This semester I took an experimental approach to the dreaded online discussion board. Unless discussions are significantly scaffolded, it can be troublesome to effectively facilitate back-and-forth among students. While a mediated discussion does resemble survey-level discussions in class, with the professor usually acting as the conduit to connect student points, an online environment seems to offer more possibilities—and as such, I’m often left frustrated with the lack of exchange.
This semester, I decided to scaffold my discussions in a different way. My online section of the second half of the U.S. survey reads three books: Bruce Watson’s Bread and Roses, about the IWW backed strike in nearby Lawrence, MA; Anzia Yezierska’s The Bread Givers; and Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi. Each book can be used to develop their paper topics. I dedicated a discussion board to each book, and took a different approach to each. I had them connect Bread and Roses to primary documents and themes in the textbook; Bread Givers centered on using novels as historical sources; and for Moody’s book, I had each student pose a question to the class and respond to another student’s question.
Rather than responding to all the posts, or doing some written summary, instead I created a Facebook page for the class and conducted a Facebook Live discussion based on the topics that came up, and explicitly connected the discussion to the papers they have to write. I didn’t require attendance, and about half of the class actually watched the posts live. I had visions of taking live questions, which didn’t happen, probably because of my own tentative feelings towards this teaching tactic. I feel weird about requiring students to be on Facebook, and even more so about requiring an online class to show up at at single moment and taking “attendance.” But since the videos are archived, savvy students can return to them and see how I summarize the key themes of each book and connect them to the assessments in the course.
I’m not sure I will repeat this particular exercise in the future, but it is definitely an approach that I feel is valuable for online students to have access to — video summaries of informal discussions in some form that connect the detail of their discussion posts to the larger goals and assessments of the course.