Public Relations Today
By Eliana Osborn • November 14, 2014

Using online discussions to drive student engagement

online class discussionsEach student brings his or her own ideas, life experiences, and perspective to your classroom.  That’s the beauty of having a discussion: the more people participate, the more everyone learns.  Unfortunately, some students are more comfortable speaking up than others.  How do you get the quiet ones, the nervous ones, and the students who need a little more time, to be involved?  Here’s where an online discussion board can truly be transformative.

In-class discussions 

Picture this: teacher asks a question to the whole group, something without a right or wrong answer.  For example, “What would you ask General Custer/ Pythagoras/ Copernicus if you had a chance?”  In class, someone would raise her hand quickly; you’d call on her and that first student response would guide the direction of all other answers.  Maybe you’ve been working on getting more people involved so you don’t call on the first few enthusiastic participants.  You wait a little, walk around the room, then call on a student who isn’t raising her hand.  Great teacher strategy except that it can be absolutely terrifying for some pupils, causing them to shut down—the exact opposite of what you’d hoped for. 

Online discussions are different

For the online discussion board, there’s no bonus for being first.  A second language learner can read the question, look up terms to make sure he understands what you are asking.  He can formulate and proofread an answer, then post it, without anyone seeing his process.  The confident and nervous students are on equal ground online; no one is louder than anyone else and all responses get aired.  How long you take to respond is no one’s business but the student himself.

How about a learner who is bright and interesting in her written work and you wish she’d participate more during class time?  Discussion boards will be ideal for her to break through the social constraints keeping her quiet.  She’ll enjoy the chance to respond to what other students post, as she can see the weaknesses of their arguments.  Without the burden of unwanted attention, a shy student can show her knowledge and point an online discussion in the direction she’s interested in.

Using the right online tools is key

If you use the discussion tools on Chalkup, you can do even more to promote involvement for the whole class.  You can select a student response as the one you most agree with.  Talk about a huge step in building self-assurance for the poster.  If you require interaction within the discussion board (and you should, to make it a real discussion rather than a void where comments go to die alone), quiet students can build relationships with their peers in a safe, non-threatening environment.  It may take time, but that level of increased comfort can carry over into your physical classroom.

 What are Chalkup Discussions? Learn more