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Building Community via Engaging Online Discussions

On its face, an asynchronous conversation conducted via a discussion board may not seem as personal or immediate as a conversation that takes place in a more traditional classroom. However, an online discussion can be just as spirited, enlightening, and engaging as one taking place in the face-to-face environment — if it is facilitated well.

How can you, as an instructor, help students gain the full benefit of discussions in your online course? In McKeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, contributors Erping Zhu and Matthew Kaplan offer the following tips:

Create a comfortable atmosphere for the online discussion, for example:
- Be an active participant.
- Bring your own experiences to the discussion.
- Use personal anecdotes when appropriate.
- Do not dominate a discussion or let a few students dominate it.
- Challenge students without silencing them.
Ask questions at different levels (e.g., knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation).
Paraphrase a message if it is not clear.
Encourage active student participation.
Energize the online discussion if needed (e.g., using role plays, simulations, and pros and cons).
Bring closure to an online discussion (e.g., summarizing learning points). (p. 248)

These tips can help you keep online discussions engaging for learners. For tips on creating prompts for online discussion, revisit our article from the previous issue of this newsletter.

Reference: Svinicki, Marilla and McKeachie, Wilbert J. 2011. McKeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 13th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Do you teach online? If so, what methods for building community have you found successful? Share them with us at thinktank@cengage.com.

Interested in learning more about effective online instruction skills? Consider the professional development resources available from TeamUP, a part of Cengage Learning, is a group of college educators who provide peer-to-peer support, consulting services and innovative faculty development. Visit the TeamUP Professional Development Portal Web site for professional development opportunities and earn continuing education units.

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