In many classes, participating in online discussions can be a significant part of the grade. In a face-to-face class, you can often hide from in class discussions. That’s not the case with online courses.
Generally the instructor in an online course will post a discussion question. There will be requirements for the number of postings you need to do and the timing of these. The teacher will generally give you guidance for the grading of the postings.
How do you get a good grade in online discussions? All faculty are different in how they grade online discussions, but if you use the strategy below you should get a good grade.
- Practice the “Yes – And” approach used in improvisational comedy. We are all familiar with “Yes – But” responses. A person starts off by saying he/she agrees with us and then says but. What follows the but is a negation of most of what you said. Yes – And responses say why we agree with someone else. The And part of the response is our additional insight that further develops what the person is saying. In online discussions, teachers want you to be developmental not argumentative in your contributions to the discussion.
- Set aside time each day to contribute to the discussion. You really can’t understand the flow of the discussion or make useful contributions if your participation is erratic. It works best when you do this at the same time each day. Normally you can find a good time to do this when you are normally free from other things you need to do.
- Be respectful of your peers. As you read the posts, think of these two questions
- How can I build on these comments? (e.g. what might have been left out?)
- How can I use my own point of view to support what the others are saying? (e.g. Can I make the ideas being expressed even better by sharing how I think about this?)
- Be thoughtful in your response. What you don’t want to do is just parrot what others are saying.
- Identify your own contribution style and build your discussion strategy around it. Are you more comfortable by speaking up first when you are with your friends? If so, you might try to be an early contributor. Are you one who is good at synthesizing what others are saying? If so you might wait until several posts have been made and then contribute an organizing framework for the discussion. Are you one who can see the flaws on other’s thinking? If so, your contributions might be to suggest areas in the discussion that might be addressed.
- Be yourself in your posts. Often discussion forums are the only interaction that you will have with your classmates and teacher. Make an impression! If you have a good sense of humor, don’t be afraid of showing this in your post. Of course you want your contributions to the discussion to be serious and thoughtful, but by no means must you be mechanical. You can still be yourself and connect with your classmates through online forums.
- Sometimes online discussions feel like “busy work.” They especially feel like this when the instructor or teaching assistant is less present than the students in the discussion forum. Nevertheless, treat these discussions as serious exchanges of ideas that are documented for all to see. The teacher can go back to these forums when he or she is writing a letter of reference for you or when you request a second review of your final grade in the course.
If you follow these strategies, you should be able to get a good grade on the discussion part of an online class.
Topic suggested by Ria Hermann, an advisor at West Virginia University..