Cut The Thread: Reconceiving Online Discussions Beyond the Post-and-Reply Model

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session Best in Track

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session introduces a visual approach to online discussions and combines social and educational elements to help faculty and students easily create and share knowledge and reimagine the possibilities of online collaboration and learning.

Extended Abstract

Online discussions play a critical role in connecting students with the content and one another. However, the linear and threaded nature of traditional models of online discussions often result in shallow, disconnected exchanges that fail to engage students meaningfully. Discussions are most often characterized by the compulsory posting of discrete ideas, which seldom add new knowledge to the discussion or create meaningful connections amongst students or ideas. Three aspects of traditional online learning environments—the linear nature of discussions, the lack of visuals, and limited ownership of ideas and knowledge—challenge authentic engagement and deep learning.

To foster meaningful collaborative learning, online environments should allow learners opportunities for natural and organic engagement with their peers, the kinds of opportunities where they can “build shared meaning, explore topics in-depth, and develop insight into the nature of the communication and learning process, which supports the emergence of new creative and conceptual thinking” (Champion & Gunnlaugson, 2017). This calls for “reconceiving online discussions more as symphonies with each participant serving a distinctive instrumental role to encourage departure from the solo approach of each student making posts with minimal engagement of cohorts” (Schwartzman & Morrissey, 2010, p. 59). 

This session will introduce participants to a cloud-based discussion platform, Pretzl, that reimagines the possibilities of online collaboration and learning by introducing a visual approach to online discussions and combining social and educational elements to help faculty and students easily create and share knowledge. Through visual representation, instructors and students engage in an interactive exploration of emerging themes and patterns, leading to more spontaneous and organic discourse.

Learning in Pretzl begins when instructors shape their discussion. The Pretzl platform offers a growing library of discussion modes to choose from—including debates, video-based discussions, and microchats. Instructors and students can share more than just words in their posts, capturing, uploading, or embedding videos and images, and creating interactive polls. As the discussion grows, Pretzl's Burst Viewer creates a graphical representation of the conversation, each post adding a new layer and a potentially new starting point for the discussion—allowing instructors and students to see how discussions are growing. Users' ideas are automatically saved to their own multi-media portfolio, which allows users to showcase their best work; as well as store, share, and create images, videos, blogs, and podcasts. Each individual's growing portfolio of ideas then becomes part of the Pretzl community's inspiration ecosystem—empowering users to search for new ideas and create and share new knowledge throughout the platform.

Common themes addressed during the session will include: a) the effects of visualization on the learning process, b) the fidelity of discussions, specifically as compared to discussions in traditional learning management systems and online discussion alternatives, and, c) overall engagement and satisfaction. The session will give participants the opportunity to interact with the platform to gain insight into the new technology and uncover its effectiveness to the possibilities of collaborative learning.