Where I really hear my student’s voices? The online discussion board.

I started using discussion boards out of complete practicality. I had to be away for a conference, and I needed a solution for my evening class. I’ve come to use the discussion board in almost all my classes now because I find the use of discussion boards very helpful in engaging students in a different way. When I read student posts, I often realize that I may have been underestimating their interest or willingness to go into depth on a topic or theme.

A colleague asked me for some design tips. Here’s what I typically use.

 Planning:

  1. If you know you will be absent for the week, it’s good to give as much lead time as you can so students know what’s going on. At the very least, let students know at the beginning of your class this could be coming if you need to have a backup plan for an inclement weather week.
  2. Decide how you will grade or record the results of participation. In my case, I usually just count it towards attendance, but you can make planned online discussions part of a graded assignment.

Structure:

  1. For online discussions, I will usually create 4 questions, and let the students select 2 to answer.
  2. Students are directed to provide an answer that is 75 to 100 words.
    1. I set a deadline for this. If the class meets Monday, I will set a deadline that the first question/s be answered with a post by Wednesday evening at 11:59 p.m.
  3. Students are directed to provide two answers, one answer to two students.
    1. These answers should be 50 to 100 words and should be more than a “ditto” answer. They should provide positive support, challenging follow-up, or something that resembles a “yes, and…”.
  4. The answers should also have a deadline. If questions are answered by Wednesday, follow-ups should be completed by Sunday evening.

This is just a quick review of how I set discussion boards up.

Day 1: SWDE’s third year is a different experience.

I recall attending the first SWDE conference in 2015. It was a small conference, but the information was overwhelming. I’d come to get a handle on best practices for online programming. That topic was well-covered, as well as just about any topic you could imagine. I came away feeling well-informed, and a bit wrung out.

In 2017, the focus of the program is Elevating Social Justice (hey, it’s right there in the title of the conference), and the focus provides a different feel. While the focus on useful applications and course design is present, the angle on social justice adds to the social work focus.

For example, I attended a presentation on social justice teaching through distance education technology yesterday, a presentation that I don’t think would have happened six years ago. Maybe that’s not accurate, but I just don’t recall educators embracing the notion using web-based technology in this way in the not-to-distant past.

The venue has changed; after two years in Indianapolis, social work educators are gathering in San Antonio, adding to the sense of a focus shift. The train has left the station; In three years, distance education doesn’t have to defend its existence; it’s a part of the landscape of social work education.

UPDATE: Sean Errenger (@stuckonSW) created a #Storify of #SWDE2017 Day 1 – Check it out here.

Last note: Personally, I’ve never been here before, so at least for me the whole impression is “new”. (Random blog fact: one of my seven-year-old son’s favorite movies is a ’80s film shot in San Antonio. He’ll be pleased to know I was here for this reason.)

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We’re not in Indianapolis this year.