Thursday, June 30, 2011

Online discussions best practices: How to increase quality while keeping your workload in check

When it comes to online discussion forums, there's often a fine line between providing high-quality education and imposing an unmanageable workload on students and instructors.

On one hand, online discussion forums are a fundamental and valuable part of many online courses for their ability to foster student-to-student and student-to-instructor engagement.

On the other hand, they can easily comprise half of a course's workload. Overly demanding sessions can discourage students and instructors, while under-performing sessions might not deliver on course objectives.

This makes it crucial to design, develop, and run online discussion forums so that they balance educational quality and workload for students and instructors alike.

At Post University, our online MBA teaching faculty, full-time members, and adjuncts got together to address this challenge. We took a look at how things were going in our online discussion forums, and researched and analyzed findings from a wide breadth of literature on the subject. We evaluated our collective findings, and arrived at several recommendations.

This led us to creating our Discussion Guideline document. It describes the three phases we see to implementing online discussion forums: design and development, setting up expectations, and launch and management. It also includes our minimum requirements and best practices for each phase.

I recently wrote a paper reporting the information in our Discussion Guideline document, which the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT) has published on its website. It's titled "Balancing Quality and Workload in Asynchronous Online Discussions: A Win-Win Approach for Students and Instructors."  

Turn to my paper to read about our approach for balancing education quality and student workload in online discussion forums. I hope you find it useful as you go about developing and running your own online discussion forums. Feel free to let me know what you think of our findings and recommendations. Any recommendations you'd add? Any you disagree with?

Thank you to JOLT for publishing my paper.