December 6

Can we reduce the number of posts required in an online discussion?

I was asked recently about the standard practice of online discussions – 2 weeks per discussion, 1 response and 2 replies. This is a fairly standard ubiquitous practice and considered a best practice by most online practitioners.

But it is based on anecdotal lived experiences of early online practitioners. If you know of any research on this I would love to see it. I think we have moved past the one size fits all stage of practices in this field of online teaching and learning.

This is a really hard complex question, because it depends… if online discussions and/or more specifically the questions, are not well designed, or discussions not are not well facilitated, or interaction is not valued highly, in terms of the percentage of the grade… it doesn’t matter how many, or how few posts you require … How interactions (discussions)/posts are valued, assessed, or contribute to student learning is what is important. Also, important is whether that is the same for every course for every instructor in your department/program/institution…

This question is about the quantity and quality of interaction (discussion) between students and/or the instructor, – which we know are strong predictors of online student satisfaction and reported learning, and if leaning might be impacted by reducing quantity (not quality). Or, assuming the quality is there, if there might be variables like the discipline/ type of course, or level in the program -first year/vs Jr. or undergrad vs masters… where quantity matters more, or less.

If one perceives pressure to make an online course/program more self-paced to compete with other programs which might be doing that, or because one’s students are, let’s say working adults who are too busy to interact, I’m not sure those are the right decision drivers.

I think the course, content, discipline, instructor, and level of the student should drive those decisions, but again I am not aware of any research-based guidance/recommendations for course/curriculum designers on this issue.

What do you think?

March 2

better, faster, safer, easier, or cheaper: my criteria for evaluating technology for instructional purposes

When evaluating technology for instructional purposes I see 3 main areas that have the potential to be enhanced in some way via the use of some technology.

Those areas are (1) content presentation,(2) interaction/collaboration, and (3) feedback.

I also always always always start from pedagogy, not the technology, or the technology solution. It is not about using technology for technology sake. It is technology in the service of pedagogy, not the other way around.

So, you have to start with a specific learning objective.

Then, consider: Does a tool or approach assist me to…? :

  1. Present content in a more effective or engaging manner.
  2. Facilitate collaboration or interaction with/between students in a more effective or engaging manner
  3. Provide feedback, or to assess students in a more effective or engaging manner.

Then, I apply my criteria: will this technical solution assist me to achieve my targeted learning objective “better, faster safer, easier, or cheaper” in one of those 3 areas listed above.
If so, then there is solid rationale to explore the use of the  tool or approach or solution for instructional purposes.

It is about enhancing learning for the student- making it more engaging and/or effective, and it is about making me, the instructor, more effective and/or engaging – this can include making me more efficient, so that I have time to spend more time interacting with students, diagnosing misperceptions, providing feedback, modeling behaviors…etc.