Paradigm Shift: Reconsidering Best Practices for Online Discussion

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Online discussions form the basis for student interactions in many courses but they are labor-intensive and quite frankly underwhelming. This session questions many aspects of the dominant paradigm and will dive deep into data suggesting other best practices to consider.


Brian Verdine, Ph.D., is Yellowdig's Head of Client Success. He received his doctorate in Psychology from Vanderbilt University's Peabody College and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the School of Education at the University of Delaware, where he was appointed and continues to be an Affiliated Assistant Professor. His research background involves learning from technology and informal-learning activities. In addition to overseeing student support, in his position at Yellowdig he mines data from instructors and Yellowdig's platform to understand how Yellowdig can be applied best and to make product recommendations that improve student and instructor outcomes.

Extended Abstract

Many degree programs and courses include online discussion boards to engage students, promote critical thinking, increase topic relevance, help students network, etc. In these instructors and course designers expend considerable effort doing administrative tasks, creating weekly assignments, enforcing posting rules to ensure they meet requirements, and meticulously grading the resulting “discussion” to motivate participation. In reality, these assignments rarely spur anything even remotely resembling real conversations. Moreover, the grades that are given may accurately reflect post quality according to an instructor’s rubric, but rarely capture whether a post actually created or sustained meaningful discussion. Consequently, though traditional discussion grading compels content generation, it does not propel content consumption or conversation. Existing discussion frameworks lead to assignments with prescribed rules like “post once and comment twice this week.” The discussion forum, then, just becomes a way to collect an assignment that is peppered with a couple of forced and awkward student interactions. These assignments typically also fail to launch real discussions because students post just before the weekly deadline, after which the “discussion” moves to a new topic for the next week. These forums are not engaging, dynamic, or thought-provoking places and, therefore, do not actually produce most of the promised benefits of discussion (e.g., social learning, peer interaction, etc.). This model for incorporating discussion spaces simply doesn’t work and most of the existing technologies reinforce rather than solve for the bad habits that produce these poor outcomes. This session is focused on creating a different model by rethinking the common approach to discussion assignments. The suggestions made are supported by data gleaned from Yellowdig, a community-building technology that amplifies student engagement and interaction, and from studies on different implementations in Canvas, Blackboard, and Yellowdig.