provide a free sion, the students can then vote on safe in class discussion (Doyle, 2005), and relaxed atmosphere for discus- their own expectations, including and this is perhaps more challenging sion, which makes students feel unin- when and how often they should con- in the online environment, where hibited in asking questions and tribute. With a social contract, they typed messages are easily misinter- challenging the statements of others” own the criteria and hold each other preted. Students report the need for an (p. 4). accountable, allowing the instructor to honest, open, and respectful environ- be less prescriptive. ment. The instructor has the responsi- References bility of setting this tone from the Doyle, T. (2005, February 4). A real 3. Ask two or three open-ended beginning. Model appropriate world model for classroom discussion. questions to provide opportunity for responses and challenges through ad- Lecture presented at Pew Faculty ongoing dialogue. Students will con- ditional questions. Teaching & Learning Center, Grand tribute more when they learn from the Valley State University. discussion and find the dialogue 7. Make expectations clear. One Jenkinson, E. (1994, January). thoughtful and meaningful. They are challenge with online discussion is Writing assignments, journals, and more interested when there are a that it is not contained within the student privacy. ERIC Clearinghouse variety of perspectives and opinions. period of a class meeting. Students on Reading, English, and Encourage their opinion, backed up by look for clear expectations and guide- Communication, digest #88. Retrieved referencing the literature. Students lines, with an identified beginning and October 15, 2007, from Indiana want somewhere to go with the dis- ending. Address this with a rubric that University School of Education cussion; they do not want a closed clarifies expectations of quality discus- website: www.indiana.edu/ response or to feel forced to reword sion, including how often, when, and ~reading/ieo/digests/d88.html the same response as others. Be clear how posts must contribute to the Nielsen, J. (1997). How users read that simply agreeing with a colleague ongoing dialogue. on the web. Retrieved October 15, is insufficient without explaining what 2007, from Nielsen Norman Group informs their opinion. 8. Use group discussions. Students useit.com website: www.useit.com/ reported that they favored group dis- alertbox/9710a.html 4. Encourage clear, concise cussion (these groups averaged five Rourke, L., & Anderson, T. (2002). dialogue. Students shared that time participants) and liked having Using peer teams to lead online dis- restraints were a barrier to participat- assigned roles. Requiring students to cussions. Journal of Interactive Media ing and they welcomed succinct, to- rotate roles such as facilitator, re- in Education, March, 2002(1), 4. the-point responses. Model for searcher, summarizer, and questioner Retrieved October 15, 2007, from The students how to write for online gave them purpose and eased Open University, United Kingdom dialogue. Short, inverted paragraphs anxieties. They knew their expecta- website: www-jime.open.ac.uk/ and bullet points are more effective for tions and enjoyed the dialogue more. 2002/1/rourke-anderson-02-1-t.html reading online (Nielsen, 1997). The quality and depth of the discus- @ sion also improves as the students 5. Rotate students or groups. engage further in higher-order Staying on topic is important to thinking skills. students, and a reminder of this may dissuade ill-prepared students from Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 6 www.FacultyFocus.com
  7. 7. Williams typically asks students two Using Video Clips to Stimulate questions based on the content of the video clip, and they are required to Discussion respond with a minimum of two paragraphs and responses to at least two classmates. “This gets the con- versation going. It simulates what happens in a classroom, and it does By Rob Kelly tend to draw out the students who wouldn’t necessarily participate in a discussion in person. For me, it f you’re looking to improve • Readings—These include becomes a key part of an online I threaded discussions in your online courses, consider using brief video clips as discussion textbook and online readings found in library databases on real companies. course,” Williams says. Each of these unit elements builds on the next. “I give them the founda- prompts. When carefully selected and integrated into a course, these clips • PowerPoint—The PowerPoint tional information first and then can lead students to higher-order slides emphasize the key concepts bring in the video to kind of get them thinking and appeal to auditory and covered in the readings. “Whatever to that application point where they visual learning styles. they didn’t get from the readings, the can see the things that we talked Stacey Williams, distance learning PowerPoint will hopefully bring out about or the things that we read council co-chair and director of for them and make it a little easier to about. They can see these concepts distance learning at Naugatuck Valley focus on the relevant key points,” being applied by real-world Community College, uses video clips Williams says. companies,” Williams says. to prompt discussion and says that her retention rates and student satis- • Concept quiz—After the Selecting video clips faction have improved as a result. PowerPoint presentation, Williams Video clips can come from a wide The key is to use these video clips has students do practice assignments, variety of sources. When selecting within the context of scaffolding as- typically multiple-choice or true/false video clips, consider the following: signments rather than as stand-alone quizzes. “They tend to do those course elements. practice tests or quizzes a little bit • Select video relevant to the Each unit in Williams’ courses in- more readily when it’s a safe environ- course. There is a wealth of video corporates the following elements: ment, so I keep those as a tool just posted online that has potential for for them,” Williams says. use in online courses. However, it’s • Learning objectives—These important to select video clips that serve as a guide in selecting appropri- • Video clips—Williams uses brief are directly related to learning objec- ate readings, activities, and video (up to five-minute) video clips from tives and the concepts in the unit, clips. To make these objectives clear sources such as corporate websites, Williams says. “Don’t just put up to students, Williams sends them to textbook publishers, video without context around it. students as either weekly email or www.merlot.org/, Don’t just build an assignment pop-up announcements. The www.youtube.com/, and without telling them why they’re advantage of using pop-up announce- www.teachertube.com/. “One of the viewing it. Tie it into the topics that ments is that students have to do biggest challenges is finding videos to you’re trying to cover that week. something with them (either close use in a streaming format, but I do Don’t let that be the only thing. them or move them out of the way) like the challenge of going out and Scaffold it with the lower-order before proceeding to the course activ- finding them,” Williams says. thinking—objectives, readings, ities, which increases the likelihood PowerPoint—and then start to get that they will read them. • Discussion—After viewing a into the application part and let that video clip, students participate in a push the students to think about discussion based on the video. PAGE 8 Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 7 www.FacultyFocus.com
  8. 8. FROM PAGE 7 • Have a contingency plan. video is forcing us to do that,” Williams does not currently have Williams says. things and apply the concepts and access to a streaming server, so she understand them and demonstrate links videos from other sources to her Student reaction their understanding through how course site. The disadvantage of not Although she has not yet they respond to questions and other hosting the videos is that the creators conducted research on the effects on students’ responses.” or hosts of these videos can take using video clips to prompt discus- them down at any time, which means sion, Williams has gotten positive • Check sources. Textbook pub- that it is important to have a contin- feedback from students. “They ab- lishers are an excellent source of gency plan in case students cannot solutely love them. It’s hard to feel a video. To incorporate videos on a view a particular video. “I’m always student’s passion for a topic when course site requires permission from thinking, what if we can’t get to a they’re not right in front of you, but the publisher. If the videos are in video? Typically I have reviewed when I get the conversation going DVD format, they will need to be several when I make my choice so and see a threaded discussion of converted to streaming format, which there are other possibilities out there. twenty threads from the first posting, can take a substantial amount of I use a variety of sources as well so that to me is a measurable outcome. time. Videos from other sources such I’m not just pulling [videos] from That to me is feedback that these as YouTube are easily accessed, but YouTube. If YouTube were to go down students are really engaging on a remember that YouTube is not the tomorrow, I have some other collegial level and a scholarly level.” creator of the video, nor is the creator resources I can use,” Williams says. @ necessarily the person who posted it. “I pretty much stick to educators or Once you have incorporated video corporations because it’s easy to clips into your course, it’s important verify that a certain professor holds a to check the links on a regular basis. PhD and does indeed work at a par- “You need to check to see if the ticular institution. I also limit my videos are still there. You need to videos to things that are recognizable keep your course fresh, and I think to the students and companies that that’s a really good practice. Using are recognizable,” Williams says. A Plan for Effective Discussion Boards By Rob Kelly eaningful online discussions promote deeper thinking, says Elaine course, focusing on the most contro- M that promote learning and build community usually do not happen spontaneously. They Bennington, director of instructional technology, distance education, and adjunct faculty development at Ivy versial, most difficult, and most important concepts. “People don’t even think about that for their on- require planning, good use of ques- Tech Community College of Indiana. campus courses. Half the time they tioning techniques, and incentives for The first step that Bennington rec- prepare a three-hour lecture with no student participation. ommends in planning discussion- time for questions, and that trend has Before the course begins, the in- board use in an online course is to continued online. But you cannot do structor should consider the purpose consider how many discussions to that. This is your feedback of each discussion, how it relates to include. She recommends at least 12 PAGE 9 the learning objectives, and how it can discussion boards for a 16-week Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 8 www.FacultyFocus.com
  9. 9. FROM PAGE 8 addition to an introduction, discus- • Conceptual clarification sions can be used for reflection, questions—questions that get mechanism. This is your listening op- debate, or exploring case studies, students to think about concepts portunity, and you’ve got to prime among other things. And as a course behind their arguments, for the pump with the best questions you progresses, the online discussions example, Why are you saying can think of,” Bennington says. can help move students to the higher that? What exactly does this end of Bloom’s Taxonomy of mean? How does this relate to The first discussion in an online Cognitive Domain (knowledge, com- what we have been talking course should serve as a way of intro- prehension, application, analysis, about? Can you give me an ducing students to each other and to synthesis, and evaluation). example? the use of the discussion forum, • Probing assumptions— including technical issues and Types of questions questions that get students to netiquette. The asynchronous nature of the think about the beliefs that they Discussions should not be included discussion board makes it more base their arguments on, for in courses arbitrarily, Bennington important to plan specific questions example, What else could we says. Rather, the instructor should because it’s not as easy as in a face- assume? How did you choose build the discussions around the to-face class to ask a follow-up those assumptions? How can you course’s learning objectives. question when your initial question verify or disprove that assump- “[Discussions] have got to bring fails to elicit the level of dialogue you tion? What would happen if …? the concept and objective together in had hoped for. This is not to say that • Probing rationale, reasons, and a way that brings out more questions. all questions in online discussions evidence—questions that get That to me is very important—to need to be scripted. Another students to think about the relate those objectives and the important role for the instructor is to support for their arguments, for concepts under those objectives to participate in these discussions and example, Why is that happening? the discussion board,” Bennington help students explore relevant but How do you know this? Can you says. “The questions allow the unplanned discussion topics and to give me an example? What do students to complete the learning get them back on topic when they you think causes …? On what outcomes. The questions in a discus- stray too far. authority are you basing your sion board are like essay questions “Spontaneity can be there, but it is argument? on a test where students can give not a justification for not planning • Questioning viewpoints and these ideas and then communicate the initial discussion,” Kirkner says. perspectives—questions that get more creatively. But the question in Initial questions in an online dis- students to consider other view- the discussion board is even more cussion might ask closed questions, points, for example, What are important. It allows students more which can help establish a set of some alternate ways of looking at freedom because it is not a test. It principles to build upon. But for the this? Who benefits from this? allows students to answer a question most part, threaded discussions How are x and y similar? in a way that a teacher can know that should feature open-ended questions • Probe implications and conse- the student has got it.” that elicit divergent thinking from the quences—questions that get Here are two key questions to ask students. students to think about the what when planning a discussion: Too often, however, instructors follows from their arguments, for • What do I want students to be simply ask students to state their in- example, Then what would able to do? dependent thinking on a subject and happen? What are the conse- • In what ways do I want students perhaps comment on two classmates’ quences of that assumption? to understand this material? postings. Bennington and Kirkner • Questions about the question— recommend using the following six questions that turn the question Answering these questions can Socratic questioning techniques as in on itself, for example, What help determine the types of questions delineated by Richard Paul (see was the point of asking that to ask, says Laurie Kirkner, Internet reference below) to get students question? Why do you think I technician at Ivy Tech. involved in discussions that go asked this question? A course can include different beyond simply their opinions: types of online discussions. In PAGE 10 Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 9 www.FacultyFocus.com
  10. 10. FROM PAGE 9 the students will take them • www.cos.edu/view_page.asp? seriously,” Bennington says. nodeid=3885&parentid=3872& moduleid=1 Make it count There are many online-discussion- Bennington and Kirkner grading rubrics out there. The Reference recommend grading online discus- following are links to some examples: Paul, Richard, Critical Thinking: sions according to a rubric that in- • http://ois.unomaha.edu/ How to Prepare Students for a structors share with students at the amfarm/Courseinfo/discuss.htm Rapidly Changing World, 1993. outset of the course that considers • www.cu- @ the quality and quantity of students’ portland.edu/its/WebCT/ postings. “These discussion boards student_orientation/DB_PDX.htm have to be a graded situation so that Four Ways to Improve Discussion Forums By Rob Kelly ebecca Arbisi, chair of the wonderful English skills,” Arbisi her courses. When teaching new R business department at State Fair Community College in Missouri, offers the following tips for says. Sometimes when a student writes poorly in an online forum, the other students in the course online learners or first-year students, she makes it a point to let students know that the views improving the quality of threaded dis- will comment about it. “I think she is expressing are not neces- cussions: peer pressure is a good thing. sarily her own. Whereas more so- phisticated learners are able to 1) Model good communication. If pick up on that without her students do not meet your expec- Occasionally, you will need having to explicitly state it, “I tations for proper grammar, capi- think it’s important to help talization, etc., email the to get students’ attention in students see all different sides of individual student privately to an issue and to help them express those concerns. the online forum to redirect problem solve and think a little bit more,” Arbisi says. 2) Although proper grammar is the discussion or clarify important, do not overempha- what you expect of students. 4) Use color for emphasis. size it to the point that you in- Occasionally, you will need to get timidate students and make students’ attention in the online them reluctant to post. “If Sometimes students can say forum to redirect the discussion you’re teaching an English class, things that have more effect than or clarify what you expect of and grammar is part of the my telling students over and over students. One way to do this is to course, [you need to emphasize to be careful about what you use a different color font. @ good writing], but in most [write],” Arbisi says. classes, you need to focus on what students are saying, not on 3) Help students understand your how they say it. Don’t expect that role in the discussion forums. just because these are Web Arbisi often plays devil’s students that they will have advocate in the online forums in Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 10 www.FacultyFocus.com
  11. 11. 7.Establish realistic expectations. Nine Strategies for Using IM in Increased access to the instructor can foster unrealistic expecta- tions. For example, just because Your Online Course students are able to communicate with you synchronously does not mean that they will get their graded assignments back any By Rob Kelly sooner. Explain your communica- tion policies clearly in your syllabus. nstant messaging can be an the interaction and help students I effective online learning tool that can build community and foster collaborative learning. The following get the most out of the sessions. 4.Form study groups. Group chats 8.Don’t micromanage. Like the private conversations that take place among students before and after face-to-face classes, IM can are some suggestions from Debby are an excellent way for students be an informal form of communi- Kilburn, computer science professor to make connections with each cation that can help students at Cero Coso Community College, for other. Encourage them to learn and provide social connec- making the most of this tool: continue their chats in groups or tions that might not otherwise be one on one. available in the course. 1.Explain how to get set up. Although many students may Not everyone can be 9.Keep a chat log. Not everyone have used IM, they probably can be available for synchronous have not used it for academic purposes. The syllabus should available for synchronous sessions, but they can still benefit from transcripts of the communi- explain how to set up students’ sessions, but they can still cation that occurs in these IM accounts. Have students use a sessions. @ multiprotocol instant messaging benefit from transcripts of application such as Trillian or Gaim to make communication the communication that across different IM systems easier. Remind students to add occurs in these sessions. each other to their buddy lists. 2.Offer group chats at different 5.IM your students. Isolation is days and times. IM can be used one of the dangers of online for group chats. In order to keep learning. Simple, synchronous chats manageable, limit them to messages from the instructor can eight students per session and open up communication and offer them at different days and encourage students. times, so students can find a session that is convenient for 6.Invite students to IM you. them. Because you are on their buddy lists, students will be able to tell 3.Ask for students’ undivided when you are online (as long as attention. Online learners often you have your IM application balance many responsibilities open). This open line of synchro- and can get distracted during nous communication can be an synchronous chats. Ask that they excellent way of holding online focus exclusively on the chat. office hours. This will improve the quality of Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 11 www.FacultyFocus.com
  12. 12. Advice for using blogs Blogs or Discussion Boards? Crosslin offers the following advice for those considering using blogs in their online courses: • Use blogs for a specific pedagogi- cal purpose. By Rob Kelly • Don’t duplicate content from the main part of the course. • Provide a rubric to help students logs and discussion boards According to Crosslin, blogs have know what is expected of them. B both provide opportunities for interaction in online courses, but there are instances when one is the following pros: • Blogs generally have an interface that is intuitive to use. • If possible, host the blog within the course management system so you won’t have to depend on an external host. more appropriate than the other, says • Blogs present content in reverse Matt Crosslin, instructional designer chronological order, which makes at the University of Texas at it easy to follow. Arlington’s Center for Distance Uses for discussion boards Education. Discussion boards will continue to Blogs are typically organized in have a place in the online classroom, Crosslin says. “Some instructors just reverse-chronological order and focus Blogs and discussion boards want the questions up there and the on the most recent input, whereas discussion boards focus on the both provide opportunities student responses. That’s their focus. feedback to an initial prompt. I still think there’s a great use for dis- Blog entries are typically longer for interaction in online cussion boards, especially for than discussion board prompts and feedback forums, to ask questions. If can include multimedia. These blog courses, but there are you don’t have a news or announce- entries are excellent places to com- ment function, a discussion board instances when one is more can be a great place to put news and plement the content in the rest of the course by providing current informa- appropriate than the other. announcements, and students can tion on a topic culled from the Web. ask questions if they need “When you’ve got five, six, or ten clarification.” @ paragraphs of initial stuff to comment on versus one question, it does give • Blogs enable instructors to add the students a lot more to base their current content to their courses. response on,” Crosslin says. • Blog platforms have tools that Often the prompt for commenting enable live chat and the viewing on blogs is simply a comment button. of content by date or topic. With discussion boards, since there is usually just a short introduction, the Crosslin cites the following cons: prompts tend to be more specific. “A • Most course management discussion board can have a broader systems do not feature blogs, and range of questions, more than just so blogs are often hosted by ‘what are your comments?’” Crosslin external websites, which brings says. up the issue of support and ownership. Pros and cons of blogs • One downside of keeping one’s As with all tools, there are positive course up to date is that there are and negative aspects of blogs in an fewer opportunities to proofread online course. this content before posting it. Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 12 www.FacultyFocus.com
  13. 13. 2. Establish early an environment 5 Suggestions for Equitable that enables participants to be safe and secure. This could come from Online Facilitation the type of professional development or learning the group is participating in as well as the facilitator’s style of engagement. The facilitator could provide the ground rules, including By Marianne Castano Bishop, Indiana University South Bend the right to ask questions and to respond in ways that are respectful of one another. The facilitator could also take the discussion to a deeper level andling equity and diversity manifested in discussion forums and H issues sensitively can be a key to retention in online programs. In asynchronous discus- may be enhanced by fostering a safe and prosperous learning community by the facilitator. An effective facilita- or move to the exploration of issues with equity implications. 3. Intervene, as necessary, to keep sion forums, participants usually tor is mindful and purposeful about the discussion on track. When par- come from diverse backgrounds, diversity and its accompanying ticipants become disrespectful to including gender and culture, and the issues, ensuring equity and respect each other, demonstrate rude textual cues they post online are for all. behavior (flaming), or post inaccu- usually reflections of their own A goal of equitable online facilita- rate information, the facilitator needs diversity. Such postings sometimes tion is the promotion of a safety net to intervene as quickly as possible. disclose personal information, and the provision of opportunities to While a telephone call could be an whether the authors are consciously freely express one’s ideas, feelings, effective course of action, much of doing so or not. These disclosures and experiences in an online discus- the conflict resolution should be done could impact the interaction online in sion forum. The hope is that this will online. Modeling good and effective meaningful ways. ensure respect for diversity and other behavior that fosters equitable inter- What is usually required to important issues as well as promote action is critical. promote this and any other kind of reflection and better understanding. interaction is a sense of safety on the At the Education Development 4. Monitor the level of trust that part of participants to express them- Center’s Gender, Diversities, and exists. The facilitator is the agent selves without fear of repercussions. Technology Institute, we explored who promotes the building of trust This sense of safety could enhance issues regarding equity in online pro- among participants. At the same the learning experience, promote fessional development. Based on Dr. time, the facilitator makes sure that academic performance, and create a Joyce Kaser’s publication, “Equity in any sensitive issue that becomes a learning community in which partici- On-line Professional Development: A point of discussion and exploration pants are enriched by each other’s Guide to E-learning That Works for within the course is appropriate for ideas and the sharing of individual Everyone” (2004), I describe briefly the level of trust within the group. and common personal experiences. the suggestions discussed for facilitat- When several of the participants post Having online facilitators who are ing issues of equity in online courses. messages and no one dominates the sensitive to diversity issues and discussion in any significant way, it is skilled in facilitating the exchange of 1. Monitor the course to make possible that participants trust one content in discussion forums sure that the equity content is another to express what’s on their becomes a critical component that accurate and comprehensive. The minds. defines the effectiveness and quality facilitator is the individual who must of an online course. be aware of possible stereotypes and 5. Note your own hesitancy about Common to any facilitator role is biases embedded in the course and exploring any aspect of equity. The the active promotion of strategies that who is able to examine and analyze facilitator should ask him/herself result in deeper and deepening these issues in light of what is being what his/her personal biases or fears insights among participants as well discussed in the course and the as shared inquiry. This is usually forum. PAGE 14 Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 13 www.FacultyFocus.com
  14. 14. FROM PAGE 13 Publishing. Development Center, Inc., Newton, Castano, M. (2003). Disclosure in MA. might be that may interfere with Online Racial Dialogues: A Study of Palloff, R. M. & Pratt, K. (1999). effective facilitation. These issues How and Why Participants Disclose, Building Learning Communities in may result in the facilitator’s and How Others Respond to the Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for avoidance of certain salient topics or Disclosure. Cambridge, MA: Harvard the Online Classroom. San Francisco: discomfort when participants raise University. Jossey-Bass. points related to those topics. In such Collison, G., Elbaum, B., Haavind, Palloff, R. M. & Pratt, K. (2005). an instance, the facilitator could raise S. & Tinker, R. (2000). Facilitating Collaborating Online: Learning his/her reservations to the group, Online Learning: Effective Strategies Together in Community. San making this a learning opportunity for Moderators. Madison, WI: Francisco: Jossey-Bass Guides to for everyone. Atwood Publishing. Online Teaching and Learning. While online courses are becoming Collison, G., Facilitating Online Rudenstam, K. E. & Schoenholtz- increasingly available, online facilita- Learning: Effective Strategies for Read, J. (Eds., 2002). Handbook of tors are faced with finding effective Moderators. Madison, WI: Atwood Online Learning: Innovations in strategies that help promote excel- Publishing. Higher Education and Corporate lence in teaching and learning. Hanson, K., Flansburg, S. & Training. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Knowing and implementing ways to Castano, M. (2004). Genderspace: Publications. facilitate that respect diversity and Learning Online and the Implications ensure equitable interaction is a sure of Gender. In Suki, A., Benjamin, S. & Marianne Castano Bishop (EdD, step in the right direction. This could Mauthner, M. L. (Eds.). The Politics Harvard University) is the instruc- result in deeper insights, reflection, of Gender and Education: Critical tional strategies consultant at the and understanding. Perspectives. London: Palgrave University Center for Excellence in Macmillan Ltd. Teaching at Indiana University South References Kaser, J. S. (2004). Equity in On- Bend. She is also associate faculty in Bender, T. (2003). Discussion-based line Professional Development: A the Psychology Department. @ Online Teaching to Enhance Student Guide to E-learning that Works for Learning: Theory, Practice and Everyone. Gender, Diversities, and Assessment. Sterling, VA: Stylus Technology Institute, Education Using Individual and Group Instant Messaging to Engage Students By Rob Kelly ebby Kilburn, a computer computers involves learning about students to add each other to their D science professor at Cero Coso Community College, has two compelling reasons for using instant instant messaging.” Second, it creates a sense of connection that, she says, improves student satisfaction and buddy lists and use the tool throughout the course as they see fit. The syllabus explains how IM will be messaging (IM) in her online courses. retention. used in the course and how to get set First, it’s an integral part of the Kilburn uses IM for conducting syn- up. In many cases, students have content—she teaches an online version chronous chat sessions, as well as to already been using IM, but not neces- of introduction to computer informa- provide individual communication tion systems, and “learning about with students. She also encourages PAGE 15 Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 14 www.FacultyFocus.com
  15. 15. FROM PAGE 14 establish study groups, and Kilburn which class they’re in and to keep encourages students to add each the conversation focused on the sarily in an academic setting. Kilburn other to their contact lists. After this course. uses a multiprotocol instant first session, each student has a When Kilburn sees that one of her messaging application and encour- group of six or seven people that they students is online, she may contact ages her students to do the same. have already interacted with, whom him or her as well. “I’m very This makes communication easier they can turn to individually if they random, especially if I see somebody across different synchronous commu- have questions. “Even if they don’t come online whom I haven’t seen a nication systems, such as AOL Instant talk to each other, they can see when lot of activity from. I’ll pop them off Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and [other students are] online, which a quick note such as, ‘Hey, I see MSN Messenger. gives them some sense that they’re you’re online. Do you have any not in this by themselves,” Kilburn questions?’ just to let them know that Group sessions says. I am available for them if they do, Kilburn uses IM for one-hour chat In addition to seeing when class- but I don’t force myself on them,” sessions throughout her online mates are online, students and Kilburn says. courses. She schedules them at Kilburn get a sense of people’s per- different times and on different days sonalities when interacting synchro- IM uses to accommodate as many students as nously that they might not get Not everybody likes to communi- possible. She allows students to sign otherwise. “It seems that the people cate synchronously, but for those up for sessions that are convenient who are involved in instant who do, it can add a new dimension for them but limits each chat session messaging more tend to be a little to an online course. When consider- to seven or eight people to keep each more engaged. They joke around. You ing using IM for pedagogical session manageable. get a real sense of people’s personali- purposes, instructors should carefully The chat sessions are not intended ties. To me, that comes through much consider how they might use it. as spaces for formal writing; rather, better than it does just in a flat dis- IM is not a good way to deliver a they should be used for collaboration cussion-board message. When you’re lecture, Kilburn says. It’s better suited and brainstorming. The only thing chatting with somebody, or a group to brainstorming, investigating, or Kilburn asks of students is to avoid of people, you get a sense of who exploring issues. “I set things up on multitasking during these sessions. jokes around, who’s more serious, two levels: here’s how we’re going to However, she does not restrict the in- who likes to think about things a use it academically for class chat; but dividual student-to-student instant little bit more. When I chat with also here’s a list of all the other messaging that goes on during group students I’ve chatted with a lot, I can people in the class. Add them to your sessions. “Having multiple streams of tell when something’s wrong. They buddy list. Reach out and connect communication going on doesn’t don’t even have to tell me,” Kilburn with people, so that if you have a bother me, as long as the students says. question, and I’m not available, you are participating in the [main discus- might see three other people on your sion]. What I want [them] to get out Instructor access buddy list and one of them might of using instant messaging is some IM increases the level of access that have the answer.” @ sense of community—some sense students have to the instructor. that there are classmates [whom] Generally, when she is online, students can turn to. In the face-to- Kilburn keeps her IM open, which face classroom, students may chat indicates to students that she is with the people sitting next to them online and open to having a conver- or talk to people on the way out the sation. When she is not available to door. Using instant messaging mimics communicate synchronously with that in the online classroom,” Kilburn students, Kilburn turns off her IM. says. She encourages students to view this The first group chat sessions occur as the equivalent of an open office during the second week of the door. All she asks is that students course. During these group chats, who want to IM her let her know students have the opportunity to Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 15 www.FacultyFocus.com
  16. 16. more burdensome (and less Protecting the Online Classroom community building) than in face-to- face classes. Community In that same June 2005 issue of Online Classroom, DiRamio noted two factors that were clear in my course design: the instructor’s role and student’s responsibility. I had By Patrick Durow, PhD structured my role as mentor and guide and placed significant emphasis on student responsibility. A Dr. Durow, the grad students erations may be more challenging in helpful notion I hadn’t tried was to “ think they’re smarter than we (the undergrads) are and are always putting us down.” Thus read the online environment, but typically that is related to increased comfort with technology in younger students. pair students to be helpers to each other. That has promise! I had set a tone of positive, the private message from an under- The coursework is not self-paced, as frequent communication via graduate education student during a there are discussion board and chat Blackboard, email, and the traditional recent synchronous chat session in segments required of each student methods of phone calls and office my 500-level course, Secondary weekly with time specific deadlines. hours. My syllabus even indicated Teaching Methods in the Humanities. I did a mental review of the “virtual office hours” reserved for the The message came during the sixth proactive steps I’d taken to establish members of this class. Following her week of the course. I was shocked the online community in this course. suggestions, I had established a and surprised. During none of our I had followed most of the recom- positive social atmosphere in the chat asynchronous or synchronous discus- mendations made by Sull (Online sessions, been very predictable in sions had I perceived any offending Classroom, January 2006), especially communication patterns, and messages. While I knew how I would a welcoming email, clear due dates, provided frequent feedback to respond in the traditional classroom frequent emails throughout the students. I dare say that my enthusi- setting, I was given pause by the course, and use of simple, nontechni- asm for the subject matter and student’s plea. What to do? cal language. I had posted guidelines teaching was infectious! Coppola The students in this course fall into for online discussion participation, (Online Classroom, June, 2005) did three groups, all with academic and rubrics for evaluating discussion note, however, that “trust can majors in either English, performance were in place and had sometimes be undermined by a single history/social studies, or Spanish: 1) been reviewed with students. I even comment.” I hadn’t perceived the traditional undergraduate students scheduled a first session, face-to-face negativity in the same manner as one completing their subject area majors meeting. I’d used icebreakers, making of my students. and the required education courses myself the object of humor to make While most who write about the just prior to student teaching in the each student feel comfortable. And online community note that there is a next term; 2) graduate students with now some of my students were greater potential for misunderstand- a baccalaureate degree in one of the feeling bullied and intimidated. ing than in traditionally delivered disciplines named above, completing Rubenstein (Online Classroom, courses, two articles in the October the sequence of education courses in June, 2005) suggested interdiscipli- 2006 issue of Online Classroom about 15 months for a master’s nary communities within the larger caught my attention in particular. degree in teaching; and 3) another classroom community. I had used Humbert noted that students who group of students with undergraduate some subject-specific groupings for feel isolation because of the online degrees who are seeking teacher cer- specific tasks that mixed grads with format frequently drop out of courses tification but not a graduate degree. undergrads, but I did not want to and programs. Bishop commented Some of the graduate students are segregate the undergrads from others. that online student needs are the nontraditional-age college students. In addition, my online students same as in the traditional format: Silverman (Online Classroom, March, during the last three years have 2006) noted that teaching across gen- found online group projects to be PAGE 17 Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools: 15 Strategies for Engaging Online Students Using Real-time Chat, Threaded Discussions and Blogs 16 www.FacultyFocus.com

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