The Future of Discussion: The Non-Panopticon
Concurrent Session 6
In online learning, discussion boards are often nothing more than an echo chamber. They are tedious for students to write, and they are tedious for instructors to grade.
What are discussions missing? Or should we ask, what should be removed?
Hear two veteran instructional designers’ proposal for accelerating online discussions.
From the lens of veteran instructional designers, we have seen the evolution of discussion tools from infinitely nested ‘90s-style threads to the use of social learning platforms such as Yellowdig and Notebowl. However, even with the advent of these new tools, the value of asynchronous discussion has continually devolved. Often, a discussion board feels like an echo chamber: in an effort to answer the prompt correctly, student responses are repetitive, predictable, and uninspired. They are tedious to write, and they are tedious to grade.
It’s time to rethink the design of discussion in the online Higher Ed environment. How should discussion be presented, and with what outcomes should it be aligned? How should faculty be involved in online discussion?
The goal of discussion should be to build community among learners. Discussion forums should be safe places for idea-generation among peers. They should not be a punitive environment in which mistakes get corrected and tangents get re-railed.
Instructors should not govern discussions with a panoptic presence. We propose a move away from the panopticon, where instructors are positioned as watchers, directing students to specific ends.
Recent research on student construction of meaning via online discussion has presented specific, task-oriented strategies (Darabi, A., Arrastia, M., Nelson, D., Cornille, T. & Liang, X., 2010). In our view, discussion should be designed as an autonomous activity, where students have the agency to make mistakes, and construct meaning through peer-to-peer interactions. Creating a safe space, free of the panoptic lens will lead to truly authentic discussion, we propose.
Instructors should let go of the old paradigm in which discussions required their constant intervention and responses were graded like papers.
Instead, we should use social learning technology for its intended purpose: as a platform for students to connect with one another on their own terms. In the context of recent research, discussion should increase student social engagement in order to accelerate the development of cognitive presence.
Understanding that there is much to explore in the topic of discussion, we ask for your ideas about our approach to discussion design: What type of discussions can shape the best experience for students at your institution? What type of discussions quash engagement? What are tried-and-true pedagogical methods for course developers and instructors to apply, and what are your ideas for new methods?
Darabi, A., Arrastia, M., Nelson, D., Cornille, T. & Liang, X. (2010). Learners’ Cognitive Presence in Online Discussion. In J. Herrington & C. Montgomerie (Eds.), Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2010 (pp. 517-528). Waynesville, NC: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).