Asynchronous online discussion
The purpose of online discussions
In effect, online discussion is parallel to lectures and tutorial sessions on campus. Asynchronous is the word we use to mean a discussion that takes place over a pre-set period of time (for example, 10 days), usually in a written forum in Moodle. Participants leave posts for others to read and answer.
There are three levels of justification for the requirement that you engage in discussion as part of your coursework:
- At the individual level, students engage in discussion in order to learn from and with their peers and lecturers. Ideally, discussion involves testing out ideas, sharing and building on other peoples' thinking, and gaining feedback and challenge from others' responses to our own thinking. There is very rarely ONE answer to any worthwhile question. Instead, this is about thinking of a higher order, where multiple answers and perspectives are possible.
- At the community level, firstly students have a responsibility to each other to join a learning community and to learn together, supporting others' learning as well as their own. This is part of working as a team and is very good preparation for becoming a professional, whatever your chosen profession. Contribute to online discussion so that you don't let your group members down, so that comments aren't ignored; and so that help is found when needed.
- At the wider community level, extending on the above, discussion is a form of professional preparation. Participation in discussion with colleagues (whether face-to-face or online) exposes us to a range of thinking, perspectives, theory and issues. How often, in discussion, have you heard . a point of view and realised "I hadn't thought of it that way!" or "That is something I need to consider!" This is preparation for the many professional discussions that will be ongoing throughout your careers.
Advice from a student: Get involved. I really enjoyed my digital paper after I got used to the fact that yes I was talking to real people, just over the Internet. I found that the more “into” a discussion I got, the more I enjoyed the paper as a whole. The debates and discussions that stem from this are fantastic!
In relation to readings, these should be completed regularly in order to construct familiarity with theory and diverse perspectives. When you refer to readings, avoid lengthy direct quotes in discussion. Instead, you might discuss readings by paraphrasing the key ideas and applying your own thinking to these.
Fellow students suggest avoiding these behaviours
Make yourself the best contributor to online asynchronous discussions that you can!
- Please do not avoid discussion, or post once and then disappear. These approaches breach the intent of discussion, and indicate lack of regard for the class community. In many cases, this falls short of minimum attendance and participation requirements.
- Similarly, do not double-post (2 consecutive posts, or posts very close together). While this may be necessary when 'life gets in the way', it is not ideal and if everyone did this, there would be no discussion occurring throughout the week, limiting the chances for reflection and response within the community.
- Do not post lengthy contributions. Research suggests that your fellow students will not read your posts if they are too long
- Do not post without firstly reading what others have said, or you risk having your contribution perceived as ignorant and disrespectful.
- Similarly, do not exclude others by responding to the same individuals every time you post
- Do not fixate on the personal. Although valued, it is a starting point. Your experiences are one set of possible experiences, and the goal is to begin with these as a starting point while looking more widely beyond the past or here and now
- Do not play it safe, agreeing with all and sundry. This is dull, unimaginative, and does not assist in moving the discussion along. If you agree, say why and justify why your agreement matters
- Please do not take things personally. Don't be quick to take offence, but rather give others the benefit of the doubt.
- Others may be playing "devil's advocate" and proposing an extreme view in order to prompt thinking, and raise alternative perspectives;
- It is easy to misinterpret tone and intention online. Use emoticons purposefully in order to soften and convey a constructive mood :)
What you are expected to do in a discussion
Check with your lecturers to ascertain their expectations. Ask them if the discussions are assessed, and if so, what the criteria are. If the discussions are not assessed directly, it is highly likely they will be designed to contribute formatively to other assessed work. Ask your lecturers what you should be aiming to do. For example, in some classes, the following are standard protocols:
- Contribute to every discussion, at least three times, at regular intervals
- Keep each contribution to around 150 words max, as a guide
- Write in clear paragraphs, for ease of reading
- Check punctuation, grammar and spelling is accurate and appropriate to our classroom
- Respond to others in the discussion, building on ideas. Aim to ensure that others are acknowledged directly. Attempt to respond to different people throughout the discussion so as to be inclusive
- Connect with the topic and thread of the discussion. Either follow and extend the thread, or introduce a new direction. In either case, alter the title/subject of your contribution accordingly
- Share personal experience and perspectives of relevance to the discussion
- Use the discussion to clarify understanding, and to engage critically and deeply with the theme, theory and issues
- Be professional. Communicate respectfully. Demonstrate your understanding of cybersafety (link), netiquette (link) and the underpinning rationale for discussion. Respect alternative viewpoints, keep an open mind, and be prepared for challenge and change
- Aim to keep the discussion moving forward.
Advice from a student: I learn a lot from other students when they post, such as their sharing of Māori knowledge and research, as that is new to me as an International student, and is very useful. I learned from what the lecturer posted, and also what other students posted.