Alternatives to Online Class Discussions

I use two different platforms for my online courses. One platform, Canvas, has the capability of having course discussions. The typical thing you see is the teacher will post a question and the students respond to the question and then comment on the response of a peer, etc. This gets boring fast! Sometimes teachers will try to keep the activity meaningful by requiring students to check back in on the post and comment on several different days. I think that is a valiant attempt at holding students more accountable for learning from their peers but, unfortunately, this process often becomes mechanical for students and not so meaningful.

The other platform that I use does not have the capability for students to interact at any time. I have had to get creative in finding ways for my students to interact and have asynchronous “discussions” about our class content. On Flipgrid, a teacher posts an initial question and students make video replies back. Students can comment on each other’s replies (also in video). There is no typing responses/comments/replies. Everything is video. And yes, you can limit the amount of time a response can be and create protections and moderate. Very easy to learn and use. There is a desktop version and also a mobile app, so students can make their videos on a wide variety of devices. My students went from not being able to interact with anyone in the course to being able to see videos of their peers. Yes, some students were squeamish about being on camera so they were allowed to cover the camera (but still record their voice).

What made this activity very useful was students couldn’t WAIT to receive responses to their videos. The enthusiasm was really high and they checked back frequently just to check other posts out. Also, I placed this discussion about theme before an essay about theme. The quality of essays I got back were much better, I think, because students listened to a range of opinions before and learned from one another. Padlet is kind of like a virtual bulletin board. Students can post text, images, links, video, files, and more. Students also have the ability to comment on the posts of others. There are ways to moderate and protect privacy. After learning about persuasive techniques, I decided to have students make digital posters and their peers guessed the intended audience, purpose, persuasive techniques used, and intended effect. Students had to check back and read the comments of their peers to see if their poster was making the desired impact. They could tell from the comments of their peers whether their message was coming across as they intended it or not. This was a really meaningful way to have students communicate that helped to promote learning.

Google Docs: This is perhaps a “hack” rather than a real tool. At my school, every student is issued a school-branded google account so we use a lot of google docs. I first created a doc with questions on it. I set the permissions so that students in my school could access it with the link and comment (but not edit). This way, students would pick the question on the doc that they wanted to answer and then type a comment on the doc. Students could see the comments of other students and everyone could respond to each other. Conversations got lengthy! The nice thing about this technique is students are notified via gmail if anyone replies back to them.

How do you keep online class discussions interesting, engaging, and highly useful? Leave a comment with your favorite techniques and tools.

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